Official: Williams penalty not off table

Colorado’s top environmental official said Thursday that it’s too early to say Williams will not be fined in connection with a natural gas liquids leak in the Parachute Creek watershed.

Dr. Chris Urbina, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, made the statement a day after the department said no financial penalty is planned under a consent order being drawn up with the company.

While that is the case, Urbina reached out in calls to reporters Thursday to emphasize that the possibility of a fine remains.

“This is our usual process, starting with a consent order. It is premature to say there may not be penalties or fines in the future,” Urbina said.

In addition, Urbina noted that a separate state group, the Colorado Natural Resource Damages Trustees, also will consider the Williams matter and can assess damages.

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

That entity can seek compensation from responsible parties when oil or hazardous substances harm natural resources and use the money for restoration and other measures to address the damage.

The health department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division has alleged that Williams disposed of hazardous waste without a permit when the liquids leaked from a burst pressure gauge on a pipeline leaving its gas processing plant.

The leak has resulted in high levels of benzene in groundwater and small amounts of benzene in Parachute Creek that briefly exceeded the state drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion, although that standard doesn’t apply to the creek.

Williams said Thursday that the previous day, benzene was detected in one creek location, at 3.2 ppb.

On Wednesday, the health department said the division, Williams and Williams subsidiary Bargath LLC, had agreed to enter into a consent order governing the leak investigation and cleanup.

It provided that Williams won’t be fined under the order because the leak resulted from accidental equipment failure rather than negligence.

However, the health department also said a fine could be imposed if Williams doesn’t comply with the cleanup requirements, or if warranted by new information.

Urbina said fines and penalties remain a possibility for a finding of damages to natural resources or water.

“The door’s not closed and we’re going to consider appropriate fines and penalties going forward because that’s one tool we use to hold the industry accountable for any damages to natural resources, water and for the spilling of hazardous waste,” he said.


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