2nd legal target emerges in tainted-spring probe

A regulator says the state is continuing to focus on Oxy USA in its investigation into contamination of a spring northwest of Parachute, even as the affected property owners have sued a second energy company they consider to be responsible.

Plaintiffs, including several members of the Prather family, sued oil and gas developer Nonsuch, contending the spring pollution came from a pit the company used to hold fluids at a well pad it operates nearby.

The plaintiffs also are suing Williams in connection with contamination of another spring in the same area. In that case, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff believe a leaking Williams pit is responsible, and reached a settlement with the company under which it would pay a record fine of $423,300 for violations related to the incident.

The commission will consider the settlement Thursday. Williams says it doesn’t believe it is responsible but agreed to the settlement in the interest of compromise and to resolve the matter.

The problems with the springs first came to light after Ned Prather drank spring water contaminated with benzene, a carcinogen, at his cabin May 30, 2008. Prather went to the hospital after the incident.

Nonsuch was investigated with this spring, also, along with Williams and two other companies, but state regulators later cleared all of the companies but Williams.

During that investigation, it was discovered a second spring had been tainted by benzene, and the state cited Oxy as the possible culprit.

“At this time we are continuing with our enforcement proceeding regarding Oxy, but we will consider any additional relevant information that bears on the source of the contamination,” David Neslin, director of the oil and gas commission, said Friday.

David Lee, a representative with Nonsuch, which is based in Naples, Fla., declined to comment. Oxy did not respond to a request for comment.

Richard Djokic, an attorney for Ned Prather, Prather’s brother Richard and other plaintiffs who own a combined 1,800 acres, declined to elaborate beyond what is in the lawsuit, regarding his clients’ decision to target Nonsuch.

The suit says the responsible Nonsuch well pad is 800 feet southeast of the spring the plaintiffs think it polluted. It says the plaintiffs believe, “based on results of various investigations,” benzene and other contaminants collected in the area of the pad match in composition the constituents found in the spring.

The Prathers say the problems at the springs have affected their outfitting business on the property, which also is used to raise livestock.


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