Few answers available on source of leak
RIFLE—State regulators and an energy company said Thursday they’re still mystified as to the origins of a hydrocarbon leak near Parachute. And it’s what the industry doesn’t know that concerns some area residents.
“This is a really serious event and I am really scared and upset,” Richard Votero of Carbondale said at the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board meeting. “... I know the industry is being diligent and I know (they’re) using all best practices, all those things are going on, and they don’t know where it’s coming from.”
A handful of residents expressed similar concerns after Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Matt Lepore and an official with Williams updated the status of the investigation into the leak of about 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons near Parachute Creek about four miles northwest of Parachute. The contamination was found in a pipeline corridor with lines servicing a Williams gas plant. Officials have identified what they call the “hot spot” for the contamination as being beneath an above-ground valve set for a 4-inch-diameter natural gas liquids line running from the plant to tanks on the other side of the creek.
“We’re concerned, I’ll be honest,” said Dave Keylor, vice president and general manager in the Piceance Basin for Williams. “We’re concerned and we want to prevent this from getting into the creek. We know how important water is in the West. We know how important this creek is as a supply.”
The creek is used for downstream purposes including as the irrigation water supply for the town of Parachute, and it also is a tributary of the Colorado River.
Williams has taken the 4-inch line out of service and repeatedly tested it under high pressure using water, at pressures above 600 pounds per square inch, more than three times its normal operating pressure.
“We put a very robust test on it and it held so we feel confident that that pipe does not have a leak,” he said.
While the valve set isn’t showing signs of leakage now, Keylor revealed that a pressure gauge above-ground in the valve area had been discovered to have been leaking Jan. 3. He said Williams removed the gauge and plugged the pipe rather than installing another gauge, and did testing at the time that indicated it likely leaked less than 25 gallons—a lower amount than it was required to report to the COGCC, and far less than has been recovered since. He said the leak also wouldn’t explain dissolved benzene being found now in a groundwater monitoring well more than 300 feet away.
Lepore said the investigation is expected to provide information on how fast groundwater travels in the area. Once it’s determined how far the contamination plume extends from the concentration point, investigators can then determine how long contamination has been there.
Investigators are considering the possibility that more than one event caused the contamination.
Asked to speculate as to possible sources, Lepore said, “It seems sort of obvious that the location of the release we’ve got pinned down. Historical malfunction that got fixed, that nobody told us about? Don’t know. Truck spill? Could be a very slow, slow leak over a long period of time that somehow the current hydro tests aren’t showing us—I don’t know. The process to get us there isn’t self-evident to me either. We’re going to keep chipping away at it.”
A prime focus of the work continues to be trying to protect the creek, which investigators say so far doesn’t appear to be contaminated despite benzene in nearby groundwater. But Lepore and Keylor said attentions also are turning toward developing a long-range remediation plan for the site, which Keylor said will be made public.
Energy Advisory Board member Bob Arrington, a retired engineer, suggested that Williams should investigate the possibility of a temporary leak associated with the liquids line during this winter’s extreme cold snap.
Karen Meskin, who lives in the heavily drilled subdivision on Grass Mesa outside Rifle, told officials water quality is always a concern there.
“Now you’ve scared me,” she said after hearing the presentation, before urging officials to “pay attention to our public health.”
Benita Phillips, president of Western Colorado Congress of Mesa County, said it’s time that companies show that their operations are safe.
“I don’t think that they really understand what they’re doing,” she said.
A.J. Hobbs of Carbondale suggested doing water quality monitoring in the Colorado River as well as in the creek.
He added, “I think it’s important that we step back and not progress (with oil and gas development) at this constant speed that will lead to inevitable leaks here ... .”
Keylor said Williams has “a lot of business in this basin and we have between 90 and 100 employees and their families who live here so we are as concerned if not more concerned as anybody in this room” about the contamination.
In an apparent reference to criticism over the limited notification and communication it provided early after the contamination’s discovery, Keylor said Williams learned that “maybe we weren’t quite as responsive as we need to be with our stakeholders, so it’s a lesson learned and something that we’re going to endeavor to fix.”
He added, “Our sense of responsibility here and our diligence is at the highest level that we can offer.”