Volume of Parachute gas leak more than doubles in 24 hours

Crews work at the site of a natural gas seep four miles north of Parachute at the Parachute Creek Gas Plant. The leak has spilled about 5,400 gallons of a hydrocarbon fluid that has not yet been identified.

PARACHUTE—Gary Aldersea walks daily along Parachute Creek next to his home, enjoying sights from fish in the water to herons that feed on them.

He also pulls irrigation water from the creek, and is paying close attention to the water quality since word broke about a subsurface leak upstream involving some 5,400 gallons of a liquid hydrocarbon, only 60 feet from the water’s edge.

He hasn’t seen any sign of contamination in the creek, and neither, say authorities, have they.

Still, “it would be nice if they found the source of where it’s coming from,” he said.

Authorities are frantically trying to do just that, but meanwhile the estimated amount of the fluid that’s been removed more than doubled in the 24 hours ending at 6 a.m. Monday.

Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said another 72 barrels of oil—more than 3,000 gallons—had been pulled out during that timeframe from the site some four miles north of Parachute. Before 6 a.m. Sunday, about 2,400 gallons of the fluid had been recovered.

The leak is in a pipeline right of way adjacent to a natural gas plant owned by Williams. The plant site and right of way are on property owned by WPX Energy.

This is the first time the substance has been referred to as oil. Hartman and industry representatives previously have described it as being an unidentified natural gas liquid lighter than oil. Hartman said he’s hearing the words condensate, natural gas liquids or hydrocarbons all used to describe the fluid, “and any of those are roughly accurate at this point as we continue to investigate this.”

Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray said it’s inaccurate to call the liquid oil, and its identity remains unknown.

Industry officials over the weekend had said the leak seemed to be subsiding, which might seem to be at odds with the latest statistics on recovered fluids.

Said Hartman, “We’re not prepared to say the situation is slowing down, or increasing. I’d say the volumetric numbers suggest the effort to contain and capture the oil continues and there could be reasons we don’t fully understand yet why the numbers are not necessarily trending down.”

Gray said the flow has diminished, but the increased volume appears to have resulted from an increased area of excavation, including the digging of an interceptor trench to keep the fluid from the creek.

The fluid is seeping from an undetermined source in an area containing a number of pipelines and tanks belonging to Williams and WPX. Contaminated ground was discovered March 8 when crews were digging to locate pipelines as Williams prepares for construction of a new gas plant on the property. Williams first detected the liquid on Wednesday.

Through Monday morning, the amount of contaminated groundwater also removed had grown to more than 60,000 gallons.

The contamination site sits beneath cottonwood trees perhaps a half-mile from Garfield County Road 215. Williams and WPX officials aren’t allowing media access to it, but orange construction fencing, yellow tape, excavation equipment and environmental response workers were visible Monday from the road.

The area of contamination identified so far runs about 200 feet along the right of way paralleling the creek, 170 feet wide and 14 feet deep, but further work is ongoing to determine the full extent of the leak plume.

In some areas the contamination is reaching groundwater. The depth to the shallowest groundwater in the area is about 10.5 feet, according to a spill/release form Williams has filed with the state. The nearest water wells are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 feet away.

Aldersea gets his domestic water from the town of Parachute, but his neighbor, Howard Orona, has a shallow well probably 20 feet from the creek.

“We’re definitely concerned, but they’ve kept us abreast of what’s been going on. At this point we’re not really too worried because we don’t think anything’s in the creek, but as somebody downstream you’re always concerned about it,” said Orona, who also is a citizen representative on the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board.

Another neighbor, Ruth Lindauer, notes that a rancher grazes cattle just across the creek from her home.

“The calves are just being born and you worry about them,” she said.

Ruth and her husband Sid pull irrigation water from the creek, but the irrigation season hasn’t started yet.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials have visited the contamination site.

“We remain very concerned about the release of substances potentially harmful to wildlife, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will remain engaged as details of this event become available,” said spokesman Mike Porras.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have been investigating the incident.

The incident is sure to enter into the ongoing statewide debate over whether oil and gas regulations are strong enough. Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, was at the state Capitol building in Denver Monday to lobby on some oil and gas bills.

“I’ll make sure it is” brought up, she said of the incident.

“One bill calls for more COGCC inspectors and obviously the plume in Parachute is a good example why we need more inspectors on the ground.”

She said she’s concerned about the potential impact on water quality from the leak.

“They say it hasn’t gone into Parachute Creek but that’s probably wishful thinking,” she said.

Crews work at the site of a natural gas seep four miles north of Parachute at the Parachute Creek Gas Plant. The leak has spilled about 5,400 gallons of a hydrocarbon fluid that has not yet been identified.


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