Agencies’ roles may affect fines in Parachute leak

State agencies continue to discuss issues of jurisdictional oversight over the liquid hydrocarbons leak near Parachute, something that could have a bearing in terms of the amount of potential fines that could be imposed in the incident.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been leading the investigation into a leak of thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons in a pipeline corridor near Parachute Creek.

“That may continue to be the case but we’re continuing to sort that out,” said Steve Gunderson, director of the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which also has been involved in the case.

The commission has issued notices of alleged violation against Williams, which has pipelines in the corridor serving its adjacent gas processing plant, and WPX Energy, which owns the contaminated site and has wells and other facilities in the area. Williams said this week it has determined that a faulty valve gauge on its natural gas liquids line coming from the plant is the source of the leak, but the commission said while that is a possible explanation, it is continuing to investigate.

By state law, the commission can impose fines of up to $1,000 a day per rule violation, although a bill now being considered by the Legislature would increase that to $15,000. Gunderson said daily fines for violations of his division’s rules can run up to $10,000 a day.

Commission fines also are capped at a total of $10,000 per violation, although that cap can be waived under circumstances such as when significant environmental impacts occur. The legislation now being considered would remove that cap.

Gunderson said while he understands why everyone focuses on penalties, the big costs for violators come from what regulators call “injunctive relief.”

“It’s what we require the entity to do to fix the problem and prevent the problem from happening again,” he said.

The commission has rules addressing leaks and contamination related to exploration and production. Health Department rules govern groundwater and surface water contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency also has been involved in the Parachute case.

“I cannot say yet how the jurisdictional issues are going to work out,” said Todd Hartman, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, of which the commission is a part, said this week.


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I found an interesting tidbit about the Parachute spill yesterday—OSHA got involved after a reporter asked OSHA if they were involved. CDPHE didn’t seem to be concerned about the health of the clean-up crew, but thanks to a reporter in Glenwood, they are now. Thank you, Dennis Webb, for digging into possible fines. Now let’s pressure CDPHE to do their job, which is protecting the health of both citizens and the environment.

Incidents such as Parachute Creek and the Rifle leak are exactly why citizens of the North Fork Valley fought so hard and will continue to fight to prevent gas drilling and fracking around Hotchkiss, Crawford and Paonia.  We don’t want or need similar incidents polluting our organically centered valley.

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