Antero fine holds, but landowners not happy
Oil and gas regulators have reaffirmed a $150,000 fine against Antero Resources for a 2010 produced-water pipeline leak that contaminated groundwater and soil near the Colorado River outside Rifle.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission first imposed the fine against Antero about a year ago under a consent agreement with the company. But COGCC staff revisited the case after subsequently receiving a protest on the agreement from the landowners and realizing the protest period hadn’t expired before the commission took action.
COGCC director Matt Lepore told the commission Monday that more work has been done at the site over the last year and landowners Doug and Dan Grant agree with the terms of the amended agreement. However, the brothers voiced disillusionment Monday to the commission over the handling of the incident over the years and dissatisfaction with the fine amount, indicating that they were going along with the agreement because they’re exhausted by the matter.
“Quite frankly you wore us out,” Doug Grant said.
The fine is for Antero’s violation of rules governing pollution and management of exploration and production waste. A faulty weld in a plastic pipe resulted in seeps of a paraffin-like substance in a gravel pit owned by Grant Brothers Construction, resulting in high levels of carcinogenic benzene in groundwater.
The oil-laden water was produced from 36 wells on five well pads in the Colorado River floodplain.
Antero since has sold its Piceance Basin assets to Ursa Resources.
The Grants’ frustration stems from factors such as a lack of any apparent regulatory requirement for Antero to have pressure-tested the pipeline before using it, and the slow pace of the cleanup, partly because the first cleanup method Antero tried didn’t succeed. Antero eventually dug up and removed the contaminated soil, something the Grants said could have been done from the start in just days, preventing millions of gallons of groundwater from becoming contaminated and having to be removed.
“I don’t think a situation like this should ever happen again to anyone,” Doug Grant told the commission. “… It’s ridiculous what happened to us when we tried to work with everyone.”
He accused a COGCC manager of obstructing the efforts of an employee working on the incident response. He also said he and his brother “had people laughing at us” during that response and that Antero thought it was “cute” when the brothers sought reimbursement for some of their expenses. The state had the same response and Antero suggested bringing a lawsuit when they raised concern about more than $10,000 in equipment being stolen from their property during the cleanup, he said.
COGCC staff didn’t comment on the Grants’ concerns Monday. Kevin Kilstrom, an Antero official, defended the response of the staff and company, saying COGCC rules and procedures were followed.
He added, “I want to assure you that I at no time thought this was a cute or funny exercise and we will continue to work with the Grant brothers to reach a final resolution.”
Richard Alward, an oil and gas commissioner from Grand Junction, said making sure to get feedback from people like the Grants helps the commission think about how it implements rules and deals with people concerned about how oil and gas development takes place in the state. While the COGCC and energy companies have attorneys to help them with what can be complicated rules, there are also “individuals in Colorado who are trying to understand these same rules when things are impacting them,” he said.
DeAnn Craig, a fellow commissioner, said she hopes people look at how to improve the process when it comes to responding to such incidents in the future.
“I think that’s one of the goals that we have here is to always make things better,” she said.