A BP pipeline running along Sauls Creek in Bayfield, CO, ruptured last week, spilling coal-bed methane produced water into the creek and forcing the emergency construction of an earthen dam to prevent contamination downstream.

A 6-inch fiberglass gathering line was leaking around 7 a.m. Dec. 13, about four miles west of Bayfield on National Forest Service land off County Road 527, also known as Forest Service Road 608.

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The produced water – a byproduct of oil and gas extraction – traveled across a sagebrush/grass meadow and into Sauls Creek, an intermittent stream that flows into Beaver Creek, which meets the Los Pinos River a few miles south of Bayfield.

BP reported the creek was dry on Dec. 13, but the next day a state oil and gas inspector found Sauls Creek “contained runoff from snow melt.” An early estimate shows the produced water traveled 2,300 feet along the channel bottom.

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However, BP on Monday could not say how long the spill had been occurring, how much released and what the contents of the product were.

The cause of the spill also remains unknown.

A Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission representative more information will be in supplemental reports and through ongoing water sampling.

After discovering the spill, BP crews immediately closed the line, shut down 17 wells and constructed a temporary earthen dam to contain the produced water from spilling further downstream.

A Dec. 15 follow up report indicated hydro-evacuation trucks were removing the standing water in the creek bed, recovering 150 barrels – about 6,300 gallons – of produced water mixed with snowmelt.

Brett Clanton, a BP representative, said the spill ended up isolated within two hours of discovery, the produced water contained no hydrocarbons and no residents in the surrounding area ended up affected in the incident.

Produced water is a briny fluid captured in the rock of oil reservoirs that ends up extracted along with oil and gas. It is considered the largest toxic byproduct of extraction operations, and can contain salt, chemicals, residual oil and heavy metals, though the contents vary from well to well.

Although the chemical makeup of the substance released into Sauls Creek is unknown, a preliminary sampling showed the water contained 4,000 milligram per liter of total dissolved solids, compared to background values of less than 300 mg/L.

Total dissolved solids are a measure of all dissolved substances in water, and is generally used to gauge salinity. Salinity, in turn, can be an indicator for concentrations of chloride, sodium, magnesium, bicarbonate and sulfates, among others.

BP operates about 30 gas wells in the Sauls Creek area that produce coal-bed methane gas and produced water transmitted by pipeline to a processing facility in Bayfield.

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