Benzene found in Parachute Creek for second straight day

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State crews testing groundwater at the Williams Energy gas treatment facility in Parachute, Colo. where a hydrocarbon leak was discovered in March.

DENVER — For the second straight day, the cancer-causing chemical benzene has been detected in Parachute Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, downstream from a hydrocarbon leak at a Williams Gas facility that was first detected more than a month ago.

Sampling of the creek on Friday detected benzene at 2.7 parts per billion, similar to Thursday’s detection of benzene at 2.8 parts per billion — the first time benzene, which has been found in much higher and hazardous concentrations in groundwater just feet from the creek, has been detected in surface water.

The state drinking water standard for benzene is 5 ppb. While the current samples are just trace amounts below that standard, the groundwater contamination levels were 3600 times the standard last month.

“Sampling at three more points downstream of those detections did not detect benzene,” said Todd Hartman with the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources, in an email to reporters Friday. “Sampling back upstream, above the initial benzene detection, also did not reveal contamination.”

Samples for benzene taken at the point where the town of Parachute diverts water for its irrigation supply 2.7 miles downstream of the gas facility continued to show no detection of benzene.

“Operators finalized plans for addressing the benzene in surface water, and will begin implementing those this weekend,” Hartman said. “Those plans, outlined in yesterday’s update, include air-sparging systems to strip benzene from the water.”

The leaking benzene potentially spreading to Parachute Creek has concerned local residents ever since the spill was first reported.

“There’s 30 million people downstream from Parachute who use the water of the Colorado River,” Dave Devanney, who lives nearby in Battlement Mesa and is part of a citizens group that’s raising concerns about oil and gas development in the area, told FOX31 Denver earlier this month.

“I don’t think anybody would be happy to hear that there’s dissolved benzene or other hydrocarbons in their drinking water.”

The spill in western Colorado is occurring just as state lawmakers, 200 miles to the east in Denver, are considering a number of Democratic bills aimed at regulating the oil and gas industry.

Proposals include: increasing fines on oil and gas companies for spills and environmental mishaps; requiring oil and gas companies to report spills of one barrel or more, tightening the state’s current five barrel requirement; and forcing representatives of the industry who serve on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees the industry and environmental impacts, to disclose any financial interests.

A study released this week by the Center for Western Priorities found that 402 spills of five barrels or more were reported last year; of those, 21 percent resulted in water contamination — 63 spills impacted groundwater and 22 impacted surface water.

Six companies were responsible for 85 percent of the spills: Anadarko, Kerr-McHee Oil and Gas and Kerr McGee Gathering, Noble Energy and Noble Energy Production, Encana Oil and Gas, PDC Energy, WPX Energy Rocky Mountain and Pioneer Natural Resources.

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