Parachute Creek spill: No benzene detected in creek since August #ColoradoRiver

Location of spill on Parachute Creek 2013 -- Graphic/The Denver Post
Location of spill on Parachute Creek 2013 — Graphic/The Denver Post

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

State regulators have finalized an agreement with a Williams subsidiary, finding it in violation of Colorado law and an associated rule in connection with a natural gas liquids leak near Parachute. Regulators also have cleared another company in the incident.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Bargath LLC reached what’s called a compliance order on consent in August. The department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division found Bargath in violation for having released hazardous materials to the environment without a permit.

The leak from a pressure gauge on a pipeline leading from Bargath’s gas processing plant resulted in high benzene levels in groundwater and occasional small amounts of the carcinogen in Parachute Creek. No benzene has been detected in the creek since August.

Meanwhile, the division has informed WPX Energy, an exploration and production company that owns the property where the leak occurred in a pipeline right of way, that it is closing enforcement action it had begun against WPX with no further requirements. The division indicated in a letter that WPX demonstrated “it did not cause or control the operations causing the release” of the natural gas liquids.

Additionally, last week Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Matt Lepore wrote to WPX that a notice of alleged violation it brought against WPX in March, when that agency first began investigating the case, has been closed. That’s because of COGCC’s decision to transfer the matter to the CDPHE after determining the leak wasn’t under its jurisdiction because it didn’t involve exploration and production waste.

Bargath continues to contend the liquids were indeed such waste and not subject to the hazardous materials division’s jurisdiction. But in signing the consent order it chose not to contest the issue. “They stepped up to the plate and decided not to fight even though they felt strongly about this,” said David Walker, an environmental compliance officer with the division.

The consent order includes no fines against Bargath, although that doesn’t preclude other state agencies from pursuing fines in the case. Division officials say the lack of a fine is based on the lack of negligence and the non-willful nature of the leak.

The agreement does call for Williams to pay $8,400 to reimburse division staff for its time working on the matter to date, and the company will continue to be billed for future expenses.

Walter Avramenko, the division’s hazardous waste corrective action unit leader, said Williams also probably already has spent several million dollars on the cleanup, which ultimately could cost it tens of millions of dollars.

The compliance order’s focus is on establishing requirements and schedules for Williams’ continuing cleanup of the leak, which could last a couple of years, followed by a long period of monitoring, Walker said.

In addition to other efforts, Williams has begun pulling contaminated groundwater from the ground, cleaning it with a treatment system and returning it to the aquifer.

Williams believes the leak occurred from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3. It estimates about 50,000 gallons of hydrocarbons leaked, with most of that vaporizing but about 10,000 gallons reaching the ground. The violation is based on groundwater benzene levels at 11 monitoring points that exceeded 0.5 parts per million, the minimum amount for which the division considers to be benzene in a liquid to be a hazardous waste. Readings at those points ranged from 7.5 to 38 parts per million.

However, the division is striving to have Williams clean up the benzene to the state’s much stricter groundwater standard of 5 parts per billion. That’s also the federal drinking water standard, although the state doesn’t consider the creek a drinking water source.

Williams personnel first discovered the leak Jan. 3 but thought it involved perhaps 25 gallons. They had dealt with an air line freezing causing a valve to close, and assumed that overpressurized and broke the gauge, Walker said. Only later did they realize the gauge had broken much earlier. Williams discovered the actual size of the leak in March during excavation work for a new pipeline.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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