Officials try to calm nerves over Parachute Creek leak

BATTLEMENT MESA—A natural gas liquids leak that contaminated Parachute Creek hasn’t affected public health and is unlikely to do so in the future, a state health official told local residents Monday.

“We have technology to deal with any level of contamination from this site in groundwater and surface water,” said David Walker, with the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Despite such assurances, a number of the 100-plus members of the public attending an update on the situation Monday voiced concern about the contamination and skepticism about the response to it by the agencies and company involved.

Over the weekend, it was announced that lead jurisdiction over the investigation into the incident transferred to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Roughly 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids leaked into the ground from a pipeline leaving Williams’ gas processing plant, the company has estimated, although the commission “doesn’t take those numbers as gospel,” said its director Matt Lepore.

Dave Devanney, a Battlement Mesa resident, questioned the health department’s history of commitment to protecting the public from dangers related to oil and gas development, noting its opposition to some proposed health research related to such development.

“We feel that CDPHE can do a better job than they’re doing right now,” he said.

Marion Wells of Rulison noted how the incident has continued to escalate. The leak went entirely unmonitored for two months, the pressure gauge it came from initially was said by Williams to have leaked just 24 gallons, and the incident eventually resulted in benzene reaching not just groundwater but the creek.

“I just don’t trust. I don’t have it,” she said.

Walker said that compared to other remediation sites he deals with, the Parachute one is actually fairly small, although the potential repercussions are large because of the possible impact to surface water.

Benzene as high as about 4.5 parts per billion has been detected in the creek downstream of the pipeline. But that’s below the state drinking water standard of 5 ppb, and the state doesn’t consider the creek a drinking water source and applies a maximum 5,300-ppb aquatic standard to it. No benzene has been detected where the town of Parachute diverts irrigation water farther downstream.

“There is not going to be any benzene that’s going to be in your irrigation water,” Walker said.

He said aeration-related methods readily remove the carcinogen from surface water. In the worst case, installing a small dam a few feet high would aerate water enough to eliminate the benzene, he said.


Both state agencies and Williams also sought to assure that water tests are being conducted by objective, independent entities and labs, with the state having its own testing done to compare against Williams’ results.


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