Colorado - Parachute Creek Gas Plant Spill

State: Colorado
Region: Garfield County

In January 2013 a leak was discovered at a gas plant on Parachute Creek but was not reported. On March 8th 2013 the company reported that 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 believe a faulty pressure gage to be the source, and officials suspect that the plume could be much older than originally thought. Vacuum trucks 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.

Harmful compounds known as “Diesel Range Organics” were detected in a sample taken from the creek. A test well just 10 feet from the creek and on both sides, showed cancer-causing benzene in the ground water at levels between 1,900 parts and 4,100 parts per billion. Benzene was also found in the creek at and downstream from the site. 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 months after the incident was discovered. The lack of oversight and accountability on pipelines 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 maintained that no hydrocarbons had made it into the creek, but weeks later, benzene was discovered in the creek at above-safe levels for humans. Parachute Creek drains into the Colorado River which supplies 35 million people with drinking water.

In July, 2013 the companies involved in the clean up were fined for violating federal worker saftey laws. The companies were charged for not properly training workers or giving them the proper safety equipment for dealing with toxic materials.

Colorado lawmakers are currently working on legislation that would require companies to report spills within 24 hours of discovering them, to both the state regulatory agency and any nearby city or county governments. Another bill is making its way through congress that would increase the daily limit on fines for violating COGCC laws from $1,000 to $15,000.