Activist condemns state’s non-penalty for Williams
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A local critic of the oil and gas industry on Thursday condemned a recent state decision against penalizing the Williams Company and its subsidiary, Bargath LLC, over a spill of hydrocarbons from company facilities near Parachute Creek discovered earlier this year.
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance based in Rifle, cited her organization’s past disappointment about the environmental watchdog role of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which this week announced it would not be assessing any penalties against the two companies, at least not now.
Pointing to her organization’s unhappiness about the CDPHE’s record in overseeing the oil and gas industry, Robinson said, “From these experiences, GVCA members cannot help to wonder if the CDPHE agency is more concerned about the ‘health’ of the industry’s bottom line than protecting the health of Colorado citizens in the Gas Lands.”
The CDPHE recently assumed oversight of the Parachute Creek spill, where a spill of natural-gas liquids is now believed to have started in December 2012, but was not discovered by Williams until January 2013 and not reported until March 8. The leak and resultant cleanup initially was being overseen by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency that oversees oil and gas drilling activities in general in the state.
Analysis of monitoring wells at the leak site showed the highly toxic compound benzene present in the groundwater at concentration levels of up to 18,000 parts per billion, far greater than allowable drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion.
Because Parachute Creek is not classified as a source of drinking water, the relevant standard is far higher, more than 5,000 parts per billion, and mostly for the protection of aquatic species, according to state health officials.
On the same day that Robinson made her remarks, Chris Urbina, the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told the Post Independent that because penalties are not being assessed now does not mean they will never be assessed.
“This is all part of a process to get the industry to work with us and clean this up,” Urbina said on Thursday. “We have not closed the door on pursuing fines and penalties. We’re taking this very seriously, and we’re planning to hold them [responsible parties] accountable.”
Urbina said the job of assigning responsibility for contamination of the creek will partly be up to the Colorado Natural Resource Trustees, a division of the Colorado Attorney General’s office.
The trustees, according to the agency’s website, are Attorney General John Suthers, CDPHE Environmental Programs Director Martha Rudolph, and Rob Randall, deputy director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Robinson, in her remarks, pointed to the CDPHE’s dismissal in 2011 of a Battlement Mesa Health Impact Assessment study by the Colorado School of Public Health. The study’s findings, which cautioned that oil and gas drilling activities in Garfield County could have negative health impacts on nearby residents, were discounted by the CDPHE and used as part of the reasoning for Garfield County to terminate the study in 2011.
Robinson also noted that CDPHE representatives, when viewing the site of a hydrocarbon leak along Parachute Creek, “failed to notice that the workers in the cleanup were not wearing protective gear although benzene [a carcinogenic compound] was present.”
“Now, CDPHE won’t fine Williams when it is apparent that Williams officials were ‘negligent’ for not pursuing an investigation on how much fluid leaked from the faulty valve back in January,” Robinson concluded.
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