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BP fined for 3 spills in La Plata County, will pay $12.5M to fix pipelines

Company says infrastructure in Southwest Colorado ‘good for service’
BP American Production Co. will pay $12.5 million to fix its pipelines in La Plata County. Pictured here is a BP spill into a ditch south of Durango in November 2018.

BP America Production Co. has been fined $68,000 for three spills in La Plata County and will pay an estimated $12.5 million to fix pipeline issues in Southwest Colorado.

The spills, according to state records, released produced water – a byproduct of oil and gas operations – and other chemicals into waterways around the county. The instances include:

April 19, 2018: A cracked pipeline resulted in a produced water spill into Dry Creek, an intermittent stream that runs into the Pine River. Soil samples taken showed levels of pH and sodium higher than state standards, but water quality was not impacted.Nov. 4, 2018: A fiberglass pipeline cracked south of Durango, releasing up to 420 gallons of produced water over 5½ hours into the Citizens Animas Ditch, which is connected to the Animas River. The spill affected about 3.5 miles of the ditch and reached the Animas River. The produced water also contained paraffin and lubricating oil.April 2, 2019: A cracked pipeline released about 360 gallons of produced water into wetlands just north of Oxford, a small unincorporated community between Durango and Ignacio. Soil samples taken exceeded state standards for arsenic and boron.BP has experienced the most spills out of all the operators in La Plata County, by far. The company reported 13 spills to the state in 2018.

BP did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning.

BP American Production Co. says its pipelines in La Plata County are not degrading. Instead, the spills have been caused by ground movement, the company said.

However, according to state records, BP has agreed to spend $12.5 million by 2022 to replace or repair nearly 17 miles of pipeline in La Plata County at risk of leaking.

Dave Neslin, a counsel for BP who spoke at Tuesday’s Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting, said pipelines in La Plata County are not degrading because of the age of infrastructure or improper maintenance.

Instead, Neslin said the pipelines are cracking because of the stress of ground movement. He called the pipelines “good for service.”

“These are leaks which BP regrets very much,” he said. “But these spills are relatively small, kiddie pool-size spills. Not swimming pool-size spills or leaks.”

In a letter to the state, BP said most of the pipeline in La Plata County was installed from 1988 to 1992 by the previous operator, Amoco.

Since BP has taken over the oil and gas field, the company said it has embarked on an extensive monitoring effort of its pipelines, conducting annual aerial flyovers, on-the-ground surveys and pressure testing.

In each of the spills, state records show BP acted promptly to stop the leaks, taking response measures and reporting them to the state. In the case of the spill into the Citizens Animas Ditch, the company even supplied fresh water to livestock that rely on the ditch.

“BP is committed to determining the causes of fiberglass pipeline leaks and proactively taking measures to help prevent them,” the company said in the letter to the state.

In August 2018, BP announced it intends to sell its assets in the San Juan Basin natural gas field, which spans Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico. State records show BP has agreed to put the money it will take to repair or replace the pipelines in La Plata County into an account that would be transferred if a sale occurs.

The $68,000 fine and $12.5 million investment in the pipeline project was included in an agreement between BP and the COGCC, unanimously approved by the COGCC commission Tuesday.


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