Parachute Creek spill: Day 70


Click here for the last known map:  Benzene Concentrations in Groundwater & Isoconcentration Map 4-19-13

State issues no penalties for plume

… In response to a question from the Post Independent, Salley had indicated earlier in the email that the CDPHE’s decision about penalties should not be interpreted as meaning that the state does not hold Williams or other companies responsible for keeping their pipelines, storage tanks and other equipment in good working order.

“They have a duty to maintain their equipment,” Salley wrote, adding that “since what was being spilled was valuable product from their operation they have a vested interest in the performance of their equipment.”

If toxic compounds from the leak are later discovered to have contaminated domestic water wells along Parachute Creek, Salley said, “New facts can result in us reassessing the situation.”

Colorado health officials don’t plan to fine Williams for Parachute spill — As you will see this article has been removed from the website, however I did grab this snippet from the article before it disappeared down the memory hole. The rest of the article is just a re-wording of the May 15 CDPHE update:

“The bottom line is that we’ve got things pretty much under control,” said Martha Rudolph, director of the environmental programs at the public health department.

“We know where the [contamination] plume is, we are cleaning it up, and the [contamination] levels in the monitoring wells are going down, which we are pleased about.”

Rudolph said it will probably be months, or longer, before the cleanup is considered finished, and the department wants to see how the spring runoff affects the pollution and cleanup efforts.

“We have no reason to believe that the runoff will have an adverse affect on the conditions there, but the spring runoff is a fairly significant event, and we’ll be continually monitoring it,” she said.

The consent order will cover future cleanup activities as well as the development of contingency plans in the event that hydrocarbon elements from the NGL spill appear in the creek, recovering hydrocarbons floating on the groundwater table, reducing the concentration of dissolved benzene –a cancer causing agent — in groundwater and developing a long-term strategy for final cleanup.

“From a cleanup standpoint, it’s manageable,” Rudolph said. “There’s been many, many monitoring wells that have been drilled since this was discovered to try to quantify the material in the groundwater and also to get an idea of the extent of the plume.”

Suncor spill still taints South Platte, proves benzene a tough mop-up

… a review of Suncor case documents and interviews show that, even though benzene technically is easier than other toxic chemicals to remove, full cleanup can be complicated and slow.

As oil and gas operations expand in Colorado, so does the number of spills and leaks.

“The question is whether or not the industry is doing all it can to prevent the spills and leaks, to monitor for leaks, and to clean up spills and leaks promptly and completely,” University of Colorado environmental engineer Joseph Ryan said. “Industry might be able to reduce the frequency of spills and leaks and we still might see more because of the increased production.”

… Extracting benzene from soil is tricky because this transfers toxic material into the air. State air officials recently ordered Suncor to install emission controls, including charcoal filters, to minimize air pollution. They’ve directed Suncor to apply for an air pollution permit.

The CDPHE team also is demanding documentation of when and how broken pipes near storage tanks were repaired, including work orders. And CDPHE has ordered Suncor to hire an independent auditor to review its system for maintaining and inspecting storage tanks.

Suncor “continues to work with CDPHE concerning additional requests, and we anticipate a mutually satisfactory conclusion to ongoing discussions,” vice president Gallagher said.

The overall approach to the Suncor spill now is being applied near Parachute, where a spill made public on March 16 has oozed benzene along and into Parachute Creek. None has been detected in the Colorado River.

The Williams energy company runs a natural gas-processing plant along the creek. A broken pipe spilled more than 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids that contaminated groundwater with super-concentrated benzene …


Bob Arrington* questions CDPHE decision not to fine Williams

Gas company won’t be fined in liquids leak [subscriber only]

… Bob Arrington, a retired engineer living in Battlement Mesa and a member of Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board, questioned the idea of Williams facing no financial penalty for its actions.

“There was a lot of negligence involved and that’s what you fine for,” to deter against similar actions in the future, he said.

Williams spokesman Tom Droege said Wednesday about the lack of a penalty, “Those decisions are entirely up to the regulatory agencies. Our focus is on protecting the creek and the public as we clean up the contamination under the direction of those agencies.”

“They are cleaning it up … but basically they put a lot of poisons out there,” Arrington said.

Arrington — who has done pipeline work and had argued the gauge was the likely source of the entire leak even when Williams was publicly doubting it could be — said company personnel should have been able to recognize the leak source immediately and their inability to do so merits “a pretty big fine.”

“Basically what does it take to wake them up and put a person on that who knows what they’re doing?” he said.

Perhaps it would take a $100,000 fine, he said, answering his own question, and noting that Bargath was fined $275,000 last year for stormwater management violations that threatened the Parachute Creek watershed.

Bob continues:

I find it unreal that they could have a spill go on from Decemeber 17- 18 to January 3, and not notice tanks weren’t filling and then coming out there and seeing a burst gauge and not “know” the spill was big.

Even though it has been years since I worked on piping systems, I knew immediately what the problem was at EAB when I heard about the gauge. That means Williams did not have enough people monitoring flow transfer and/or they didn’t know what they were doing. Or they had maintenance people, or whoever, that didn’t know, or weren’t trained to realize such serious problems.

No, it was incompetence, untrained people, and/or lack of monitoring and system planning. The underestimation of the initial spill was because incompetent people were doing the job without the skill or experience to make a call like that.

I could do it with limited, spoon fed information and a casual remark. Those guys had to know this was a major problem and did not ever respond to such until March. That, my friends, is human failure from inadequate skill and knowledge and/or from deliberately downplaying and minimizing the scope until they could jump into or marshal reaction people and equipment. The way the original story broke indicates both.

I think a $100,000 fine would be in order just to make sure their operations and people are brought up levels for such an operation.

On a personal note, that would have been my minimum bill for the professional work I did in “solving their problem” so they wouldn’t have had to spend so much time and manpower chasing phantoms guessing scope. They could have intercepted the water spill earlier just from the prediction I gave them that their hydrologists failed to point out to them — and for pointing out the wrong agency on the job.

*Bob Arrington is a retired engineer and the Battlement Mesa citizen representative on Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board (EAB). He also represents the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and the Battlement Concerned Citizens.


Click here to read the CDPHE Update May 15 – Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Compliance Order on Consent

Water sampling test results at Williams Answers for Parachute website:  Testing Results & Other Info
Note: No test results are being shown for sampling sites upstream closer to the Williams gas processing plant.


CDPHE is accepting questions and comments from the public. Call or send your questions to:

David Walker, Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Project Manager
(303) 692-3354
Or toll free 1(888) 569-1831, Ext 3354

Hazardous Materials and Waste Mgmt Division
Colorado Dept of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Dr. S.
Denver, CO 80246

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