Even though Williams violated Colorado law, the CDPHE is awarding them with a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of a consent order. The state has decided that footing the bill for remediation is punishment enough for Williams/Bargath contaminating our groundwater for generations to come.
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 …
… 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 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.
I was going to be all snarky and say:
And Williams/Bargath files for bankruptcy in 3 … 2 … 1 …
But that seems inappropriate. This is serious.
Of course, you do realize what this means. If Williams/Bargath does file for bankruptcy at some point in the unforeseeable future, Colorado taxpayers get stuck with the remediation bill.
Thanks to the CDPHE. What a bunch of chumps.
Today Bob Arrington* offered this comment on Facebook:
“Now that sufficient time to cool off has elapsed, CDPHE is back to no fine. The polluters even argued whether it was “waste”. A simple definition: If it is contained and controlled, it is product; if it is spilled or dumped in the environment, it is illegal hazardous waste. Colorado statutes consider spilled gasoline hazardous waste and this bunch of products contained gasoline among the other hydrocarbons. Spill = 50,000 gal. with 10,000 gal. into the ground AND 40,000 gal into the air people breathe.
“The regulators failed to relate the fact that the polluters could retrieve records for the time frame and volumes. That means monitoring was done and recorded. Safety and control systems (SCADA) would use such data in real time to issue warnings. If such systems are there, the delay and later activity are a cover-ups; if not, it is negligence. Either way, despite requests, there has been no public disclosure that this was investigated which would result in a hefty fine for either cover-up or negligence.”
Williams has not posted testing results since September 5. They have not posted an update since August 27. And no weekly status report since September 8.
In the comments section on 9/11, Bob Arrington* pointed out the ongoing monsoon’s probable impact on the hydrocarbon plume:
“The recent downpour on Parachute Creek that tore up roads, culverts, and as it appears gathering lines (in-service unknown) at the base of Mt. Calahan, and flowed over the bridge at Howard Orona’s place. If this downpour hit on the Williams spill site, it had to wash hydrocarbons out/off the soils and down the creek. This would miss the boom arrangements and go to the Colorado. It may be there are now traces on the high water flow zone – have they addressed this? This is part of that warning I gave early this spring about ‘gully washers’ carrying this junk down. I mentioned it again at EAB in my report and Howard noted the flow over the bridge.”
And the monsoon has rained gully washers almost every day since then.
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
More than 1,700 tons of contaminated soil were disposed off-site at the end of July.
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.
[*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.]