Reports trace spring contamination to two Western Slope gas companies

The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent Wednesday, piggybacking on reporting by the Denver Post on Sunday, revealed a private consulting firm in Littleton narrowed down the potential source of a spring contaminated by natural gas production to two Western Slope operators.

According to the Post-Independent, Halepaska and Associates issued a report on Sept. 10 that names Williams and OXY as the two companies most likely responsible for the leakage of BTEX, a combination of carcinogenic chemicals found in produced water that returns to the surface after the drilling process and is supposed to be contained in holding pits.

The Denver Post interviewed Ned Prather for its story on Sunday, detailing how the outfitter and hunting guide drank two-thirds of a glass of water in his cabin northeast of DeBeque in far western Garfield County in the spring of 2008 and was immediately sickened. The water turned out to contain BTEX, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commissione has been investigating the source for more than a year now.

Judy Jordan, Garfield County’s liaison to the oil and gas industry, turned over a copy of the Halepaska report to the county commissioners Monday, the Post-Independent reported, which was the same day the commissioners screened the new documentary “Split Estate” on the environmental problems associated with the natural gas boom in Garfield County and northwest New Mexico.

“We believe that we’re not the source of the contamination up there,” Donna Gray of Williams told the Post-Independent, adding that no final conclusion had been reached by the COGCC – the state board that permits drilling and monitors safety and environmental issues.

After the showing of the film Monday, the commissioners were asked to consider a resolution drafted by the local activist organization Grand Valley Citizens Alliance that would support EPA oversight of hydraulic fracturing, or injecting gas wells with water, sand and undisclosed chemicals to free up more gas. The FRAC Act would require those chemicals be divulged so they can be better tested for in the event of spills such as the Prather Spring incident.

The state maintains that its own regulations, beefed up to better protect air and water quality this past spring, are adequate to oversee the fracking process. But gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Minority Leader Josh Penry blasted the state for wasting time on the new regulations instead of enforcing old ones. This from the Denver Post story:

“Prather’s spring has now turned into a political issue. State Sen. Josh Penry, who has made criticism of the new oil and gas rules part of his gubernatorial campaign, wrote to [COGCC director Dave] Neslin on Prather’s behalf two weeks ago. His letter stated that a commission with the time to ‘promulgate a raft of new rules and paperwork requirements’ should have time to enforce longstanding groundwater protection rules.

“Neslin replied with an outline of what has been done: ‘The Prathers experience provides an example of why the COGCC developed and implemented new requirements and procedures to attempt to prevent such incidents from occurring,’ he wrote.”

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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