Official promises action in Prather springs contamination

Oil and gas regulators say they hope that “meaningful remediation work” begins this year on the contamination of spring water on the Prather property northwest of Parachute, a state official said Monday.

The comments by David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, come as the affected property owners and Garfield County commissioners have become increasingly frustrated over the pace of the investigation into the contamination of the two springs, which was discovered nearly two years ago.

Neslin told the state commission Monday that agency staff “are hopefully close to finalizing a schedule for bringing these matters to closure.” The schedule would set forth deadlines for any further testing or reporting by companies under investigation. It also would include completion of a settlement agreement or withdrawal of notices of alleged violation against the companies “by a date certain,” or a hearing before the commission early this summer to consider an order of violation and imposition of penalties, Neslin said.

Contamination of the first spring was detected after Ned Prather became ill by drinking benzene-tainted water May 30, 2008. Benzene, a carcinogen associated with oil and gas production, later was found in a second spring.

Richard Djokic, attorney for the Prather family, said it’s his understanding that the latest sampling continues to show benzene is present in both springs.

The state is investigating nearby operations by Williams Production RMT as the possible source of the first spring’s contamination and suspects OXY USA in the case of the second spring.

Oil and gas commissioner Tresi Houpt, who also is a Garfield commissioner, told Neslin Monday, “I would hate for us to bump into a situation where the snow starts falling again before we’ve done anything to help remediate this.”

Neslin said his staff agrees it’s important for remediation to begin this summer.

The Prathers have been provided with drinking water on the property. However, Djokic said the family has been able to conduct little or no commercial hunting on the property the past two autumns.

He said he would assume that remediation would include locating the contamination sources and then cleaning up contamination of both the water and land.

Djokic said he’s concerned that a settlement might not result in remediation unless it pinpoints the responsible parties. He said his clients are considering a lawsuit that could target not just Williams and OXY but other energy companies operating nearby if the state doesn’t act quickly enough and in a satisfactory manner.

“I think that it’s safe to say that surface owners are reviewing what options they have other than waiting for the COGCC to act or not act, as the case may be,” he said.

The Prathers also would prefer to see no more drilling in the vicinity until the matter is resolved, he said. The state has received recent drilling permit applications in the area.


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