Jury may decide if Rocky Mountain Power is on the hook for $30 million for SLC oil spill

Posted at 4:13 PM, Aug 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-08 23:30:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge has essentially allowed a jury to decide if Rocky Mountain Power is on the hook for as much as $30 million for an oil spill in Red Butte Creek.

Chevron Pipe Line Company is seeking reimbursement for cleanup from the 2010 oil spill in Red Butte Creek. The company is asking for as much as $30 million from Rocky Mountain Power, whom it accuses of starting the massive spill of more than 800 barrels of crude oil.

A duck swims in an oil tainted Liberty Park pond following the Red Butte Creek oil spill in June 2010. (FOX 13 file image)

According to a ruling obtained by FOX 13, U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell said it was "an electrical arc from RMP’s electrical transition station (ETS) created a hole in CPL’s underground oil pipeline."

Crude oil polluted the waters from the foothills of Salt Lake City all the way to Liberty Park and into the Jordan River. A coalition of residents sued over the spill, which was settled by Chevron. So were demands for cleanup costs from Salt Lake City and the state of Utah.

The residents sued Chevron and Rocky Mountain Power. Chevron has a counter-claim with Rocky Mountain Power.

In her ruling, Judge Campbell rejected Rocky Mountain Power's request to dismiss Chevron's lawsuit outright. However, she also did not grant immediately in Chevron's favor and signaled a willingness to let a jury decide.

Cleanup in Red Butte Creek from the 2010 oil spill. (FOX 13 file image)

"To support its damages claim, CPL (Chevron Pipe Line) proffers the testimony of three witnesses and documentation, including 16,000 invoices and settlement agreements," she wrote.

An attorney for Chevron Pipe Line Co. declined to comment when contacted by FOX 13. Rocky Mountain Power also declined comment.

In court filings, Rocky Mountain Power said the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration determined Chevron failed "to protect the pipeline against damage from fault currents or lightning" and failed "to have an adequate means to detect leaks on its system."

A trial is expected to begin in September.

Cleanup crews at Liberty Park Pond following the 2010 Red Butte Creek oil spill. (FOX 13 file image)

Zach Frankel with the environmental watchdog group Utah Rivers Council said he will be watching the case to see who ultimately is responsible. He told FOX 13 the oil spill sickened a number of people and continues to cause problems.

"The public needs to know that the health impacts from that oil spill have not gone away. What’s gone away is the complaints residents have who have settled with Chevron, and, in that settlement, can no longer speak about the impacts they have suffered," he said.

Read the judge's ruling here: