State health department taking over Parachute Creek spill investigation |

State health department taking over Parachute Creek spill investigation

PARACHUTE — More than a month and a half after state regulators became aware

that a large plume of natural-gas related hydrocarbons were leaking into the

soil near Parachute Creek, state officials have concluded that it’s time for

a change in investigative authority.

According to a statement issued last Saturday afternoon, officials have

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decided the health department, rather than the overseers of the industry,

should be in charge of the investigation of the leak.

A news release issued late Saturday afternoon by Todd Hartman, spokesman for

the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), announced what

Hartman called a “jurisdictional shift” in responsibility for investigating

the leak.

The COGCC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

(CDPHE) “have mutually agreed that primary jurisdiction for response and

remediation at the Parachute Creek spill will shift to CDPHE over the next

several days,” the statement reported.

The investigation into possible contamination of Parachute Creek began on

March 8 when William’s Midstream work crews, preparing for an expansion of

Williams’ processing plant, found a plume of hydrocarbon compounds that is

now believed to have come from a set of valves and gauges outside the

Williams plant.

The shift in responsibilities, according to the statement, “is the result of

a legal interpretation that classified the spilled materials as ones over

which the CDPHE has primary authority,” the statement continued.

Hartman confirmed that attorneys for Williams and the state had been talking

about exactly which state agency should have control of the investigation,

but added, “I was not privy to those conversations.”

When asked why this decision had not been made earlier, before the analysis

of ground water near the leak showed alarmingly high levels of the toxic

compound benzene, and before sampling from Parachute Creek itself showed the

creek had been contaminated with other hydrocarbon compounds, Hartman said,

“I don’t have a comment on that.”

According to the COGCC release, state law and a 1990 “memorandum of

understanding” between the two agencies mandates that the COGCC be

responsible for “responding” to leaks and spills of “exploration and

production waste (E&P waste)” that might reach creeks or rivers in areas

where gas drilling activities are underway.

But, according to the statement, “After careful analysis of the function of

the natural gas liquids (pipeline) in the process stream at the gas plant,

the agencies have concluded that hydrocarbons released from the NGL line do

not constitute E&P waste.”

Hartman said he did not have a list of the compounds in the 4-inch pipeline

leading from the plant, and no such list was found on the COGCC website

Saturday afternoon.

The release stated that Williams has completed installation of new aeration

equipment on the creek, which is supposed to disperse the low amounts of

benzene that have been detected in parts of Parachute Creek.

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