GarCo won’t fight drilling near spring

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners expressed concern Tuesday about a second energy company’s plans to drill near the contaminated Prather cabin spring northwest of Parachute, but they said the county doesn’t have the technical expertise to challenge the matter.

Commissioners voiced continuing frustration over the fact the state has yet to determine the cause of the contamination, which was first detected when Ned Prather became ill after drinking benzene-tainted water May 30, 2008. A second spring on the property later was found to be contaminated.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is investigating Williams Production RMT as the possible source of the first spring’s contamination, and OXY USA WTP LP in the case of the second.

The county is worried about letting more drilling take place nearby with the cause of the contamination still undetermined. Commissioners previously had authorized seeking a hearing before the oil and gas commission if agency staff approve more drilling by Marathon Oil near the contamination site.

Now, Berry Petroleum has applied for eight drilling permits in the area. But commissioners decided against challenging the permits after county attorney Don DeFord warned them they faced the burden of showing that more drilling was likely to harm public health.

“This could be a very technical issue in terms of impacts to groundwater that may or may not be the result of drilling practices in the area,” DeFord said.

He said the county would have to hire an expert to evaluate the matter.

Asked by Commissioner Mike Samson whether that shouldn’t be the state’s job, DeFord said, “I will take that as a rhetorical question.”

Samson and Commissioner John Martin decided against opposing the Berry permits.

“We do not have the expertise to go forward with a hearing,” Martin said.

Commissioners also will consider whether to drop their opposition to the Marathon drilling.

Samson said the state’s failure to resolve the matter leaves the county in a tough spot. But Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who abstained from Tuesday’s decision because she also sits on the oil and gas commission, questioned why the county wouldn’t exercise its ability to oppose more drilling if it has concerns. She said the state otherwise will be under the impression the county doesn’t have an issue with the additional drilling.


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