State, feds, industry say benzene was to be expected
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
PARACHUTE, Colorado – The news that benzene has been found in the sodden soil near a hydrocarbon leak known as the Parachute plume site has stirred little activity among state and federal regulators.
Work crews and others employed by Williams Midstream, a natural-gas pipeline and storage company, have been working around the clock since March 8 at a site about four miles up Parachute Creek, where a plume of liquid hydrocarbons was discovered near a Williams Midstream natural-gas processing plant.
Samples of water taken from monitoring wells showed extremely high levels of benzene, a liquid hydrocarbon associated with oil and gas drilling, which is a known carcinogen linked with leukemia and birth defects.
The leak is estimated to have soaked a patch of ground 120-feet by 70-feet around and some 14 feet deep, with more than 6,000 gallons of oil-like fluid and nearly 180,000 gallons of contaminated water polluting ground water supplies nearby.
But there is still no indication that Parachute Creek itself has been contaminated by the plume or the tainted ground water, according to Williams and state officials monitoring the situation.
“We’re being, sort of, kept advised of the situation by the COGCC [Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission],” said Mark Salley, director of communications for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), on Friday.
He said the CDPHE typically does not get involved with spills linked to oil and gas drilling activities, unless there is evidence of a threat to human health or the environment.
The reason, Salley said, is that the COGCC is the state agency charged with overseeing gas and oil development in Colorado.
“Generally, after a spill occurs, it’s a cleanup operation or an assessment of any environmental impact,” he continued, explaining that such assessments and operations are the purview of the COGCC.
“There is a responsible agency that is investigating it, and is on top of it,” Salley said.
“There is no evidence of the material getting into the creek,” he added.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also has adopted a wait-and-see posture, letting the COGCC take the lead in the investigation.
Richard Mylott, a spokesman with the EPA’s office in Dallas, Texas, wrote in an email to the Post Independent, “Given the nature of the facility, benzene is among the hydrocarbons one would expect to see in the plume.”
The agency has “concurred with an air sampling plan that is in place and designed to ensure that workers are protected,” Mylott wrote.
An official with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said on Friday that his agency, too, is awaiting further information before possibly getting involved in the situation in Parachute.
Todd Sentner, assistant area director for OSHA in Dallas, Texas, said his agency has not received any complaints or reports that workers have had any trouble concerning fumes at the site.
And Donna Gray, spokeswoman for Williams, wrote in an email that no workers had been injured in the cleanup, explaining, “Benzene evaporates quickly in the air. Our workers wear protective clothing, and we monitor the air.”
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