Williams released a new update at their Answers for Parachute website.
August 27, 2013: Williams Update on Activity Near Its Parachute, Colo., Facility
Benzene Concentration at Surface Water Point CS-6 Returns to Non-Detect; Company Response Continuing to Show Progress in Protecting Parachute Creek
The Williams update comes on the heels of the CDPHE update on August 23.
The way the CDPHE and Williams have managed the PR on the Parachute Creek spill is very clever. Their respective websites make it look like they are being transparent with the public, and in some respects they are, as long as members of the public enjoy sifting through hundreds of pages of data. Williams’ website publishes only testing results from Parachute Creek and the CDPHE updates focus on those sampling sites, which keeps our attention diverted from the big picture—meaning the underground hydrocarbon plume.
Have they reached containment of the plume?
The CDPHE had previously reported in “Frequently Asked Questions About the Parachute Creek Natural Gas Liquids Release 2013”: “As of June 4, 2013, the ground water contamination plume was stabile, meaning not increasing in size by any dimension, and was estimated to be 462,000 square feet in area (approximately 10.6 acres).”
Williams and the CDPHE have not said anything recently about the plume. In order to figure out what is currently happening with the plume all we have to go on are comments made by CDPHE spokesperson Kate Lemon in two news stories.
Testing shows no benzene at creek site [subscribers only]
By Dennis Webb
… The CDPHE update said three new air sparge systems have been added to use air injection into groundwater to try to keep benzene from migrating farther down-gradient. A second new air sparge system to treat groundwater benzene closer to the leak source “is in operation and effectively reducing benzene concentrations in groundwater,” according to the update.
But a number of groundwater testing sites still have shown benzene levels in the thousands of parts per billion as of this summer. One site sampled July 18 showed benzene at 35,000 ppb, and toluene, another toxic substance, at 17,000 ppb. Another site had benzene at 11,000 ppb on the same date.
CDPHE spokeswoman Kate Lemon said the 35,000-ppb reading is immediately down-gradient from the spill site, where a 38,000-ppb reading was taken in April. No remediation efforts have yet occurred there, with the focus for now being further down-gradient, in an effort to prevent further expansion of the spill plume …
It is unclear from the first and last sentences [emphasis added] whether the plume has indeed expanded since June 4. I can find no reference to the hydrocarbon plume or the size of the plume anywhere in the weekly status reports, updates, and tables. Williams and the CDPHE should clarify that for the public. What is the size of the plume today compared to June 4?
In his article, Dennis Webb pointed out to CDHE spokeswoman Kate Lemon that several monitoring wells inside the plume area still showed high levels of benzene and toluene “as of this summer.” He is right. The last published groundwater sampling test results are from the end of July – about a month ago. High benzene levels persisted in some of the monitoring wells.
To recap, the CS sampling sites (featured in the CDPHE updates and Williams testing results on their website) show the results for surface water samples taken from Parachute Creek. According to Williams’ latest update (above), in addition to creek sampling sites there are over 100 groundwater monitoring wells in and around the hydrocarbon plume perimeter. The test results from those monitoring wells are published in the Williams Data Summary Tables at the CDPHE website.
If you are interested in the data from the test results, go to the CDPHE Parachute Creek webpage. On the drop-down menu click on “Documents.” Under “Williams Weekly Status Reports,” click on “Data Summary Tables.” The latest one is dated August 2, 2013. The tables are lengthy and fairly self-explanatory. Test results that show high benzene levels are highlighted in yellow.
Still, many wells with high benzene levels in April have since seen those levels reduced on average by half despite no active treatment yet occurring near them, probably due to dilution by fresh groundwater, Lemon said …
Yes. Benzene and toluene levels have dropped in several wells. But benzene and toluene levels have also increased in some of those monitoring wells. And to me, “dilution” is just a nice way of saying any rainwater that enters the groundwater in the plume area is immediately polluted with hydrocarbons—but to a lesser degree. Does that make me a glass-half-empty person?
And if the rainwater is diluting the contaminated groundwater, is the diluted, contaminated groundwater spreading, and thereby expanding the plume?
Cleanup efforts will wind down in the next few months, and the health department will do more monitoring, said Kate Lemon, a spokeswoman for the health department’s hazardous materials and waste management division.
“We’re going to continue to monitor to ensure that there’s nothing that’s been overlooked, and that monitoring ultimately could take a couple of years,” Lemon said.
“Everything has been very successful and the company has been compliant with our orders.”
Ok, wait a minute. I’m not a hydro-geologist. I’m just a Parachute Creek spill groupie. But I am surprised that Lemon used the term “cleanup efforts.” In fact, in their August 27th update Williams only uses the term once: “Williams will continue to monitor the system and track the cleanup.”
That doesn’t sound like cleanup efforts winding down.
Instead, Williams used the word “remediation” four times, and twice accompanied by the words “long term.” Remediation is defined as “the action of remedying something, in particular of reversing or stopping environmental damage.” What the update says to me is the process of extracting hydrocarbons from the groundwater in the plume area, and treating the groundwater and testing it, and then returning it to the environment is a process that will take years.
Cleanup is not remediation and vice versa. The two are not even synonymous.
I have looked at the August 2nd Williams Data Summary Tables, which show testing data through the end of July. When I combine those testing results from the groundwater monitoring wells with the language of the current Williams update, the word that comes to mind is CONTAINMENT.
Williams didn’t come right out and say it. And the CDPHE certainly didn’t. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it does not look like they have yet achieved containment of the hydrocarbon plume. However they expect to have containment of the hydrocarbon plume within the next couple months, meaning the hydrocarbons will no longer continue to spread via contaminated groundwater. Although it’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.
Whatever the case, I have learned a thing or two about a thing or two these past five months. One of those things is benzene. Benzene is tricky stuff because it can exist in water, soil, and vapor (air) simultaneously and is completely unpredictable in the environment. The way I understand it, they could continue to find pockets of high concentrations of benzene and toluene in the plume area for years to come. And nobody knows how many years because even though this isn’t the worst spill CDPHE’s David Walker has ever seen, from an environmental standpoint, it’s pretty fracking bad.
Amount of hydrocarbons extracted as of August 27:
7,811 gallons (approximately 186 barrels)
Amount of contaminated water brought up with the hydrocarbons as of June 20:
Approximately 369,000 gallons
As of August 27, a total of 221,600 gallons of stored water has been treated.
More than 1,700 tons of contaminated soil were disposed off-site at the end of July.
Plume size as of June 4:
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.
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.