From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Creek water tests found benzene reaching 5.3 parts per billion at the sampling spot closest to the spill from a pipeline at Williams’ gas-processing plant, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The limit for safe drinking water is 5 ppb. However, Colorado water quality overseers have set the limit for benzene in Parachute Creek at 5,300 ppb because the creek isn’t designated as a water source for people. Benzene dissipates at two sampling locations downstream. No benzene was detected in a test last week where the creek flows into the Colorado River…
Williams crews have been aerating the creek and pumping air underground into soil — to try to remove benzene into air. “While the one test site is showing a slight increase in benzene, other sites downstream remain static or show no detection,” Williams spokesman Tom Droege said in an e-mailed response. “We believe this indicates that our remediation efforts ….. are helping us make progress.”[...]
The creek normally feeds a Parachute town reservoir used for irrigation. But town officials have kept a headgate, 1.5 miles downstream from the gas plant, closed.
The latest tests did not detect benzene at the headgates.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
A CDPHE compliance advisory, dated April 30, formally notifies Williams, property owner WPX Energy and pipeline operator Bargath LLC that the spill constitutes disposal of hazardous waste without a permit…
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on March 20 issued notices of alleged violation to Williams and WPX. The advisory asks Williams to meet with state officials to discuss problems, schedule cleanup activities and show that laws were not broken. If state officials decide they need to order cleanup and remediation, CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley said in an e-mailed update, they can issue “compliance orders on consent” or a “unilateral compliance order.”
Williams spokesman Keith Isbell said the warning “was fully expected.” “It does not change the cleanup work that Williams has been doing,” he said. “Our next step is to formally present our current work plan to CDPHE and get their official approval as the new lead regulator.”
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
A natural gas liquids leak that contaminated Parachute Creek hasn’t affected public health and is unlikely to do so in the future, a state health official told local residents Monday. “We have technology to deal with any level of contamination from this site in groundwater and surface water,” said David Walker, with the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Despite such assurances, a number of the 100-plus members of the public attending an update on the situation Monday voiced concern about the contamination and skepticism about the response to it by the agencies and company involved.
Over the weekend, it was announced that lead jurisdiction over the investigation into the incident transferred to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Roughly 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids leaked into the ground from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant, the company has estimated, although the commission “doesn’t take those numbers as gospel,” said its director Matt Lepore.
Dave Devanney, a Battlement Mesa resident, questioned the health department’s history of commitment to protecting the public from dangers related to oil and gas development, noting its opposition to some proposed health research related to such development. “We feel that CDPHE can do a better job than they’re doing right now,” he said.
Marion Wells of Rulison noted how the incident has continued to escalate. The leak went entirely unmonitored for two months, the pressure gauge it came from initially was said by Williams to have leaked just 24 gallons, and the incident eventually resulted in benzene reaching not just groundwater but the creek. “I just don’t trust. I don’t have it,” she said.
Walker said that compared to other remediation sites he deals with, the Parachute one is actually fairly small, although the potential repercussions are large because of the possible impact to surface water.
Benzene as high as about 4.5 parts per billion has been detected in the creek downstream of the pipeline. But that’s below the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb, and the state doesn’t consider the creek a drinking water source and applies a maximum 5,300-ppb aquatic standard to it. No benzene has been detected where the town of Parachute diverts irrigation water farther downstream. “There is not going to be any benzene that’s going to be in your irrigation water,” Walker said. He said aeration-related methods readily remove the carcinogen from surface water. In the worst case, installing a small dam a few feet high would aerate water enough to eliminate the benzene, he said.
Both state agencies and Williams also sought to assure that water tests are being conducted by objective, independent entities and labs, with the state having its own testing done to compare against Williams’ results.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The school district serving the Parachute and Battlement Mesa areas plans to begin using irrigation water from Parachute Creek after receiving assurances from state officials that doing so won’t endanger students. Ken Haptonstall, superintendent of Garfield County School District 16, said the district initially had been concerned about the benzene that has shown up in the creek as a result of the natural gas liquids leak from a pipeline leaving the Williams gas processing plant upstream. “We water the fields, that’s one thing. The fact that kids play on the fields, it’s a much bigger thing,” Haptonstall said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have been investigating the leak and overseeing cleanup. Haptonstall said state officials told the district benzene shouldn’t reach its irrigation water, but testing of the creek continues and it would be notified if any problem arises.
The district’s Center for Family Learning gets irrigation water from the town’s system, which draws from Parachute Creek and is scheduled to go into service May 8. Its Grand Valley High School fields get water from a ditch farther down the creek.
So far, no benzene has been detected at the town diversion point or farther downstream. On Tuesday, the CDPHE reported a detection within a mile of the town diversion point, the farthest downstream so far. But the measurement was just 1 part per billion, well below the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb. Benzene as high as 4.5 ppb has been reported at one point farther upstream.
Williams has been working with state officials to aerate creek water and treat adjacent groundwater to remove benzene. The state Health Department says such measures, and benzene’s propensity to dissipate in creek water quickly, make it relatively easy to remove the carcinogen from a creek.
Parachute Town Administrator Bob Knight said arrangements also have been made to let Williams shut off the town diversion point and other such points downstream should contamination threaten them.
Haptonstall said if the district had had to postpone watering for a month or so, it would have created some serious problems in terms of trying to keep fields from drying out. The town has been working to complete a pipeline from an existing reservoir to a second one it has decided to put into operation due to the Williams incident. That will provide it with some backup water in case the diversion point is shut down, as well as allowing for more dilution and treatment if any contamination occurs. Cool and wet weather this spring has allowed the town to delay when its irrigation system begins operating and do the additional reservoir work without having much effect on users of the water.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
State health officials have issued a compliance advisory to Williams, alleging the company has violated state laws for the leak of thousands of gallons of natural gas liquids into groundwater and Parachute Creek near Parachute.
The Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued the advisory late Tuesday, an official notification to the owner of the property, WPX Energy, and the operator of the pipeline, Bargath LLC, that the state has determined the leak constitutes disposal of hazardous waste without a hazardous waste permit. Bargath LLC is a subsidiary of Williams.
The compliance advisory comes on the heels of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued notices of alleged violation to Williams and WPX on March 20.
The compliance advisory encourages Williams officials to meet with the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division to develop a schedule for cleaning up the leak. The meeting, which is optional, also would be an opportunity for Williams officials to demonstrate that the spill isn’t a violation of state hazardous waste laws.
Violating those laws can result in an administrative penalty of up to $15,000 per violation, per day or a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per violation, per day.
Williams has estimated that roughly 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids has leaked into the ground from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant near Parachute. Benzene has been found in both groundwater and Parachute Creek, although the levels of benzene reported in the creek are below state’s drinking water standard.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):
The level of the toxic compound benzene in Parachute Creek on Wednesday exceeded Colorado’s safe drinking water standard for the first time in more than three weeks of testing, state health officials reported on Thursday…
Officials with the CDPHE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have promised to monitor the creek until it is clear of contaminants from the natural gas activities located there.
In addition, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is looking into complaints from workers at the plume site, who say they were forced to work without the proper protective gear and who fear they may have been poisoned while on the job.
More oil and gas coverage here and here.