Gas companies cited for waste discharge northwest of Parachute |

Gas companies cited for waste discharge northwest of Parachute

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

PARACHUTE, Colo. ” The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is investigating four natural gas companies for a waste discharge northwest of Parachute that allegedly contaminated a spring that feeds one cabin’s drinking water, state records show.

The alleged contamination sent Ned Prather, an area guide and outfitter, to the hospital with throat problems after he drank water from his cabin’s faucet, according to a state Notice of Alleged Violation filed against each company.

Prather filed a complaint with the commission on June 3, about three days after ingesting water from his contaminated spring. Prather has declined to comment about the matter with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

The citations against the companies said that water samples from a spring, faucet and pond at Prather’s cabin – taken a day after he filed his complaint – showed traces of benzene that exceeded the state’s Water Quality Control Commission water standards. Benzene is a known carcinogen.

Samples were also collected at three other cabins and from fluids at a pit associated with a nearby well. The results of those samples were not detailed in the violation notice.

Nonsuch Natural Gas, Marathon Oil Co., Williams Production RMT and Petroleum Development Corp. have all been issued a violation notice in connection with the release.

The commission, in its complaints against the four companies, also cited them for allegedly not telling the state about the discharge, state records show. Spills or releases of any size that impact or threaten to impact state waters, residences, occupied structures, livestock or public roads has to be verbally reported to the director of the commission “as soon as practicable after discovery,” according to the state’s current rules for the oil and gas industry.

Proposed new rules, which have been embroiled in controversy since they were released in late March, would require companies to file documentation of the spill and to report it to the director “immediately after discovery.”

The violation notices show that the commission investigation is targeting four wells in the area of Prather’s cabin northwest of Parachute. Two wells were or are under Marathon and Petroleum Development Corp. control, while the other two are operated separately by Williams and Nonsuch Natural Gas Inc.

A field inspector returned to Prather’s cabin on June 19 to collect additional water samples, and the agency is continuing to investigate the source of the contamination, said Deb Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the Oil and Gas Commission.

The four companies are also collecting water samples for analysis, Frazier said.

The commission has also requested all relevant information about the discharge from the four operators and is requiring them to conduct a site investigation and remediation work plan, and to collect additional water samples for chemical analysis.

The companies must also provide Prather and his family with a source of drinking water, domestic water for other household use and water for his livestock, Frazier said. They are required also to fence off the impacted spring and pond to prevent access by livestock and wildlife.

The commission also has hired a toxicologist to contact Prather and interview him, and review the analytic data collected by the agency and the four operators. The toxicologist is expected to prepare a report about the potential health impact from having ingested the water, Frazier said.

Susan Alvillar, a spokeswoman for Williams, said the source of the contamination has not yet been identified, but that the company is working very cooperatively with the commission and Prather to put in remedial fixes in place “immediately.” She said the company put a large tank of water on Prather’s property so he and his family can have access to fresh water.

“We are taking the lead in the investigation simply because of the importance of getting to the bottom of what has occurred up there,” Alvillar said. “We are very diligently working on it.”

However, Alvillar added that is a bit of surprise that there were four companies named in connection with incident, and that it is a “little unusual to proceed in that manner.” She added that Williams inspected the well that was cited in the violation notice thoroughly and that everything “was in order up there.”

“The well is situated such that we believe if there was any issue with it, we would be able to see that right off the bat,” Alvillar said.

Lee Warren, a spokeswoman for Marathon, stressed that notices are just allegations of violations.

“There are a number of companies that received those,” Warren said. “It really is concerning and an unfortunate situation with the landowner involved in this. Safety is one of our core values. As a concerned neighbor and responsible operator, we immediately began to investigate the cause and try to do the right thing.”

Warren noted that the company does not have any producing wells currently in the affected area.

The wells cited in the Marathon’s violation notices were drilled by Petroleum Development Corp., and are now under Marathon control. However, they have not been brought online, she said.

“We are really trying to get to the bottom of the source and resolving the concerns as quickly as possible,” Warren said.

Attempts to contact Petroleum Development Corp. weren’t immediately successful late Friday, and a number for Nonsuch Natural Gas wasn’t immediately available.