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Utah oil spill spares Great Salt Lake

An oil-soaked mallard at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. About 300 birds were cleaned; fewer than 10 have died, officials said. An oil-soaked mallard at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. About 300 birds were cleaned; fewer than 10 have died, officials said. (Associated Press via Michael Brandy/ The Deseret News)
Associated Press / June 14, 2010

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SALT LAKE CITY — Emergency workers believe they have stopped a 21,000-gallon oil leak from reaching the environmentally sensitive Great Salt Lake, one of the West’s most important inland water bodies for migratory birds that use it as a place to rest, eat, and breed.

But the spill has taken a toll on wildlife at area creeks and ponds, coating about 300 birds with oil and possibly threatening a type of endangered fish.

The leak began Friday night when an underground pipeline broke in the mountains near the University of Utah. It sent oil into a creek that flows through neighborhoods and ultimately into the Jordan River, which flows into the Great Salt Lake.

The pipeline wasn’t shut off until Saturday morning. Jason Olsen, spokesman for the Salt Lake City Joint Information Center, said yesterday that emergency workers believe they have contained the spill to the Jordan River. But the spill still took its toll on birds at Red Butte Creek and at a large pond at Liberty Park, where visitors often feed birds. About 300 birds coated in oil were cleaned at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Fewer than 10 have died, said Salt Lake City spokeswoman Lisa Harrison-Smith.

Most of the birds were Canada geese, although some ducks were also covered.

Harrison-Smith said the oil also flowed through several other riparian areas, which could threaten a rare Utah fish called a June sucker.

Chevron has said it is taking full responsibility for the spill and will pay for its cleanup.

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