EXPLAINER: How UDOT crews cleaned, contained massive oil spill on I-15

Dec 9, 2022, 12:46 PM | Updated: 12:54 pm

DRAPER, Utah — A tanker spilled over 2,000 gallons of crude oil across northbound Interstate 15 Thursday morning, leading to a nightmare of traffic delays along a busy stretch of Utah’s main arterial roadway.

Almost 17 hours later, I-15 completely reopened, and crews with the Utah Department of Transportation explained why it took so long to clean up the mess.

The spill happened after 1 a.m. a semi-truck that was hauling two oil tankers crashed into a stalled Amazon semi-truck between the 14600 South and Bangerter Highway exits.

State troopers said the semi hauling the oil was traveling too fast for the conditions, lost control and slid into the Amazon semi.

The semi’s back tanker overturned and detached, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil onto the snow-packed interstate.

State troopers then closed northbound I-15 to start the cleanup efforts. No serious injuries were reported in the crash.

Jake Brown with the Utah Department of Transportation explained that closing the freeway was a hard decision because they want to keep people moving. However, they have to prioritize public safety.

“It was almost 2,000 gallons of crude oil across all lanes, and what (people) don’t understand is if we were to allow traffic to be on the freeway to go through that, we would be chasing an oil spill from here to 7200 South. Causing a lot more accidents, causing a lot more drainage issues,” Brown said.

UDOT crews said crude oil is hazardous to drive through because it creates a slippery surface and causes vehicles to hydroplane.

Their first priority was to control the leak and remove the remaining 3,000 gallons of oil in the tanker.

“This had to be pumped out before it could be safely removed” due to fire risk, UDOT tweeted.

Next, cleanup works worked to block the spill from reaching storm drains, which drain to ponds and streams.

“On top of that, we had to melt residual snow and ice in order to see the full extent of the spill,” UDOT said.

“Pretty overwhelming, right in the middle of a snowstorm,” Brown said. “Once we got some of the snow melted the scene was a lot bigger than we thought. It was a lot more crude oil under the snow, snow was on top of it, so when that started to melt we had puddles 2-3 feet deep right in front of the drains of crude oil.”

Crews then laid sand over the slick mess to start absorbing the oil. Once the sand was down, UDOT said crews “roll a grader over it to push the sand into all the small spaces to make sure the oil is absorbed.”

UDOT crews laid sand down on the interstate to soak up the oil from Thursday’s spill. (UDOT)

Once the spill was fully absorbed, crews swept it up and hauled it away.

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EXPLAINER: How UDOT crews cleaned, contained massive oil spill on I-15