Parachute Creek spill: Day 39

Parachute Creek industrial zone

Parachute Creek industrial zone

Several new developments have come to light in the past two weeks. It’s time to sort out the known knowns and the unknown knowns.

To date:

According to Williams, the Parachute Creek spill originated as the result of a leak from a failed pressure gauge on the valve set for the 4-inch pipeline which travels underground from the Williams Gas Processing Plant and under Parachute Creek to a tank farm. The gauge began leaking December 20, 2012, but it wasn’t stopped until January 3, 2013. Initially the spill was believed to be less than 25 gallons. On March 8, 2013, widespread soil and groundwater contamination was uncovered during excavation along the pipeline and about 60 feet from Parachute Creek.

The COGCC investigation continues.

Initially the perimeter of the spill site contamination – or underground plume – was reported as 405 feet by 170 feet, at a depth of 14 feet. Investigators have continued to probe for the extent of the contamination. No new numbers have been released.

Approximately 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons have been recovered and an estimated 4,000 gallons remain in soil and groundwater.

Williams has reported that 180,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater have been recovered. However that total has not been updated since April 4.

Williams has nine surface water testing points in Parachute Creek and six absorbency booms in place. Visual inspections by Williams’ “environmental specialists” are done each half hour.

As of April 12, a new monitoring well roughly 1,400 feet downstream of the primary investigation area and about 10 feet from the north (and east) bank of Parachute Creek found benzene in the groundwater at 340 parts per billion. Operators installed six new monitoring points (downstream) on the north and east side of the creek as it bends. They continued drilling test holes for the purposes of screening soils for hydrocarbons.

Approximately 90 groundwater monitors have been installed, including both sides of Parachute Creek. Sampling results from one of three monitoring wells located 10 feet from Parachute Creek showed benzene levels of 1,900 to 4,100 ppb (parts per billion). Water tests from three monitoring wells, about 30 feet from Parachute Creek, showed benzene levels ranging from 5,800 ppb to 18,000 ppb. Benzene is a known carcinogen. The EPA and CDPHE health standard for allowable levels of benzene in drinking water is 5 ppb.

Williams continues to insist that lab analyses of water samples indicate that Parachute Creek is unaffected by the hydrocarbons from the spill site. Trenches have been dug along the north side of Parachute Creek to enhance groundwater flow away from the creek.

Diesel Range Organics (DROs): As early as March 9, a water sample taken from the surface of Parachute Creek near the spill site source investigation area showed the presence of DROs. A surface water sample taken April 7, 800 feet upstream of the source investigation area, showed DROs at 0.73 ppm. Surface water samples taken April 6 and 7 at the point about two miles downstream where the town of Parachute diverts water for an irrigation reservoir showed DROs at 0.71 and 0.49 parts per million. Five sampling points concentrated in the investigation area, and another just upstream, showed no detection of DROs on those same dates. Williams is analyzing samples collected at the diversion point using a field gas chromatograph, which allows for real-time, on-site analysis of water samples. DROs were also detected in an absorbent boom that had been in place for 10 days in Parachute Creek. The source of DROs is unknown and is believed to be unrelated to the contamination at the source investigation area and may have come from other sources upstream.

Williams VP & General Manager Dave Keylor has attended two controlled public meetings – EAB (4/4) and Parachute Town Council (4/11) – but has not held a press conference or spoken directly with members of the media.

Governor Hickenlooper has not commented publicly on or visited the site of the Parachute Creek environmental disaster.

Members of the media have not been allowed in to the site.

Williams has created an information website at Answers for Parachute.


Many questions remain unanswered. These are just a few.

Why hasn’t the stream been tested to confluence with the Colorado River?

What about workers’ safety? Three employees of Badger Daylighting, a Williams subcontractor told the Post Independent they are worried about benzene contamination. Were the workers at the site issued respirators or hazmat gear? Have their homes and vehicles been tested for benzene contamination?

Along with benzene, what other chemicals make up the contents of the “hydrocarbon liquids” that have contaminated soil and groundwater?

Have soil and groundwater samples been taken and tested from the depths (creek bed) of Parachute Creek?

In the chain of evidence of released test reports, who (person) collected the samples?

What is the range of groundwater contamination? Has anyone determined whether the groundwater is contaminated below a depth of 18 feet or above a depth of 14 feet?

At the April 4 EAB meeting, Keylor said Williams is storing the contaminated soil on site in containment tanks. They are also storing some of the contaminated groundwater on site in tanks, as well as trucking some out. Where are they taking the contaminated groundwater that isn’t being stored on site?

What is the ultimate, long-term disposal plan for the contaminated soil and groundwater?

On April 4-5, the story came out that in November 2012, Bargath was fined $275,000 for stormwater violations along a different stretch of Parachute Creek than the spill site. Since many things have been put forth from diesel on boots to pine needles, then why don’t we hear from an independent expert the concentration effects from such sources? Are the DROs a result of the stormwater violations on Bargath? How far upstream do they go, if they are still going in the stream?

This facility is a gas processing and intra-state pipeline plant. It is more like a refinery and not a drilling operation. Why is the COGCC the lead agency?

Where is the CDPHE?

Where is the EPA?

Why are these other agencies not investigating the total extent of industrial involvement on this creek?

I invite you to submit your questions in the comments section. Or send your questions to:


Look at the messes the oil & gas industry has made in the past few weeks. Is this the new normal?

13 Oil Spills in the last 30 Days (INFOGRAPHIC)

The following list adds five more spills and/or explosions not on the list of 13 above for a total of 18 spills and/or explosions – that we know about – in a little over one month.

10 Oil Spills in a Single Month That Have Been Covered Up

Colorado — March 8 — Parachute Creek spill

Utah — March 18 — Willard Bay State Park — a pipeline crack leaked 21,000 gallons of fuel into the wetlands. Some of the missing oil is still not accounted for, and the park will remained closed through Memorial Day.

Ohio — April 4 — Damascus — An S&S Energy oil and gas storage tank exploded. The fire chief said the tank was only a quarter full when the explosion occurred, letting go a small amount of oil. The company was called to clean up the spill.

Oklahoma — April 4 — Langston – A natural gas explosion occurred at natural gas compressor station. Homes within one mile of the explosion were immediately evacuated in case of more explosions.

British Columbia – April 7 – Port Moody — Suncor Energy acknowledged that 225 barrels of a bio-diesel fluid leaked into the port with a small portion of the fuel making its way to the water in the Burrard Inlet. Though Suncor managed to keep the accident a secret for four days, the incident was eventually exposed.

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