Parachute Creek spill: ‘We don’t know the extent of this thing yet’ — Todd Hartman #ColoradoRiver

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

Work crews at the site of a hydrocarbon leak have found evidence that unknown hydrocarbons are present in ground water on both sides of Parachute Creek. According to an update provided by the state, new evidence of hydrocarbons has appeared in a monitoring well on the south side of the creek, although test results to identify the compounds were not available as of Monday evening…

A leak from a pipeline, storage tank or other equipment in the area is believed to have caused the plume, although the precise source of the hydrocarbon leak has yet to be found, according to Williams.

Early reports from the plume site, about four miles up the creek from the town of Parachute, had put the size of the plume at 200 feet by 70 feet by 14 feet deep. Some unofficial reports have expanded the estimate to nearly twice that size, but a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources said on Monday that any estimate at this point would be sheer guesswork. “We don’t know the extent of this thing yet,” said Todd Hartman, public information officer for the DNR and the commission.

According to reports, water samples from several wells have shown benzene in the water at levels ranging from 1,900 parts per billion to 18,000 parts per billion…

In addition to the new wells, according to Hartman’s statement, Williams has begun digging a series of trenches “designed to lower the ground water level and remove liquid hydrocarbons and contaminated water from near the stream’s edge.”[…]

Hartman also reported the appearance of a form of diesel fuel or diesel oil, known as “diesel range organics” or DRO, attached to the absorbent “booms” deployed by Williams in case hydrocarbons are spotted in the creek. According to Hartman’s report, samples taken on March 9, one upstream of the site and the other adjacent to the site, both showed the presence of the diesel-like substance. But, the report continued, “subsequent sampling at the March 9 locations have not revealed DRO, nor has DRO been detected in any other surface water sampling locations throughout the investigation.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

State environmental overseers on Monday concluded that no benzene has seeped into the creek. The creek flows into the Colorado River. The Williams energy company runs a gas-processing plant along the creek. However, benzene at elevated levels, far above state limits, is being detected in groundwater. And state authorities said “diesel range organics” at levels from 213 to 349 parts per million have been detected in spongy boom material that was laid out across the creek over a 10-day period. The source of the spill has not been identified. “We know that, within 10 feet of Parachute Creek, groundwater monitoring wells are showing high levels of benzene contamination and in some cases hydrocarbon liquids,” state natural resources spokesman Todd Hartman said. “Our understanding of the groundwater and water level data is that, at this point, it’s a losing stream, meaning the creek recharges the groundwater. But we are still taking measures to move contamination away from the creek.”[…]

Williams’ former environmental supervisor Doug Parce, directly involved in the early days of the response, said the diesel most likely comes from road runoff. Williams’ crews “are going to keep doing whatever we can” to protect the creek, Parce said. “We’re not just going to sit back and watch things develop … We’ve determined that the flow vector is from the creek into the groundwater, not the other way around.”

From KDVR.com (Eli Stokols):

On Tuesday, for the first time since the leak was initially detected, harmful compounds known as “Diesel Range Organics” were detected in a sample taken from the creek itself, which flows directly into the Colorado River — although that sample, inexplicably, was found upstream from the epicenter of the hydrocarbon leak itself. That upstream location showed the chemicals at 3.3 parts per million, just below the 5 parts per million state health limit. Tuesday’s samples of surface water from Parachute Creek closer to the spill site and downstream from it tested negative for chemicals.

So far, groundwater contamination has been detected within 10 feet of the creek itself closer to the leaking pipeline. “It is too close for comfort and it makes us nervous,” Matt Lepore, the director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, told FOX31 Denver. “We are seeing contamination in some of the bore-holes we’ve done within 10 feet of the creek. So everyone’s still on very high alert. “We’re trying to move quickly and that’s a bit of a relative term. We got to poke holes in the ground with drill rigs and take samples.”[…]

“There’s 30 million people downstream from Parachute who use the water of the Colorado River,” said Dave Devanney, who lives nearby in Battlement Mesa and is part of a citizens group that’s raising concerns about oil and gas development in the area…

According to Bob Arrington, a retired engineer, the 30-inch pipeline where the leak most likely occurred runs beneath the creek, which could explain the contamination on both sides of the creek. “It could have been leaking for years,” Arrington told FOX31 Denver.

Lepore concedes that a gradual, long-term leak may be causing the hydrocarbon leak. “The operators who have the pipelines are transporting through the pipelines what is, for them, valuable product; and they monitor those flow lines and they monitor that pressure,” Lepore said…

The ongoing environmental contamination here comes just as the state legislature, now entering its final 30-day stretch, takes up a series of Democratic bills dealing with the oil and gas industry. One of them, House Bill 1267, would increase the fines that can be imposed on companies like Williams Energy, which is responsible for the leaking pipeline in Parachute. Currently, the state caps the fines that can be imposed for environmental mishaps at $1,000 per day and caps the total fine at $10,000 — those fines are the lowest in the country and haven’t been updated for decades. H.B. 1267, sponsored by Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette,would increase the maximum daily fine to $15,000, set a minimum daily fine of $5,000 for violations that adversely impact public health, safety or welfare and remove any cap on the total amount of fines that can be imposed as a result of any one incident…

Devanney, who’s well aware of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s background as a geologist and what he views as a governing bias that favors the oil industry, hopes the Parachute situation puts more pressure on him to sign the measure into law. “He is an oil and gas guy, and that’s a concern. Everyone else in the state seems to march to the same drum as ‘Gov. Frackenlooper’,” Devanney said. “Hopefully this will be a wake-up call…

Just Tuesday, the House gave final approval to House Bill 1269, also sponsored by Foote, to clarify that the COGCC’s primary mission is to protect public health and the environment, not to maximize energy development of the state’s mineral resources. The legislation, which now heads to the Senate, also requires commissioners to disclose their financial ties to the oil and gas industry they’re charged with regulating and to tighten recusal rules in cases of conflict of interest.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating whether its regulations are being followed regarding protection of workers who have responded to a liquid hydrocarbons spill near Parachute. The federal agency is trying to determine if any employees involved with the response and cleanup have been exposed to any hazardous materials, said Herb Gibson, director of OSHA’s Denver area office. He said it hasn’t drawn any conclusions, and the investigation probably will last a few months. He said he can’t say what triggered the investigation, but that it pertains to Williams and any other employers involved with the response.

Some 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons have been recovered in a pipeline corridor near Parachute Creek that contains lines serving Williams’ nearby natural gas processing plant. Williams and contractors have been involved in vacuuming out fluids, digging interceptor trenches, sampling water and other activities.

Williams spokesman Tom Droege said it’s his understanding “that OSHA did perform a routine inspection on our site last week.” “We fully accommodated the agency with the site visit and provided the information they requested,” he said. “We follow all safety standards as required by OSHA,” said Droege, who said he’s not aware of any violation in connection with the leak response.

When the investigation began to focus on a high-odor leak hot spot near a valve set, Williams halted work until it could bring in special monitoring and protective equipment, Matt Lepore, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said at the time.

Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said she’s heard from workers who said they weren’t provided respirators earlier, and learned later that they were working around dangerous benzene that had been detected in groundwater tests. “I’m just glad that OSHA’s getting involved. In these incidents I think (companies) should assume that they’re dealing with dangerous chemicals and hand out respirators and protective gear from the start and not after testing is done,” she said.

On Tuesday, state officials said two more monitoring wells across the creek from the investigation site, on its south side, showed groundwater impacts, after the first impacts to a well across the creek were reported Monday. The two wells, adjacent to the creek, showed benzene levels of 3,300 to 2,600 parts per billion. The federal drinking water standard for benzene is 5 or less ppb. Three other wells about 50 feet from the creek’s south side showed no benzene, but a well 200 feet east of the creek had a benzene level of 1,200 ppb.

Also, for the first time since March 9, creek sampling showed diesel-range organics in the water. But as on March 9, DROs also were found in an upstream sample, suggesting a possible intermittent source separate from the hydrocarbons leak, such as stormwater contamination. Sampling 800 feet upstream of the investigation area, on the other side of a road bridge, showed DROs at 3.3 parts per million. Two locations in the investigation areas produced readings of 3.1 and 1.4 ppm. Samples from three sites downstream showed no DROs.

Kirby Wynn, Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, said there’s no drinking water standard for DROs, although there can be for individual compounds within the range of such organics.

More Parachute Creek spill coverage here.

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