Natural resources damage could lead to find for Williams

Staff members for state agencies will begin looking at whether the Williams natural gas liquids leak near Parachute damaged natural resources, and a positive finding could lead to the firm having to pay damages.

Colorado Department of Law spokeswoman Carolyn Tyler said Friday that representatives of that department, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “are going to begin initial scoping of potential injuries to natural resources” in the case, based on a decision made the previous day.

The Williams case was on this week’s agenda for the Colorado Natural Resources Trustees meeting.

The agenda was to include a brief discussion of it as the subject of a potential investigation, and it also was included on the trustees’ executive-session (closed-door) agenda.

The little-known panel consists of state Attorney General John Suthers along with Martha Rudolph and Bob Randall, who respectively are high-level officials within the health and environment department and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

They can seek compensation from responsible parties when oil or hazardous substances harm natural resources, with the money used for restoration and other measures to address the damage.

Williams estimates that about 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids leaked into the ground and groundwater this winter from a faulty pressure gauge on a pipeline leaving its natural gas processing plant near Parachute Creek.

The health department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division has taken over investigation of the case, after the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission determined the incident didn’t fall within its jurisdiction.

The health division has much higher potential daily fines for violations than does the oil and gas commission.

But the health and environment department has said the division and Williams have reached a consent order under which, if Williams complies with cleanup requirements, it won’t be fined for violating division regulations because the leak resulted from accidental equipment failure rather than negligence.

Under state law and oil and gas commission rules, absence of negligence doesn’t preclude that agency from issuing fines in enforcement matters it handles, commission Director Matt Lepore said this week when asked in an interview.

He declined to comment about the handling of the Williams fine, saying the matter involves a different agency and he doesn’t have insight into the health department’s decision-making.

Dr. Chris Urbina, director of the state health department, and incidentally also a state oil and gas commissioner, has hastened to say that despite the terms of the consent order, it’s too early to say Williams won’t be fined in connection with the leak.

In part, he has pointed to the possibility of action by the Natural Resource Damages Trustees.

Williams said Friday that it has recovered about 7,350 gallons of hydrocarbon fluids.

While benzene, a carcinogen, had appeared for a while in the creek in small concentrations, it hadn’t been detected in 17 consecutive days as of Thursday, indicating remediation measures have been effective, the company said.


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