Cleanup continues at the site of an underground spill of thousands of gallons of pollution related to the oil and gas industry in the heart of Colorado’s fracking country.
The underground leak is located near the town of Parachute and has threatened to contaminate Parachute Creek, which flows into the Colorado River. State officials continue to report that buffers have kept the creek safe, so far.
Colorado regulators reported that nearly 6,000 gallons of “hydrocarbons” had been recovered from the site. At least 102,564 gallons of contaminated water have been recovered, as well.
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The spill site is near a natural gas plant operated by Williams Energy, and another company, WPX Energy, operates underground oil and gas pipelines in the area. Both companies are working to contain the spill but neither company has taken responsibility, publicly revealed the source of the pollution or identified the type of hydrocarbons contaminating the area.
Spokespeople for Williams did not respond to several inquiries from Truthout.
Todd Hartman, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, said that work had begun on Wednesday to excavate a large pipe in the spill area, where workers are “proceeding with care and deliberation.”
Earlier this week, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued notices of “alleged violation” to Williams and WPX. The commission ordered both companies to continue working to contain the spill and submit a cleanup plan to regulators.
Williams Energy workers first identified the spill on March 8, but the company did not alert the nearby town of Parachute until five days later, which frustrated local officials who visited the site this week. It’s unclear how long the underground plume of pollution was growing before Williams discovered the contamination in an area adjacent to its gas plant.
A local cattleman told The Denver Post that such spills are common in the area and often remain secret, and state records show that the oil and gas industry is responsible for hundreds of spills each year, the newspaper reports.
Advancements in drilling technology, such as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” have facilitated an oil and gas rush in Colorado and several other states. The environmental group Earthjustice reports that at least eight fracking-related accidents, mostly involving contaminated wells, have occurred across the state.
In a statement, the Colorado Wildlife Federation said the spill might have been detected earlier with better monitoring.
“This is one more strong argument for keeping oil and gas wells and related infrastructure a safe distance from waterways,” said Suzanne O’Neill, the organization’s executive director. “Regulators pledged to form a stakeholders’ group to develop standards for riparian setbacks a while ago. We’re still waiting.”
In 2008, Colorado regulators failed to include protections and buffer zones for waterways as they overhauled regulations for the oil and gas industry, the group noted.