A few blocks away from my house in Salt Lake City there is a community recreation area called Liberty Park. Locals go here to exercise, play and generally appreciate a piece of intact nature in an area mostly dominated by roads and housing developments. In the middle of this park is a pond that collects water from one of the most pristine sources in Utah. The water comes from Red Butte Canyon
, which was formerly the watershed for a U.S. Army fort but is now a designated "research natural area" that is protected by the U.S. Forest Service. As a protected watershed, Red Butte Canyon has been kept free from grazing, farming, resource-extraction and other human-impact activities and remains primarily in its natural state.
Right now the pond in Liberty Park that contains some of this "pristine" water is surrounded by ropes and caution tape with a sign warning that the water should be avoided by both human and animal contact. Apparently, city officials are still in the process of cleaning up the remains of an oil spill that occurred in Red Butte Canyon in June 2010. This was the first of two oil spills in the "untouched" canyon in one year.
The energy giant Chevron brings crude oil into the Salt Lake valley via a pipeline that begins in Western Colorado. The line runs through Eastern Utah and down through Red Butte Canyon before it reaches the company's refinery in Salt Lake City. You would think it would be a little contradictory to allow an oil pipeline to run through a natural area that is so protected that only scientists can enter it. This is the United States, however, and oil certainly seems to take priority.
On June 12, 2010, a leak in Chevron's pipeline released 800 barrels of crude oil into Red Butte Canyon where it flowed into Red Butte Creek and consequently collected in the Liberty Park Pond. In December, the same pipeline that leaked 800 barrels in June leaked at least 100 more barrels into Red Butte Canyon. Though the majority of this second leak was caught in a containment vault, the overflow contaminated surrounding grassy areas. Fortunately, the second oil spill did not reach Red Butte Creek and therefore had no further impact on Liberty Park Pond or any other water sources for that matter. Unfortunately, Liberty Park Pond has yet to recover from the first Chevron oil leak.
It really amazes me that even our most protected natural resources are at risk from toxic contamination. Red Butte Canyon is a designated research area and is supposed to remain untouched by anyone besides scientists. Why is it that Chevron was permitted to run an oil pipeline through such an immaculate piece of Utah's natural heritage? Furthermore, why would Chevron not be required to replace a faulty pipeline after the first sign of incompetence? One oil spill can be written off as an accident, but two is just beyond irresponsible.
Liberty Park Pond may never be restored to its original state. Rather than serving as a sanctuary where people can go to appreciate a piece of nature in its purest state, the pond now serves as a shrine to our nation's addiction to oil and dirty energy.