GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Federal workplace-safety officials have accused three companies of violating federal law in association with the Parachute Creek spill of natural gas liquids discovered earlier this year, and have assessed fines totalling $27,234 to be paid by the three firms.
Penalty payments, according to the OSHA notification documents sent to the companies in late June, are due within 15 working days of receipt.
The three companies, Badger Daylighting Corp. of Rifle and Bargath LLC of Parachute, and WC Striegel, also of Parachute, have been involved in the cleanup of the spill, which was initially discovered in January but not reported until early March.
The leak is attributed to a blown pressure valve on a pipeline leading from a nearby Williams natural-gas processing plant. Williams officials at the time maintained that the amounts of spilled fluids was not enough to warrant being reporting to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oversight agency concerning oil and gas drilling activities.
But by March, the amount of spilled natural gas liquids had expanded and ultimately was estimated to amount to 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons contaminating nearby soil, groundwater and — in small amounts — the waters of Parachute Creek itself.
In early April, four workers complained to the Post Independent that they had been working at the plume site for Badger Daylighting, a contractor hired for the cleanup, without the proper protective gear and breathing apparatus.
The workers declined to be identified for fear of losing their jobs.
A Post Independent reporter called OSHA in Denver on March 29, asking if the agency was looking into the situation and the workers’ claims, and was told no such investigation had been started.
But by April 2, OSHA official Juan Rodriguez told the Post Independent that an inquiry had begun. The citations and proposed fines are the culmination of that inquiry, Rodriguez confirmed on Tuesday.
The three companies are accused of not having proper training programs in place for employees working at the site of the release and other aspects of the cleanup, of not properly evaluating the hazards present at the site, of not properly informing employees of the health hazards involved, of failing to adequately monitor the air at the site to avoid worker exposure to toxic elements, or of failing to ensure that the workers had received the required safety training.
The notifications specifically mention employees being exposed to benzene, a known human carcinogen linked to such diseases as leukemia, bone-marrow failure and birth defects, and other “volatile organic compounds” commonly associated with gas and oil drilling activities.
Efforts to contact officials at Williams, Bargath, Badger Daylighting and WC Striegel on Tuesday were not successful.
Rodriguez was unable to confirm whether any of the penalty payments had been received by OSHA, or whether the companies had contacted OSHA to schedule what are known as “informal conferences” to discuss the matters involved.