Residents criticize state's response to Parachute leak

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- While state authorities and Williams Energy officials work to locate the source of the hydrocarbon leak near Parachute Creek that has contaminated more than 60,000 gallons of ground water, Garfield County residents are voicing their concerns over the state’s response to the leak.

According to Colorado Department of Natural Resources’ spokesperson Todd Hartman, the timeline went as follows:

  • Friday, March 8: Williams Energy notifies Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (a division of the Dept. of Natural Resources) about discovering contaminated soil. No mention of ground water contamination.

  • Monday, March 11: COGCC follows up with Williams.

  • Wednesday, March 13: Williams notifies COGCC about contaminated ground water.

  • Friday, March 15: COGCC inspector arrives on site; 37 barrels of hydrocarbons & 288 barrels of ground water recovered.

Silt resident Peggy Tibbetts said the response seemed to take an “unreasonable amount of time.” Hartman said state officials’ response was based on their judgment of immediacy at the time.

“Now knowing what we know now, I think we wish we would’ve been on site Thursday, but you have the benefit of hindsight, and you don’t know how these things are playing out as they evolve in the moment,” Hartman said.

If there had been an immediate threat to public health, Hartman said state officials would have been more aggressive in responding.

“You have a lot of things going on and you have to have some thresholds as to how you respond,” Hartman said. “Using professional expertise and using our judgment and our experience, that’s how this played out.”

Tibbets said she is also skeptical Williams Energy officials haven’t found the source of the leak, 17 days since it was discovered, but Williams’ regional spokesperson Michele Swaner said it’s a lengthy process.

“We’ve got half a dozen pipelines there… It’s a big gathering and processing area for us, so you simply have to take the time to rule out those,” Swaner said.

Williams crews have constructed a trench surrounding the leak in efforts to prevent the hydocarbons from entering Parachute Creek, which sits 50 feet from the spill, according to a report by the EPA.

According to a bulletin from Swaner on Monday afternoon, the cumulative total of hydrocarbons recovered is 143 barrels and 3,350 barrels of contaminated ground water.

Hartman said digging the trench near the contaminated ground water involved unaffected ground water getting redirected and, as a result, contaminated. He said that could explain the significant amount of contaminated ground water recovered.

Swaner said on Monday she believed crews would be close to determining a source of the leak by the end of this week.

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