Source of natural gas liquid leak a mystery
State investigators and industry officials are trying to determine what has led to potentially thousands of gallons of an unidentified natural gas liquid leaking from the ground about four miles north of Parachute.
Donna Gray, spokeswoman for Williams, said Saturday the contamination was first discovered March 8 while the company was doing trenching work to locate underground pipelines in preparation for construction of the company’s new cryogenic gas processing plant.
The liquid is seeping underground, and vacuum trucks are being used to remove it, she said. Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said that as of Friday, about 37 barrels of the liquid had been removed. That’s about 1,550 gallons.
Additionally, about 21 barrels of emulsion, basically a hydrocarbon/water mix, have been removed, along with 288 barrels of contaminated groundwater, he said.
The fluid is some sort of a natural gas hydrocarbon, Gray said. David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said it appears to be something lighter than oil. Both Gray and Ludlam said the leak continues but has diminished.
Representatives with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have been on the site and overseeing the response to it, including trying to determine the source and extent of the contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency also has assessed the situation.
“The number one priority for the team was to first make sure that Parachute Creek was protected. They’ve done that,” Ludlam said.
Said Hartman, “If there’s a bright side of this, there’s no indication right now that the creek is affected.”
He said surface water sampling is ongoing, trenches have been dug to intercept the liquids, and booms are in the creek now with more on site and ready to be deployed if needed.
He wasn’t sure how far the leak is from the creek, but added, “It’s close enough that we absolutely have a sense of urgency about it.”
He said it didn’t appear Williams broke a pipeline in its initial location work. Rather, it apparently found existing contamination, he said.
Gray said it’s not yet clear if the fluid is coming from a pipeline.“There’s a lot of buried infrastructure there. There’s pipelines, there’s tanks. We just do not know what the source is and we have been working diligently all week to try to determine that,” she said.
Ludlam said companies have indicated no changes in local pipeline pressures that would indicate a line break had occurred.
Gray said there is also infrastructure on the property belonging to another company, but she declined to identify the company. However, Hartman said the state issued cease-and-desist orders against Williams and WPX Energy on Friday.
The incident occurred on a pipeline right of way adjacent to an existing Williams gas plant that also is the site of the cryogenic project. Williams is building the new plant on land owned by WPX Energy. WPX used to be part of Williams until it was spun off into a separate company a year ago.
Williams’ cryogenic project will allow it to chill the gas to remove more ethane, propane, butane and other natural gas liquids that can be sold separately.
Hartman said the state issued the cease-and-desist orders to ensure the companies take all appropriate steps to protect the creek and surface.
But he added, “We don’t have any issues around their compliance. They’re treating it very aggressively and seriously.”
Hartman said Williams and WPX both properly notified authorities of the situation. He said the initial discovery just involved soil contamination that Williams promptly reported. It then provided further notification Wednesday when it first found liquids, and WPX alerted authorities Friday when more liquids were detected.
Dan LaRue, water operator for the town of Parachute, said Saturday he hadn’t been aware of the situation. Ludlam and Gray said town officials, including administrator Bob Knight, had been notified, as had Garfield County officials. Hartman said COGCC director Matt Lepore had spoken with both the town and county.
No public announcements about the seep were issued.
LaRue said the town gets its municipal water from the Colorado River upstream of Parachute Creek. Its irrigation water comes from the creek, but this year’s irrigation season hasn’t yet begun, he said.