Residents Frustrated, Concerned About Parachute Plume

Apr 30, 2013

Parachute meeting - Photo by Elise Thatcher

Residents in the town of Parachute, and other area communities, are angry and worried about a nearby hydrocarbon spill. That’s a word for a substance like light natural gas, that seeped out from a pipe valve earlier this year. Officials say there isn’t any more leaking out, and they feel like they’ve got a good handle on the clean up. But many at a public meeting on Monday, April 29th, were skeptical. Aspen Public Radio's Elise Thatcher reports:

The evening alternated between heated questions and dry details, and in the end did not calm everyone’s fears.  Silt resident, Peggy Tibbetts writes a blog called “From the Styx” and has been pushing for answers about the spill. She’s concerned they’re different now than they were a month ago.

“We were looking at a much smaller area, now we’re looking at an area that’s four times that size. Why should we believe anything they’re telling us now? Because everything changed, and it keeps changing. You know as this draws to a close, we should be being told when our next meeting is.”

Parachute meeting - photo by Elise Thatcher

More than a hundred people gathered at the the Grand Valley Fire Department, with a row of TV cameras in the background. Matt Lepore, Director with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, explained that he and a long table of officials were very concerned about the spill only miles away. No one from Williams energy company, responsible for the spill, was on the list of speakers-but Lepore defended their response since the spill was reported in early March... and the agency meetings starting several days later.

“We have had daily conference calls with Williams six days a week, virtually every day since then.”

As for what’s been done about the spill, officials attempted to assured the crowd that the spill has been stopped. In an effort to show that it’s been contained the state Oil and Gas Commission representatives showed a series of maps, covered with dots showing water testing sites. Dave Walker is with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. He put the state of the spill in more conversational terms.

"Everyone in the room today is very worried and taking this very seriously. But on the scale of remediation efforts, and actual scale of contamination sites that I’m used to dealing with, this is actually a fairly small site."

Still some in the audience remained unconvinced.  The spilled hydrocarbons include benzene, which is known to cause cancer, and it’s been found in water downstream. That was a big concern. One man questioned whether the people doing the water sampling were under the influence of the company responsible for the spill. Williams energy Vice President Dave Keylor was quick to answer.

“There’s a company that does the sampling, and then an independent lab does the analysis. And then that analyses is shared--as soon as we get those in it’s shared with the agencies.”

Fiona Lloyd asked just how much testing had been on on the ground water, or aquifer.

“There are water wells, in that aquifer. There are many water wells. Have you tested all of them? Are you going to test them?”

Officials said they've done lots of testing, and they've offered to pay for testing private wells, too. After the meeting, I asked Lloyd if that answer... and the meeting... was satisfactory.

“No, it wasn’t. Ok, so they’ve tested a couple of wells, they’ve asked people can we test a couple of wells. But they need to be testing on an ongoing basis. You can’t just, you know, test one or two wells and say oh, it’s not there today. Is it going to be there tomorrow?”

Lloyd is from the town of Silt, about twenty miles away. Martha Rudolph is also with the state’s health department. She said the meeting was helpful, at least for her agency.

“We heard a lot of community concerns that we need to take back and think about how we can address them better--address them at all, and how we can communicate more clearly how we’re addressing those.”

And that will include more public meetings like the one on Monday.