State issues no penalties for plume
Post Independent Staff
PARACHUTE — State health officials announced on Monday afternoon that they will not be assessing penalties against the Williams Co. or its subsidiary, Bargath LLC, over the ongoing effort to clean up a leak of liquid gas-like compounds from a pipeline system along Parachute Creek.
“No penalty is being assessed [at this point],” stated a press release from Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), “as the release [of natural-gas liquids] was not due to negligence but to accidental equipment failure. The Division retains the ability to fine Bargath in the event the company does not comply with the clean-up/remediation requirements” set forth by the CDPHE.
In an email providing further explanation of the decision, Salley wrote that the spill “was not determined to have occurred due to negligence. It would be different if a valve had been left open [by] a worker who hadn’t slept in 24 hours, or if a company truck driver had backed up into the equipment, noticed the break, but drove away. This was not any of those things. This was an accidental failure of equipment that caused the operator to lose valuable product and to incur the expenses associated with the clean up operations.”
In response to a question from the Post Independent, Salley had indicated earlier in the email that the CDPHE’s decision about penalties should not be interpreted as meaning that the state does not hold Williams or other companies responsible for keeping their pipelines, storage tanks and other equipment in good working order.
“They have a duty to maintain their equipment,” Salley wrote, adding that “since what was being spilled was valuable product from their operation they have a vested interest in the performance of their equipment.”
If toxic compounds from the leak are later discovered to have contaminated domestic water wells along Parachute Creek, Salley said, “New facts can result in us reassessing the situation.”
The division, according to the statement, is in the process of drafting a “Consent Order” that will lay out the state’s requirements “from this point forward, including the development of contingency plans in the event hydrocarbons appear in the creek; implementing measures to begin the process of recovering the hydrocarbon floating on the groundwater table; taking actions to reduce the concentration of dissolved benzene in ground water; and developing a long-term strategy to eliminate the source of contamination impacting the groundwater and surface water [and] meeting state environmental standards.”
Industry and state officials have been working since late March to pinpoint the source of the leak, which is believed to have drenched the soils near a natural gas processing plant owned by Williams and located about four miles north of the Town of Parachute. The leak, according to Williams, came from a broken pressure gauge attached to a valve assembly on a four-inch pipe carrying natural-gas liquids.
Some compounds, including the toxic chemical benzene, have been found in the ground, in groundwater, and in the creek itself, although tests have indicated that the levels of benzene contamination have diminished at increasing distance from the leak itself.
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