RIFLE — A ranch owner along Parachute Creek, who also is a member of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board (EAB), on Thursday questioned the state’s classification of the creek as a “non-drinking water” source.
Howie Orona said he has property near land owned by WPX Energy, which is one of two companies implicated in a natural-gas-liquids pipeline leak that was reported to state authorities on March 8.
He spoke at the EAB’s regular monthly meeting, at the Rifle branch library on Railroad Avenue.
Orona said he has a water well situated about 20 feet from Parachute Creek, “a couple of miles downstream from the leak.” He added that it is a “real shallow well” that he believes is closely linked to the stream flow.
“I’d consider that to be drinking water,” he told Dave Keylor, vice president of Williams in charge of operations in the Piceance Basin in western Colorado, of the stream and the groundwater adjacent to the stream.
When told that the state government established the classification, Orona said on Friday, “I think it should be reclassified.”
The hydrocarbon leak, according to authorities, was caused late last year by a broken pressure gauge attached to a pipeline owned by Williams Midstream, a pipeline and tank company.
The leak was found in early January and plugged, according to Williams, but a nearby plume of contaminated soil was not discovered until March 8. The leak is believed to have deposited more than 6,000 gallons of hydrocarbons in the soil, and more than 10,000 gallons of contaminated soil have so far been excavated by Williams work crews.
The pipeline is in an easement that crosses land owned by WPX Energy. Both companies spun off from Williams Production RMT, when that company split itself up in late 2012.
Recent sampling of the stream and the groundwater have confirmed the presence of hydrocarbons, benzene and diesel-fuel residues.
The levels of benzene have ranged as high as 18,000 parts per billion in the groundwater, as revealed in tests of certain monitoring wells placed between the creek and the leak site.
In the creek itself, samples have tested at just over 5 ppb at one point downstream from the leak site. The state’s drinking water standard is 5 ppb, while its standard for non-drinking water is 5,300 ppb to safeguard aquatic species.
“Before, in a previous speech that you guys made, the groundwater was being pushed by the creek,” Orona said, referring to Williams’ theory that Parachute Creek is a “losing stream” adjacent to the leak site, which is about four miles north of the Town of Parachute.
Keylor reiterated that theory, explaining that the creek bed next to the leak is higher than the elevation of the groundwater at that point, so the water from the creek “charges” the groundwater.
Keylor also noted that the contamination from the spill, which has shown very high concentrations of benzene, is “staying at fairly shallow depths” according to samples taken from monitoring wells.
Keylor told Orona that the water in his well probably is being charged by groundwater sources, not the creek itself.
Orona did not appear entirely satisfied with Keylor’s explanation, and Garfield County Oil and Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn promised to put Orona in touch with officials at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to determine what should be done to alleviate his concerns.
In other action, the EAB:
• Unanimously approved the appointment of a new board member, Scott Stewart of the Highlands Ranch north of Rifle, to represent the Roan Creek area. The appointment does not take effect until it is confirmed by the Garfield County Commissioners.
•Listened to a prepared statement from industry critic Marion Wells of Rulison, who accused Williams of “criminal and negligent behavior” in the wake of the spill. Wells argued that Williams was negligent in providing notification of the spill and other important information, and suggested Williams should not only foot the bill for the work of finding, correcting and remediating the spill and its aftermath, but also the money that state and regional governments have spent in support of the clean-up.
When Wells’ statements ran longer than the allotted time of three minutes, EAB chairman Brent Buss cut her off and would not allow another citizen to donate her speaking time to Wells so Wells could finish.
The second woman then proceeded to read from Wells’ prepared statement and finished for her.