POST INDEPENDENT 3/20/13 - Parachute Creek Spill

Mar 20, 2013

by John Colson
Photo Zoom

This natural gas processing plant on Parachute Creek, surrounded by drilling pads and roads, is owned by Williams Midstream and WPX Energy. The two energy companies also are in charge of a network of tanks and pipelines that are suspected of being involved in the ongoing leak of hydrocarbon liquids seeping toward Parachute Creek, about four miles upstream from the town of Parachute.

Photo courtesy Bruce Gordon EcoFlight

PARACHUTE, Colorado — A spokeswoman for Williams Midstream, the company in charge of what some believe is a ruptured pipeline along Parachute Creek north of here, said on Tuesday that there was “nothing new to report” about a hydrocarbon spill four miles north of here next to Parachute Creek.

“Everything is status quo,” added Williams' spokeswoman Donna Gray, explaining that the actual source of the plume had not been located.

Todd Hartman, communications official for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — which oversees the industry — said that as of late Tuesday the crews had vacuumed 10 additional barrels of “oil” from the spill site that day.

That brings the amount of what he termed “oil” vacuumed from the site to a total of 139 barrels, or 5,800 gallons, according to Hartman.

Earlier reports of 166 barrels of hydrocarbons being taken from the soil were incorrect, Hartman said.

“There continues to be no evidence of impact to Parachute Creek,” Hartman added.

Also on Tuesday, a group of Western Slope industry critics told the Post Independent they felt the county erred in not immediately making a public announcement about the spill when it was first reported on March 8.

“For us to learn a week later is not acceptable,” said Leslie Robinson, a member of the county's Energy Advisory Board and of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA), a lobbying and citizen advocacy group.

Finally on Tuesday, a pair of environmental advocacy groups, National Wildlife Federation and the Colorado Wildlife Federation, issued a statement staying the spill “should be a wake-up call for state regulators to [get to work] establishing safe setbacks for waterways” to keep spills from polluting local rivers and streams.

The plume of what have been labeled “unidentified liquid hydrocarbons” was discovered by Williams employees working on building an addition to Williams' natural gas processing plant on Parachute Creek March 8.

The company notified the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that day, as required by state law, though news of the matter did not reach the media until March 16, in a story by the Denver Post.

As of 4:45 p.m. on March 19, the spill had not been reported on the COGCC website.

Gray said on March 18 that the plume was measured at 200 feet by 170 feet in circumference, and about 14 feet deep.

Those parameters, Gray reported on Tuesday, had not changed.

Representatives of the GVCA and its umbrella organization, Western Colorado Congress (WCC), were in Denver on Tuesday to lobby state legislators concerning drilling at Thompson Divide. They took a moment to express their worries regarding the plume near Parachute Creek.

“WCC and GVCA are very concerned about the ongoing pipeline rupture seeping into Parachute Creek,” wrote WCC/GVCA organizer Frank Smith. “This is an example of what can go wrong anywhere, anytime. We're further concerned about slow industry communication with regulators, little public notice and unsuccessful attempts to stop the leak.”

He noted that the industry has “multiple pipelines scoring the land and crossing waterways — going under the Colorado River, along various streams and under public roads.”

In June 2011, he recalled, an Exxon pipeline in Montana ruptured and spilled crude oil into the Yellowstone River, staining the river for five miles.

“The issues associated with pipelines are numerous, and Colorado has yet to have substantive discussions about the potential threats and how best to regulate them,” Smith concluded.

GVCA's Robinson added, “We're just really upset that we had to learn about it in the newspapers.”

She noted that Garfield County officials apparently knew about the leak on March 8 but did not let the public know.

Contacted by the Post Independent on the morning of March 18, Garfield County Oil and Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn issued a statement released at 4:25 p.m. that day.

Kirby declared that the county was “aware of the discovery of subsurface hydrocarbons in contact with groundwater near the gas plant,” and continues to monitor developments at the site.

The county's communications officer, Renelle Lott, wrote in an email that “most … questions should be directed to Williams or the regulatory authorities of record in this investigation.”

Wynn, in his email, listed those authorities as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the town of Parachute as the agencies to contact.

“Garfield County does not have oversight on this investigation,” Lott concluded in her message.