- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

KANAB, Utah (AP) - An oil leak discovered earlier this year in a rural area of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah is actually three spills that officials say could cause more damage if they try to clean it up.

Instead, the federal Bureau of Land Management says it’s monitoring the area and allowing the oil deposits to biodegrade naturally.

The agency also released a report Tuesday about the oil, which was discovered by hikers in the Little Valley Wash in March.

Authorities believe the oil residue and oil deposits, which resemble asphalt, are from at least three separate leaks: a pipeline leak from December 2013 and two other spills that are decades old.

The recent spill involved less than 10 barrels of saline water with some oil. Officials say the pipeline owner was not required to report spills that small.

The older spills are much larger, about 550 barrels, and may date back to the 1970s, when the well was drilled, the report said.

Monument spokesman Larry Crutchfield said Wednesday that officials believe were not discovered until recently because they were covered with dirt, a standard practice for cleaning up oil spills decades ago.

Crutchfield said a recent storm or multiple storms may have disturbed the dirt and made the deposits visible. He said they’re also located in a relatively remote area that is not frequented by too many hikers.

The BLM reports the residue and deposits found in the wash are miles away from the Escalante River and don’t appear to pose a threat to it or any immediate threat to wildlife or vegetation.

The agency is also asking the current oil field owner, Houston-based Citation Oil & Gas Corporation, to report any new leaks, no matter the size.

Messages left with Citation were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Both the company and the BLM are monitoring the area, but cleaning up without causing more damage to the narrow wash filled with boulders is challenging, the agency said.

For now, officials said the safest option is to leave the oil undisturbed.

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