Bill speeds reporting of oil, gas spills, toughens notification rules

A Routt County lawmaker is proposing legislation to require more and faster reporting of oil and gas spills, and far more notification of spills at a local level.

The measure introduced Monday by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, comes amid concern over whether better notification should have occurred in the case of a hydrocarbon leak near Parachute Creek.

House Bill 1278 would require reporting within 24 hours of all spills of oil and exploration and production waste involving one barrel (42 gallons) or more. Current Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission rules vary, ranging from requiring reporting of general spills of five barrels or more within 10 days, to mandating immediate reporting of any spills if they affect or threaten a surface water supply.

Under the bill, notification requirements would be extended to include landowners adjacent to the spill site and the emergency response authority within the affected municipality, or the local county if in an unincorporated area. Currently, reports must be made principally to the commission, with certain other requirements, including notification of the owner of a spill site within 24 hours of reportable spills, and immediate notification of emergency contacts for surface water intake facilities for spills that harm or threaten their water.

Parachute town administrator Bob Knight has voiced frustration over not being notified for five days after Williams discovered soil contamination in a pipeline corridor near Parachute Creek on March 8. The creek provides irrigation water for the town, although irrigation season hasn’t yet begun.

That discovery since has led to some 6,000 gallons of a hydrocarbon being pulled from a subsurface site where groundwater also has been contaminated. An investigation continues to focus on a valve box on a Williams natural gas liquids pipeline as a possible source.

Todd Hartman, a commission spokesman, said a new monitoring well between the creek and an interceptor trench shows liquid hydrocarbons on the surface of groundwater, but preliminary water level data from monitoring wells, bore holes and the creek indicate groundwater flows from the creek toward the trench.

“In short, the creek serves to recharge groundwater as opposed to groundwater feeding the creek,” said Hartman.

Officials say the creek so far doesn’t appear to have been contaminated.

Mitsch Bush’s bill requires a company’s spill report to include information on the “constituent compounds” involved.

“Notification and rapid response for any spill are so critical,” she said.

She said five barrels is too high of a reporting threshold and responsible companies already report smaller spills.

“If they can do it, why not everybody?” she said.

Mitsch Bush’s measure drew praise from Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado.

“I think that one of the hallmarks we should be striving for is full transparency” in handling such incidents, he said.

On Tuesday, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance voiced concern in a news release over the lack of a public announcement about the seep in the Parachute area until a Denver Post story about it eight days after its discovery. The group also said the public should be told what chemicals are found in the soil and water table, and said independent testing of soil and water are needed.


COMMENTS

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Hartman parrots Williams.
This latest blurb of stream recharges ground water propaganda is just that.

At any cross-section of the valley, the stream is the low point. All moisture going onto surrounding ground flows toward the stream and down valley. The stream can saturate ground in the stream bottom outward until pressure of surrounding ground water equals water level of stream. If you dig a trench in the ground bordering a stream laden with ground water, you will strike water at stream level or slightly higher depending on upstream meanders and recent moisture on ground and valley walls. The water will pour into your trench from both sides and the bottom seeking its head level (pressure balance). The flow of the water for both the stream and the ground water is down valley toward the river that stream is running to.  The hydrocarbon liquids follow the path of ground waters coming from valley walls and those hydrocarbon liquids will tend to “float” on the water where it interfaces. However, depending on the hydrocarbons, the BTEXs have a more soluble nature to their molecular structure and can interface with the water. So as long as there is ground water contact with the hydrocarbons, unless a coffer dam is built to lowest level of groundwater, it is impossible to stop the flow of hydrocarbons and ground water downstream. This also involves piping upstream stream water over/past the cofferdam.

This is the same dilemma facing the Suncor clean-up on the front range.

What they are hoping and doing right now is a reduction of hydrocarbons such that dispersion will dilute below danger levels - it will not prevent some downstream contamination!

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