On March 8th 2013 crews doing routine pipe location work at a gas plant on Parachute Creek discovered contaminated soil – a plume of liquid hydrocarbons surging up from the ground just 50 feet from Parachute Creek. Officials estimate the plume to be 200 feet long, 170 feet wide and 14 feet deep. Crews have not yet determined the source or cause of the plume, and officials suspect that the plume could be much older than originally thought. Vacuum trucks have removed over 60,648 gallons of hydrocarbon material and 5,418 gallons of oil from the leak and remain on the scene to collect more contaminants as they appear. A test well just 10 feet from the creek showed cancer-causing benzene in the ground water at levels between 1,900 parts and 4,100 parts per billion. The maximum safe level of benzene for humans is 5 parts per billion. Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to leukemia and birth defects, and national poison-control guidelines call for anyone facing benzene exposure to wear protective gear to avoid contamination.
The public is extremely concerned because they were not notified until nearly a week after the incident was discovered. The lack of oversight on pipelines and accountability has residents worried about the safety of ground water in the area. Many of the thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines in Colorado are not regulated. Local Coloradans are growing frustrated as the plume continues to release cancerous chemicals into the groundwater while crews can’t figure out how to fix it.
To further complicate the matter, gas plant officials would not let reporters onto the site, a further lack of transparency by gas companies. We at EcoFlight did not let this deter us and took a group of press and conservationists on an overflight mission over the spill to get a closer look. In the photos you can see white booms set up across the creek in an attempt to absorb any contamination that gets into the surface of the creek. Company officials maintain that no hydrocarbons have made it into the creek, but much of the creek flows underground, so it is impossible to know for sure. Parachute Creek drains into the Colorado River.