Williams plans to build new, larger pipeline in leak area
The company that says it leaked tens of thousands of gallons of natural gas liquids from a pipeline northwest of Parachute continues to hope to build a larger liquids line in the same corridor crossing beneath Parachute Creek.
How the new pipeline project may be affected or altered by the leak, and what role regulatory entities might play in the matter, if any, remain in question as the focus for now continues to be on the leak itself.
“I would venture to say it’s going to come under much more scrutiny,” said Bob Knight, administrator for the town of Parachute, which gets its irrigation water from the creek.
Despite the presence in the creek, it’s unclear whether any agency has even limited oversight over the existing and planned lines in terms of routing, design, inspections or testing.
Williams was doing location work in preparation for laying a 6-inch-diameter pipeline when it began discovering contamination in the corridor March 8. It later said the contamination resulted from a leak involving a faulty pressure gauge on a valve set for its existing 4-inch liquids line there.
The 4-inch line is out of commission from the leak, and Williams is trucking liquids instead. But Williams intends to continue using the 4-inch line after the new line is installed. The 4-inch line runs from Williams’ nearby plant to tanks on the other side of the creek, where the liquids are then sent by pipeline to another plant in Rio Blanco County.
Williams already has begun construction on a second plant on the same site to let it remove far more natural gas liquids.
The current facility can remove about 6,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquids associated with natural gas production. The new cryogenic facility will employ extremely low temperatures to allow removal of another 18,000 barrels a day.
Dirt work on the $150 million project began last fall, and the new plant is scheduled to go into service in June 2014. Williams’ goal is for the new pipeline to go into service before the plant’s startup.
Dave Keylor, vice president and general manager in the Piceance Basin for Williams, said with the current focus on determining the size of the leak site and cleaning it up, he doesn’t think the company has put a lot of thought into whether installation of the 6-inch line might be delayed by the leak.
“It may require us to reroute the pipeline, but I don’t anticipate that,” he said.
Rerouting might be necessary if installing the pipeline in the existing corridor would interfere with the leak response, he said.
Knight thinks installation of another pipeline is “far down the road” for Williams.
Williams says it ultimately determined about 10,000 gallons of natural gas liquids leaked from the faulty gauge from Dec. 20 until Jan. 3. About 6,000 gallons have been recovered. Williams also estimates that about 80 percent of the leaked liquids vaporized once they left the pressurized line.
Benzene has been found in high concentrations in groundwater adjacent to the creek, and on Williams announced Thursday that benzene was detected in the creek water.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hasn’t made a final determination as to the source of the contamination.
Knight predicted that everyone from the town to Garfield County to the commission “will be watching and looking at the plans” for the new pipeline.
The commission and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are investigating the leak and have various levels of jurisdiction over spills, but neither has authority over the existing or planned pipeline.
Garfield County conducts some land-use review of pipelines, but only for ones that are 12 inches in diameter and more than two miles long, or are of any diameter and more than five miles long.
Williams had to get a county land-use permit for its new plant.
But a county staff report to county commissioners for that project makes no apparent mention of the new pipeline.
Williams has said the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates the pipeline running from the tanks to Rio Blanco County, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates the 4-inch line.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating possible worker chemical exposure or other safety aspects related to the leak. But Herb Gibson, director of OSHA’s Denver area office, said the agency doesn’t have regulations dictating how pipelines should be constructed.
Rather, its regulations are designed to safeguard workers.
“Are we concerned (about environmental protection)? Obviously. But we have no jurisdiction over environmental issues,” he said.
Keylor said he thinks Williams has a sound construction process, which includes high-pressure hydrotesting. That’s “the gold standard” for determining pipeline integrity, he said.
He said he thinks Williams has “robust, strong standards” for facilities including pipelines.
“I anticipate that we’ll apply those and properly test the pipeline before it’s put into service,” he said.
At a recent meeting with Parachute town trustees, and in an interview afterward, Keylor said Williams will do some things differently regarding pipelines as part of its efforts to learn from the Parachute situation.
“There’s been a host of things that as we look back on this we wish we had done differently,” he said. “... One of the goals that we have as an organization is to learn our lesson once and to apply it across the organization.”
He said a big lesson learned involves monitoring, including increased visual inspections.
The company also is looking into whether better automated leak detection systems can be employed. The hope is to be able to find smaller leaks and detect leaks more quickly.
Keylor added, “We’re going to be taking a hard look at all of our creek crossings and all of our water crossings in this basin.”
Sonja Linman, who ran unsuccessfully last fall for Garfield County commissioner, said she’s concerned about the way public officials regulate, or don’t regulate, oil and gas operations.
“Now what we’re seeing is the result of those kind of decisions,” she said, referring to the leak.
Linman said officials’ priority should be working for and protecting the public.
Meanwhile, with the leak continuing to be the focus for Williams and investigators, Keylor said the good news about benzene is there are a lot of proven ways to deal with it, such as aeration.