Pipeline leak fouls water in GarCo
A leaking Garfield County pipeline owned by a subsidiary of Encana was discovered in June to be contaminating groundwater and surface water with oil, and state regulators are being asked to find the company in violation of oil and gas rules.
Cleanup work continues in connection with the leak from a 6-inch-diameter steel liquids pipeline operated by Hunter Ridge Energy Services LLC in the North Parachute Mountain area north of Parachute. The company said in a written response to the state about the alleged violations that condensate from the pipeline traveled underground about 4,200 feet before surfacing in a spring and flowing on the surface more than a mile north to a stock pond.
Hunter Ridge discovered the contamination June 14 during routine sampling of the spring. It identified the pipeline as the source about four hours later, shut in a well feeding the pipeline and blocked and bled the line, it says. It notified authorities and affected landowners within hours of discovering the leak, deployed absorbent booms below the seep and began skimming and collecting oil from the stock pond.
Both the spring and pond are on private land. According to a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission inspection report, the impacted drainage heads to Piceance Creek, but impacted water flows a few hundred feet below the pond before drying out. The inspection found yellowed vegetation and black staining along the drainage between the spring and pond.
Hunter Ridge estimated in early spill reports that anywhere from 5 to 100 barrels, or 210 to 4,200 gallons, of condensate was released. It says the volume of hydrocarbons collected from the spring has dropped dramatically.
Hunter Ridge says tests have indicated the leak didn’t harm private water wells or deep groundwater, and there’s no evidence that livestock or wildlife died from the spill or crops were damaged.
It has installed more than 45 groundwater monitoring wells. It also installed an interim system to send water from the spring through an oil/water separation system and air stripping unit to remove hydrocarbons and dissolved volatile organic compounds before returning water to the drainage. A new headgate also was installed at the stock pond to prevent downstream flows while the cleanup continues.
A new hydrocarbon recovery system is in the process of being installed to allow for year-round operation and for disposal of recovered fluids into an existing underground injection well. Hunter Ridge expects to have spent more than $1.1 million responding to the incident by year’s end.
Gas commission staff are asking the agency commission to find that Hunter Ridge violated requirements to ensure pipes are in good mechanical condition and regularly inspected; to protect water from environmental impacts from oil and gas waste; to follow measures applying to proper installation, testing and operation of flowlines from oil and gas facilities; and to take reasonable measures to prevent leaks and corrosion.
Hunter Ridge challenged the alleged violations in its written response. It says the leak is believed to have resulted from isolated pitting resulting from bacteria, the pipeline was generally in good condition otherwise, and factors such as its design and operating pressure weren’t factors in the leak.
Hunter Ridge says the pipeline doesn’t constitute a flowline under gas-commission rules because it’s downstream from sales metering equipment, and the company didn’t annually pressure test it as flowline rules require. But it says the pipeline material was strength-tested by the manufacturer. It also says it employs a number of precautionary practices for its Piceance Basin pipelines, such as continuous monitoring of pressures and flows, use of alarm and remote shut-in systems for when monitors show problems, regular leak inspections, chemical injections using corrosion inhibitors, and other practices. In fact, it’s waiting on a response from the gas commission from a 2015 request that it be exempted from annual flowline pressure testing requirements because of the precautionary practices it employs.
Hunter Ridge is asking that the gas commission close the current enforcement case “without further process or penalty” based on the information the company has provided and its commitment to complete remediation. It said that would be consistent with the resolution of the leak involving a pipeline from Williams’ gas plant north of Parachute a few years ago.
In that case, an estimated 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons leaked into soil, groundwater and Parachute Creek, with 40,000 more gallons vaporizing into the air. A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment agency decided not to fine Williams as long as it complied with cleanup requirements, saying the incident resulted from accidental equipment failure rather than negligence.