Gas company won’t be fined in liquids leak

Williams will face no fine in connection with a natural gas liquids leak up Parachute Creek northwest of Parachute as long as it complies with a consent order being negotiated with the state.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesman Mark Salley said in a news release Wednesday that no penalty is being assessed under the order because the spill was not due to negligence, but rather resulted from “accidental equipment failure.”

However, CDPHE’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division retains the ability to fine Williams’ wholly owned subsidiary, Bargath, LLC, “in the event the company does not comply with the clean-up/remediation requirements” of the order, Salley said.

Bob Arrington, a retired engineer living in Battlement Mesa and a member of Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board, questioned the idea of Williams facing no financial penalty for its actions.

“There was a lot of negligence involved and that’s what you fine for,” to deter against similar actions in the future, he said.

Williams spokesman Tom Droege said Wednesday about the lack of a penalty, “Those decisions are entirely up to the regulatory agencies. Our focus is on protecting the creek and the public as we clean up the contamination under the direction of those agencies.”

Williams says about 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids leaked into soil and groundwater when a pressure valve burst on a pipeline leaving its gas processing plant this winter. About 6,300 gallons have been recovered, and carcinogenic benzene has been found in both groundwater and the creek.

“They are cleaning it up ... but basically they put a lot of poisons out there,” Arrington said.

Salley said the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division has met with Williams and Bargath officials regarding a compliance advisory the division issued to Bargath April 30. The companies agreed to work under CDPHE’s hazardous waste corrective action authority, and the division and Bargath have agreed to enter into the consent order, which is likely to be negotiated and signed by both parties within a month. That order “will provide the framework for the investigation of the extent of soil, groundwater and surface water contamination that occurred as a result of the release, and for the interim and final remediation measures that will be conducted to thoroughly clean up the release,” Salley said.

Those measures range from short-term removal of contaminants in groundwater and surface water, to the long-term cleanup of those waters so they meet state environmental standards.

Williams discovered the extent of the contamination in March, and only later realized it had resulted from a burst gauge employees had discovered Jan. 3. The company initially thought that gauge had leaked fewer than 25 gallons before being removed and replaced by a plug. Only months later did it estimate that the gauge had leaked about 50,000 gallons since about Dec. 20, with about 80 percent of the liquids vaporizing and the rest reaching soil and groundwater.

Arrington — who has done pipeline work and had argued the gauge was the likely source of the entire leak even when Williams was publicly doubting it could be — said company personnel should have been able to recognize the leak source immediately and their inability to do so merits “a pretty big fine.”

“Basically what does it take to wake them up and put a person on that who knows what they’re doing?” he said.

Perhaps it would take a $100,000 fine, he said, answering his own question, and noting that Bargath was fined $275,000 last year for stormwater management violations that threatened the Parachute Creek watershed.

In an interview, Salley said it would be different if the leak had resulted from something such as a truck driver backing into a pipeline and not reporting the incident, but in the Williams case there has been no evidence of negligence.

“This was a valuable product that was being spilled. Williams had a vested interest in not having that spilled. It was clearly an accidental spill and (CDPHE’s) decision not to have a penalty is consistent with our standard operating practices,” he said.

He said the department always can reassess the situation if new information comes to light.


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