Parachute Creek spill overview

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Parachute Creek spill overview

By Frank Smith, WCC Director of Organizing

This spring, something funny is in the water around Parachute, Colorado—leaving citizens, landowners and downstream water users nervous.

Parachute Creek, a Garfield County tributary of the Colorado River (and a local water source), has benzene and diesel-range organic chemicals in it.  Nearby underground waters are also contaminated, and clean-up efforts are underway.  Crews are digging trenches and pumping hydrocarbons away from the creek, and aerating the waterway as well as nearby soil to remove contaminants.

According to the Denver Post, a 4-inch pipeline at the Williams natural gas processing plant near Parachute leaked 10,122 gallons of natural gas liquids (NGL’s) into soil near the creek.  NGL’s are chemicals like ethane and propane, separated from the raw gas found in western Colorado’s gasfields.

Since at least January 2013 the spill has been ongoing, however, industry didn’t inform regulators until March.  Initial reports downplayed the severity of the incident, describing small releases of pollutants and assurance of no stream contamination.

Recently, however, state agencies acknowledged “free floating product” was detected by monitoring wells along the creek. Two agencies have begun punitive actions against Williams and WPX Energy, the likely polluters.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) notified the companies that the spill constitutes disposal of hazardous waste without a permit, and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) issued notices of alleged violation as well as a Cease & Desist order.

In late April, a public meeting drew over 100 concerned citizens to the Grand Valley Firehouse to learn more about the ongoing problem.  The CDPHE, COGCC and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) addressed the crowd to describe clean-up efforts, timeframes and stages of accountability.

In mid-May, however, local newspapers reported that one of the companies involved may not face any fines for its actions.

WCC member Dave Devanney was quoted by the Grand Junction Sentinel in its coverage of the meeting as saying, “We feel that CDPHE can do a better job than they’re doing right now.

WCC and its local community group, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, are calling for swift action by officials leading to: a thorough clean-up, an update of regulations, an increase of pipeline inspections and greater industry accountability.

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