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Oil spill reported on Ute land

Corroded pipeline ruptures; investigation continues
Photo courtesy EPA<br><br>Spilled crude oil from a recently ruptured pipeline on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation runs down a wash. At least 10 barrels spilled from the pipeline managed by Biya Operators. The accident occurred on the portion of the reservation that dips into New Mexico, and cleanup is ongoing.

An oil spill from a ruptured pipeline was discovered on the Ute Mountain Ute reservation this month.

According to the National Response Center, a leaking oil pipeline was reported on March 9. The Center is a division of the U.S. Coast Guard that tracks oil and chemical spills nationwide.

The break reportedly occurred about Feb. 20, and spilled 10 barrels of oil onto the ground before being shut down. One barrel equals 42 gallons.

According to the report, “The caller stated due to corrosion, crude oil released from a well head on a gathering line to a tank battery.” Biya Operators were listed as the responsible company.

The spill occurred north of Waterflow in an active oil field on a portion of the Ute Mountain reservation that dips into New Mexico. The EPA and the BLM responded to the incident along with Ute Mountain environmental officials.

Bryant Smalley, the EPA on-scene coordinator, told the Cortez Journal in an email that the duration and amount of the spill is still under investigation.

“Initial estimates were that 10 barrels were discharged,” he stated. “Further investigation indicates it may be a larger amount.”

Smalley said the pipeline was shut down to stop the release and make repairs. Vacuum trucks have been utilized to remove spilled oil on the ground, and a remediation plan is being drawn up for contaminated soil.

“These accidents do occasionally happen,” said Peter Ortego, the tribe’s attorney. “We take them very seriously and clean them up as quickly as we can in cooperation with the EPA, BLM, and BIA.”

Ortego said the pipeline company is responsible for cleanup and land restoration. As contractors they can be fined by the tribe for improper operations.

This is the second oil spill recently reported on the Horseshoe-Gallop oil field, located on the southwest boundary of the Ute Mountain reservation in New Mexico.

On Aug. 14, 2014, a ruptured oil pipeline spilled an estimated 200 barrels of petroleum condensate in the same area, according to the EPA.

Over pressurization of the line was the reported cause. The agency said the pipeline is operated by Castleton Commodities International.

Also, on August 13 and 14, two oil pipeline breaks occurred in southeast, Utah, according to the Utah Department of Environment.

One broken pipeline near Bluff spilled 200 barrels of oil near the San Juan River, but it didn’t enter the water source. Another near Montezuma Creek spilled three to five barrels of oil into a wash that was later carried to the San Juan River from heavy rains.

“A lot of the oil pipeline infrastructure is aging, so breaks are not out of the question,” said Jennah Durant, a spokesperson for EPA Region 6, which includes New Mexico.

She said the recent spill did not reach a navigable water source.

Mike Eisenfeld is an oil-and-gas watchdog with the environmental group San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, based in Durango. He said oil spills are more common than people might realize, and corroded pipelines are becoming a problem.

“There is such a large network of pipelines in this area, and many of them are 50 years old,” Eisenfeld said. “Oil and gas in this area contains hydrogen sulfide, which is very corrosive. Spills are becoming more common, and oversight is sketchy.”