New York firm planning suits over GarCo drilling

A New York City law firm that is active elsewhere in litigation regarding the effects of oil and gas development on communities plans to sue on behalf of one Garfield County family within a few weeks and to file several other local lawsuits after that.

Marc Bern, a senior partner with Napoli Bern Ripka, announced the litigation plans Tuesday during a public meeting in Glenwood Springs for residents who believe they have been harmed by drilling in the county. About 100 people attended.

Bern and his firm participated in settling a suit for more than $700 million against New York City and other defendants. The suit was brought on behalf of thousands of people injured during rescue, recovery and cleanup efforts at the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The firm has been involved in environmental lawsuits in several states, including cases alleging water contamination and other problems caused by oil and gas development.

Bern said with companies spending billions of dollars to acquire domestic natural gas reserves for development, “you would think that there’s a couple of bucks in there to make sure that it’s safe, not just for profit. That’s the problem.”

In an interview, he said the case that’s about to be filed involves personal injuries and property damage to a family, including children. He said local cases involving personal-health harm from drilling will be filed as individual suits, but that his firm also is looking at filing a local class-action lawsuit that would seek medical monitoring for all people in a particular area.

The firm also is exploring legal action based on drilling’s possible effects on property values.

Rick Roles, who lives south of Rifle and says he has suffered for years from headaches, dizziness and other ailments caused by drilling-related chemical exposure, already has been in touch with Thomas Genshaft, the Aspen firm working with Bern’s firm.

“I’ll be talking with them. They’ve already got a copy of my blood test,” Roles said.

Jim Felton, a spokesman for natural gas developer Bill Barrett Corp., and David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, were among a smattering of industry representatives at Tuesday’s meeting. The two said they were there mostly to listen, but Felton said some of the concerns he heard raised about local water contamination by drilling have been investigated and deemed unfounded by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.


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