Fracking industry cleanup workers exposed to benzene in Colorado, feds allege
We told you about the drawn-out spill of 241 barrels of natural gas liquids earlier this year at a Williams Energy plant that handles fracked gas in Colorado. It turns out that Parachute Creek and its wildlife weren’t the only things exposed to cancer-causing benzene because of the accident.
The toxic contents of the mess were kept secret from workers sent to excavate it, and the workers were not kitted out with the proper safety equipment.
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That’s according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which fined a Williams Energy subsidiary and two other companies a total of $27,000 this week for what it described as “serious violations” related to the cleanup work. From The Denver Post:
As workers began digging for super-concentrated hydrocarbons, the companies “did not inform (them) of the nature, level and degree of exposure likely as a result of participation in such hazardous waste operations,” OSHA documents said.
Workers dug trenches along the pipeline, west of Parachute Creek, to find and remove toxic material, documents said. “This condition potentially exposed employees to benzene and other volatile organic compounds.”
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent has more details, including news of an apparent two-month coverup by Williams Energy. The newspaper reports that the company knew about the leak in January, but failed to report it to the state until March:
The leak is attributed to a blown pressure valve on a pipeline leading from a nearby Williams natural-gas processing plant. Williams officials at the time maintained that the amounts of spilled fluids was not enough to warrant being reporting to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oversight agency concerning oil and gas drilling activities.
But by March, the amount of spilled natural gas liquids had expanded and ultimately was estimated to amount to 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbons contaminating nearby soil, groundwater and — in small amounts — the waters of Parachute Creek itself.
In early April, four workers complained to the Post Independent that they had been working at the plume site for Badger Daylighting, a contractor hired for the cleanup, without the proper protective gear and breathing apparatus.
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