Companies cited again in benzene probe

Investigation began after De Beque man sickened by spring water at cabin

A continuing state investigation into the contamination of drinking water this spring at a cabin northwest of Parachute has resulted in the discovery of a second spring in the area that has been tainted by benzene.

That led to new citations against four oil and gas companies alleging they failed to report the discovery quickly enough. It also has led to a fifth company, OXY USA WTP LP, being cited as a possible contributor to the second spring’s contamination.

Debbie Baldwin, environmental manager for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said OXY was issued a notice of alleged violation because it has oil and gas operations in a drainage above the second spring. However, the state doesn’t think any of its operations contaminated the first spring where benzene was found.

In that case, De Beque resident Ned Prather became sick May 30 when he visited his cabin and drank water from the spring. Water tests found unsafe levels of cancer-causing benzene, thought to be the result of oil and gas development.

The COGCC issued notices of alleged violations against Williams Production RMT, Marathon Oil Co.,

Petroleum Development Corp. and Nonsuch Natural Gas. Those citations were based only on the proximity of the four companies’ wells to the cabin and the known geological and hydrological information for the area.

Testing of water monitoring wells in the area has yet to prove that any of the companies was responsible for the contamination.

However, that testing did lead to benzene being found in the second spring, which feeds a stock pond on Prather’s property.

Baldwin said the delay in reporting the finding to the state and to Prather was a matter of “several days,” and probably resulted in part from poor coordination between the companies as they processed data from consultants doing the testing.

Williams spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said timely communications between companies is difficult. But she said another factor was that the benzene showed up in a third test after the spring tested negative twice before, and the companies wanted to confirm the positive test before reporting it. She said Williams disagrees with the COGCC on what constitutes timely reporting.

More water testing is being planned to try to determine the sources of the benzene contamination, but Baldwin said finding answers is difficult because groundwater movement in the area probably is controlled by fractures in bedrock.

“We’re trying desperately to figure out who’s responsible for this,” she said.


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