detected on March 8, the spill had not yet been stopped as of March 20. On that
date, according to Williams Midstream's spokeswoman Donna Gray, there was still
"free-flowing hydrocarbon underground." The situation, she reported, is "status
quo." [See Post
Independent: Parachute Creek spill
is "status quo,' Williams says .]
The spill/plume is located on a pipeline right-of-way, owned by Williams Midstream and a related company, WPX Energy. It runs along County Road 215, four miles north of the town of Parachute, between the Parachute Creek Gas Plant and Parachute Creek. The plume is 60 feet from the northern bank of Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River.
The Cause of the Spill and Its Makeup Are Still Unknown.
As of March 20, the source of the spill was still unknown, though there are underground pipelines and tanks in the spill/plume area. In addition, the flowing hydrocarbon liquid had not yet been identified.
"We don't know what it is," said Williams spokesman Tom Droege. "It looks like a lighter hydrocarbon, like a condensate, visually, but it has been taken to the lab for analysis."
Colorado Water Quality Control Division Director Steve Gunderson said that, based on its volume, the leak can be described as a "significant release," and that an impact on Parachute Creek remains "a real possibility."
The underground hydrocarbon plume discovered on March 8 measures 200 feet by 170 feet in circumference, and about 14 feet deep. Many local residents can get a sense of its size by picturing the Glenwood Hot Springs pool (405 ft X 85 ft). If that pool were cut it in half, and the two halves placed side by side and made 14 feet deep, it would closely resemble the Parachute Creek plume.
Up to March 20, about 86,500 gallons of contaminated groundwater had been removed and a total of 139 barrels, or 5,800 gallons, of "oil" had been vacuumed. [See Upstream: Williams continues clean-up at mystery 'seep' .]
Despite the magnitude of the spill, officials have been adamant in claiming that it represents no threat to drinking water. That message has been delivered in a number of television news broadcasts. [See KJCT Channel 8 - Grand Junction: Parachute fuel leak will not affect drinking water ; Channel 9 News - Denver: Colo. oil spill no threat to water, officials say ; Channel 4 News - Denver: Officials Say Oil Spill Near Parachute No Threat To Water . The reassurances must be weighed, however, in the context of unduly delayed responses about the spill from responsible public officials.
Delayed Public Notification.
Groundwater contamination was discovered by March 8 near the Williams Parachute Creek Gas Plant, while Williams employees were excavating in preparation for construction of an addition to the plant. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) were all notified immediately following the discovery.
Controversy abounds, however, regarding public notifications of the leak. [See The Daily Sentinel: Notification questions raised as leak probe continues .]
Depending on whom you talk to, Garfield County officials were notified immediately--or not.
The town of Parachute was not notified until March 13, which is a breach of notification protocols put in place in 2008. And news did not reach the media until March 16.
Local landowners potentially affected by the spill were not directly notified, and had to wait more than a week to find out about it from the media. As reported in The Daily Sentinel, some locals were very unhappy about the lack of public notification.
Perhaps most insidiously, as of March 19, the spill had not yet been reported on the website of the COGCC, even though the commission had been informed of it on March 8.