Parachute Creek spill: Day 97

COGCC number-of-spills-2000-2011Williams June 11 testing results showed the benzene level at sampling site 6 is now at 1.5 ppb, which is up from 1.4 June 8-10.

We’re getting an awful lot of mixed messages about spills and fines.

This week the Colorado Natural Resources Damages Trustees are addressing the Williams Parachute Creek spill to assess whether the release of hydrocarbons damaged natural resources.

Natural resources damage could lead to find for Williams [for subscribers only]

Colorado Department of Law spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said Friday that representatives of that department, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “are going to begin initial scoping of potential injuries to natural resources” in the [Williams] case, based on a decision made the previous day …

… The agenda was to include a brief discussion of it as the subject of a potential investigation, and it also was included on the trustees’ executive-session (closed-door) agenda.

The little-known panel consists of state Attorney General John Suthers along with Martha Rudolph and Bob Randall, who respectively are high-level officials within the health and environment department and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

They can seek compensation from responsible parties when oil or hazardous substances harm natural resources, with the money used for restoration and other measures to address the damage …

… The health division has much higher potential daily fines for violations than does the oil and gas commission.

On May 15, the CDPHE announced no penalty would be assessed as part of a consent order reached with Bargath and Williams because “the release was not due to negligence but to accidental equipment failure.”

Within days Dr. Chris Urbina, who wears two hats as both director of the CDPHE and oil and gas commissioner, initiated contact with several members of the media and back-peddled on that announcement:

Urbina told the Daily Sentinel: “This is our usual process, starting with a consent order. It is premature to say there may not be penalties or fines in the future.”

In statements to the Denver Business Journal Urbina said:  “We’re considering other fines and penalties associated with this spill. We take this very seriously.”

At that time Urbina hinted at the current consideration of action by the Natural Resources Damages Trustees in the following statement: “Possible fines or penalties could be aimed at the water contamination from the spill, damage to the state’s natural resources, or anything that’s discovered during the cleanup, he said.”


At the Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum on June 4, COGCC Executive Director Matt Lepore made some bold statements about fines as reported in the Daily Sentinel: State warns oil and gas: Break rules, expect fines [subscribers only]

Lepore said, “We’re not going to tolerate repeat offenders.”

Does this mean the companies get one spill for free?

He was referring to Gov. Hickenlooper’s May 8 executive order which ordered the COGCC to review its enforcement program, penalty structure and imposition of fines. The order was issued shortly after HB 1267 failed in the state legislature, which would have increased the maximum daily fine from $1,000 a day to $15,000 a day.

One part of the order requires the commission to establish circumstances under which staff are precluded from negotiating a settlement and fine amount with a company, and the matter instead must go to a commission hearing.

Lepore said those circumstances are likely to include things such as recidivism by a company, and cases involving very significant violations with highly adverse impacts.

Lepore said the Hickenlooper administration supports oil and gas development, but it’s also important to protect a state that Lepore called a “darned pretty place to live.”

“I don’t want anything that this industry does to change that in any way,” he said.

He said Hickenlooper has been clear that the state expects “the highest and best” from oil and gas companies.

“That means if you violate our rules you should expect to be penalized,” he said.

The Hickenlooper administration had supported the increase to $15,000 a day, but took issue with a required minimum fine in the legislation that it thought took away flexibility in enforcement matters.

Lepore said that under the current fine schedule, a lot of cases involve enough days and enough violations “that fines can become meaningful when they need to be when there are significant transgressions.”

He said he thinks part of what Hickenlooper is asking is to be more publicly transparent and explicit regarding what factors the agency considers in imposing a specific fine.

Addressing media coverage contending that the agency doesn’t impose sufficient fines, Lepore said it does reach negotiated settlements and fines with companies in most cases, but that’s encouraged by state law and no different from the plea-bargaining that often occurs in criminal prosecution.

“We do adjust from what is the maximum (fine) available. To me, that is just frankly not news,” he said.


State had 400 oil, gas spills in 2012, report says [free to non-subscribers]

The article doesn’t say how many of the 400 spills resulted in fines. At the COGCC website a report from October 2011 states:

During the 18-month period from January 2010 through June 2011, we have made a concerted effort to reduce our backlog of environmental enforcement actions. During this period, we reduced the number of pending enforcement actions involving violations more than one year old from 32 to 1, and we assessed more than $1.6 million in penalties for violations associated with spills and releases.

The report was in response to two Denver Post articles which exposed the number of spills and fines for 2011. The September 13 (2011) article revealed plenty of damning statistics, among other things:

This year [2011], the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has imposed fines for five spills that happened three or more years ago. The total penalties: $531,350 …

… Oil and gas companies have reported 343 new spills this year, bringing the total since August 2009 to more than 1,000 spills, state data show.

That comes out to about $1,698 in fines per spill.

It’s easy to see why there are so many spills in Colorado. There’s no incentive to force industry to act responsibly. State officials expect them to act responsibly. Then they hope and pray they will.


Williams June 10 update

CDPHE Parachute Creek

Follow-Up Questions from Journalists and Others; Answers from CDPHE Staff
(If the link doesn’t work click on the CDPHE link, go to the drop down menus and click on Media)

Plume size:
The maximum estimated size of the plume is approximately 1,500 feet long, 308 feet wide and 10 feet thick. This equals an area of approximately 462,000 square feet or 10.6 acres in area; roughly 34,595,000 gallons.

(The Glenwood Springs Hot Springs Pool is 405 feet long and 100 feet wide at the widest point, and contains 1,071,000 gallons of water.)

Chemical composition of plume:
Benzene; toluene; ethylbenzene; all three xylenes (M, O and P); cyclohexane; hexane;
methylcyclohexane; isopropylbenzene; acetone; bromoform; heptanes; 1, 2 , 3-trimethylbenzene; 1, 2, 4-trimethylbenzene; 1, 3, 5-trimethylbenzene and tetrachloroethene.

Amount of hydrocarbons extracted as of May 31:
173 barrels or 7,266 gallons.

Amount of contaminated water brought up with the hydrocarbons as of May 31:
Approximately 225,000 gallons

Amount of contaminated sand and soil brought up with the above, same time frame:
Approximately 1,500 cubic yards

Groundwater benzene levels in mid-May from selected monitoring wells:
“Williams has draft groundwater results that show a significant decrease in benzene concentration in groundwater down-gradient of the aeration trench. The concentration of benzene in monitoring point TMP-48 dropped from 670 ppb on April 29 to 100 ppb on May 13 to 4 ppb on May 15. The benzene concentration in monitoring point TMP-52 dropped from 360 ppb on April 29 to 170 ppb on May 12 (the last sample collection date for TMP-52). Furthermore, the benzene concentration in the down-gradient air sparge trench and vertical well points efficacy monitoring location, SPT1-4, has decreased from 760 ppb on May 12 to 140 ug/L on May 15, 2013.”

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