Several gas companies off the hook in Garfield County contamination case |

Several gas companies off the hook in Garfield County contamination case

John ColsonPost Independent staffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A state agency has let several gas exploration companies off the hook concerning the contamination – which put one man in the hospital with a burning throat and other symptoms – of a spring in western Garfield County last year.But two gas companies remain under investigation as the possible sources of pollution of springs in the Piceance Basin, a rich gas field that underlies much of western Colorado, including Garfield County.The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission on Sept. 2 issued findings that the gas drilling operations of Nonsuch Natural Gas, Inc.; Petroleum Development Corp.; Marathon Oil Co. and, in a partial finding, Williams Production RMT Co., were not responsible for contamination of a spring used by outfitter and rancher Ned Prather.Prather filed a complaint with the COGCC in 2008 after he visited his hunting cabin in late May, drank out of the nearby spring, and became so ill he had to be taken to a hospital.The gas companies all have drilling operations in the vicinity, and all were slapped with “notices of alleged violation” or NOAVs, of the COGCC rules governing oil and gas drilling operations in Colorado.But according to documents on the COGCC website, all the companies except Williams were granted clean bills of health after an investigation. The investigation involved taking water samples from the Prather spring, and another nearby spring, and written accounts from the companies describing their methods of storing and containing the chemicals and “production water” used in and generated by the drilling activities.Among the “volatile organic compounds” discovered in the Prather springs, according to the COGCC, was benzene, a known carcinogen that is associated with gas drilling activities.In addition to investigating, the COGCC required the companies to fence off the affected spring to avoid harming livestock and wildlife, and to provide potable water to the Prather cabin.According to Dave Neslin, director of the COGCC, the wells of Nonsuch, PDC, Marathon and, in one instance, Williams were all located to the west of the Prather springs.”Our sampling indicates that the contamination of the Prather spring is coming from the east,” Neslin said, which is where two nearby Williams well pads are located.Hence, Neslin said, “We are continuing our investigation of Williams.”Neslin explained that the COGCC staff conducts the investigations and makes the resulting decisions as to the veracity of allegations of violation. But, under the COGCC rules, Neslin said, Prather can demand a full hearing before the COGCC board if he is not satisfied with the outcome of the investigation.Prather could not be reached for comment on the matter.In addition to the Prather case, Neslin said, the COGCC is continuing to investigate the Oxy USA company concerning possible contamination of groundwater in the Cascade Creek area, which is also in Garfield County.The company, on June 16, 2008, reported possible contamination of springs and groundwater in an area where it operates two wells. Neslin said the possibly contaminated water is referred to as “the second spring” among the COGCC

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