WPX spill near New Castle included benzene
About 2,100 gallons of produced water from oil and gas development sprayed into a field south of New Castle and a small amount reached a stock pond after a WPX Energy water line valve leaked July 2.
The incident has prompted WPX to make an infrastructure adjustment in what it calls its Kokopelli Field operations in that area.
WPX reported to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that the incident happened when water was being transferred between two storage pits. A valve intended to isolate a lower water line section failed, allowing pressure to build up in that section until an above-ground riser with a pressure rating below that of the line ruptured.
The fluid that reached the field then entered a diversion ditch supplying water to the man-made stock pond, and about two barrels, or 84 gallons, entered the pond.
WPX’s report said the pond sits on a high, arid mesa and “has no means of communication” with other surface water, thus posing no threat to public water systems. Nevertheless, the town of Silt’s water operator was notified as a courtesy.
The report said all but about a barrel of the water couldn’t be recovered because it had soaked into the dry soil.
Produced water contains a mix of hydraulic fracturing fluid and water that comes up from the geological formation where oil and gas is being recovered. A soil sample showed benzene to be present at just above the oil and gas commission’s permissible level in a sediment trap in the ditch, with salt measurements also exceeding what’s allowed. WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said that benzene was found along a road and nowhere else, and may not be related to the spill. However, WPX had the trap cleaned out.
The ditch also had high salt levels and was to be flushed with fresh water. The landowner was to decide whether more fresh water should be added to the pond to dilute it because of excessive salt, or if the pond should be drained and refilled.
Besides replacing the faulty valve, WPX replaced all risers in its Kokopelli Field with below-ground connections of the proper pressure rating.
Alvillar said WPX didn’t install the system that leaked. It bought its Kokopelli assets from Orion Energy Partners.
In an e-mail “action alert” Wednesday, Citizens for a Healthy Community in Delta County cited the WPX spill and others such as this year’s leak from a Williams natural gas liquids line near Parachute Creek.
“Equipment failure and accidents happen all of the time, and that’s why we need to keep drilling rigs away from sensitive areas, like riparian zones, water bodies, irrigation systems, cropland and ranches, and homes and schools,” the group said.
Alvillar said WPX handled the incident responsibly.
“I think that’s the key to being able to operate, is we just have to expect human and mechanical failures from time to time. It happens and the response is what’s the important thing,” she said.