Parachute Creek ranchers cautious about spill cleanup
Ryan Summerlin May 23, 2013
PARACHUTE — Two ranchers who live and work downstream from a natural gas liquids spill near Parachute Creek said on Wednesday that they remain concerned, but not alarmed, about the cleanliness of the water that flows past their ranches.
The ranch owners, Sidney Lindauer and Howard Orona, live along Parachute Creek about three miles north of the Town of Parachute, on opposite sides of the creek. Both have previously voiced concerns about the cleanup of a large spill of natural-gas liquids about one mile upstream from their properties.
The two have said they worried about the potential contamination of their domestic and irrigation water supplies from the spill, which according to state and industry officials has dumped tens of thousands of gallons of potentially toxic chemicals into the soils and groundwater near a natural gas processing plant owned by the Williams Midstream company.
Among the contaminants in the ground and in the stream itself is benzene, a known carcinogen, that was detected in the groundwater at levels up to 18,000 parts per billion. That is thousands of times greater than the allowable concentration in drinking water, 5 ppb, according to state and federal standards. But because Parachute Creek is not classified as a source of drinking water, the standard is much higher, at 5,300 ppb.
“We need an independent agency that isn’t associated with the industry, or any industry, to monitor that creek.”
Both Williams and state officials have maintained that the creek is not badly contaminated with benzene, noting that benzene levels found in the creek have been dropping steadily for weeks and that below a certain point on the stream no contamination has been detected.
Lindauer runs horses on a ranch that has been in his family for decades.
“I’d like to say they’ve cleaned it up,” said Lindauer on Wednesday, referring to the combined efforts of Williams Midstream and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).
But he said he is skeptical about the wisdom of leaving the cleanup in the hands of the company that owns the facilities from which the liquids leaked.
“We need an independent agency that isn’t associated with the industry, or any industry, to monitor that creek,” he said on Wednesday, lamenting that “they [the CDPHE] pretty much leave it up to Williams.”
He said he has seen unexplained layers of dingy, brownish foam on the creek’s surface in recent weeks, something he has occasionally seen in the past but in masses that were less dense than those he has spotted recently.
“Sometimes that creek is cloudy and off color, so you know something’s going on,” he concluded, explaining that he gets water for his horses and his pastures from the creek, though his domestic drinking water is from the Town of Parachute’s water system.
Orona, who is the assistant manager at the Clark’s Market store in Battlement Mesa, owns 110 acres on the west side of Parachute Creek and gets all his water from a well or from the creek.
He also is a member of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board (EAB), created in 2004 to provide a point of contact between the general public and the oil and gas industry.
At the most recent EAB meeting, Orona questioned the classification of Parachute Creek as a non-drinking-water source.
“I still consider it drinking water,” he said of the creek, adding that he would willingly be part of any move to reclassify the creek from its current status.
In general, though, he told the Post Independent, “Everything’s going OK. I’ve been pretty well assured that my well’s OK. They’ve been willing to work with me.”
As a member of the EAB, he said, he regularly hears about the fears and concerns of area residents about the spill, the cleanup and the ramifications of the entire episode.
Since he is no expert, he said, “I’ve been directing them to the county’s website, and to that website that Williams created,” which can be found at answersforparachute.com on the Internet.