Leaks to Close Jefferson County, Colo., Natural-Gas Storage Plant

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Leaks to Close Jefferson County, Colo., Natural-Gas Storage Plant

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Publication date: Mar 08, 2000

(By Stacie Oulton, The Denver Post )

Mar. 8--JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo.--Public Service Company of Colorado will shut down its massive underground storage plant that has been leaking natural gas close to homes.

Tuesday's announcement that the plant known as the Leyden facility will close by 2003 came amid growing concern about its safety from Arvada and county officials and nearby residents.

Though the company has repeatedly said the plant and its leaks pose no public safety threat, the worry in the community caused the company to re-evaluate the facility that's been operating since 1961, said Susan Arigoni, vice president of the company's delivery services.

"We have attempted to be responsive to the needs of the community," Arigoni said. Homeowners are worried the nearby gas facility could harm property values and be an environmental hazard. A few residents had begun to wonder whether they should move out, a homeowner said.

Arvada officials also had considered pushing to get the plant closed because of the stigma it would cause to hundreds of acres in the Vauxmont Intermountain Communities development along Colorado 72, which the city sees as its economic future. The developer has proposed some 500 homes, along with a hotel and convention center.

"It just seemed clear regardless of whether it was commercial development or residential development, the facility is really incompatible with plans for growth within the immediate or adjacent area," Arigoni said. While pleased with the announcement, homeowners were left wanting answers to some important questions.

"We still have a problem. We still have contamination outside the area (the gas) was going to be stored in, and we need to figure out to what extent," said Chris Eatherton, who lives south of the facility in the Eldorado Estates subdivision.

Since 1961, the company has stored up to 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas in an abandoned underground coal mine that covers 2.5 square miles near the intersection of Colorado 93 and 72 in northwest Jefferson County. It's the only place in the country where natural gas is stored in an old coal mine.

In November, the company learned that gas had leaked underground outside the mine south of the facility to within a half-mile of hundreds of homes in the county and Arvada's upscale West Woods development. The company didn't reveal that information until January, and it was the second leak from the plant. In 1993, the company found a leak more than 1,000 feet north of the plant. That leak played a role in a $1.9 million judgment against the company two years ago. A Jefferson County jury found that Public Service had acted recklessly in allowing gas to leak onto land north of the plant, contaminating the property and groundwater. The state appeals court found that the company has known about leaks for more than 30 years and failed to act to prevent them, but that judgment has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Eatherton said homeowners in his neighborhood want to know if there are other pockets of gas the company has yet to discover, whether any of the gas has entered underground utility trenches in the area, and whether homeowners have been exposed to low levels of natural gas emissions for years. Public Service will apply to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission next month to get approval for a decommissioning plan for the plant.

Arigoni said shutting down the facility will allow all the gas that has moved into surrounding rock strata to be removed.

But Public Service's own documents revealed in the Jefferson County lawsuit raise questions about whether that will happen. Consultants and even its own lead engineer for the facility say that not all the gas in surrounding rock formations can be recovered "regardless of the effort" to withdraw it.

REACTIONS: Public Service Company of Colorado has decided to close an underground storage plant known as the Leyden facility that has leaked natural gas.

Here are a few reactions:

"We applaud Public Services Company's decision to close the Leyden natural gas storage facility. They have done the right thing, especially in light of the community concerns over the discovery of underground leaks outside the storage perimeter," said Greg Walcher, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulates the facility and is an agency under Walcher's department.

"Arvada's concern has always been that any facility be safe and pose no threat to the community. Public Service has determined that it's in the best interest of the community not to have the facility in operation, and we are very pleased with that decision," said Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman.

"That's great that this has come to such a quick resolution," said Greg Murray, one of the homeowners who lives closest to the Leyden. "I want them to think about how they are going to shut this plant down so we don't have long-term problems." -----

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-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 12, 2000

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