3 firms cleared, 1 not in benzene probe

The state has cleared three energy companies and is focusing on a fourth in the case of a man who became ill after drinking benzene-contaminated water at his cabin northwest of Parachute.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff have dropped allegations against Marathon Oil Co., Petroleum Development Corp. and Nonsuch Natural Gas. They also cleared one Williams Production RMT well pad as a possible contributor to the contamination, but they are looking into whether other Williams operations might be to blame.

The investigation stems from an incident May 30, 2008, in which De Beque resident Ned Prather visited his cabin, drank water from his spring and became sick enough that he had to go to a hospital.

Testing of the spring found benzene, a cancer-causing substance associated with oil and gas development.

Oil and gas commission staff initially issued what are called notices of alleged violation to the four energy companies based largely on proximity of their operations. However, commission Director Dave Neslin said Thursday that sampling has indicated the contamination is coming from east of the spring, where only Williams has nearby operations.

“But we have not yet identified a specific release point,” he said.

Williams spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said that based on the company’s own investigations, it doesn’t believe its well pad and pipeline east of the spring are the contamination source.

“But having said that, we will definitely continue to cooperate with the agency as we have in the past,” she said.

Marathon spokeswoman Lee Warren said the company is glad to be exonerated and always thought it wasn’t the cause of the problem.

“But as a concerned neighbor and responsible operator, we’re obviously hopeful that they’ll be able to determine the source of the contamination and resolve the problem for the landowner,” she said.

The investigation into the case also led to benzene being found in a second spring on the property. The state is investigating OXY USA WTP LP as the possible source of that contamination.

Richard Djokic, an attorney for Prather and others with ownership in the affected property, said they are upset that potential contributors to contamination are being absolved without the source being determined first.

He said the state also is relying too much on the companies’ own investigative work, rather than taking a more independent look into the matter.

“They’ve asked the suspects to conduct the investigation,” he said.

Djokic said the benzene contamination continues, and it has hurt Prather’s hunting outfitting business.


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