Energy policy — oil and gas: Little satisfaction with progress so far on contaminated spring near Debeque

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Here’s an update on groundwater contamination from the oil and gas industry, from Nancy Lofholm writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

Tests would show the water from a spring [Ned Prather] has drank from for decades was heavily contaminated with a carcinogenic and nervous system-damaging chemical stew known as BTEX — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzine and xylene. BTEX and other volatile organic compounds come to the surface in the production water from oil and gas wells.

Prather may be the only victim of oil-and-gas-field contamination to guzzle a glass of toxin-laced water. But last year, there were 206 spills in Colorado connected to or suspected in 48 cases of water contamination. Since 2003, there have been around 300 cases. State records show BTEX has seeped into water wells when the casings designed to keep oil and gas wells from contaminating groundwater have given way. Methane, the most common contaminant found in water wells, has blown a pump house off its foundation, forced the evacuation of homes and turned tap water flammable. In Prather’s part of the country, a Garfield County hydrogeologic study shows chloride is rising in many springs besides his, indicating they are being affected by drilling.

“I’ve always stuck up for oil and gas, but now when we need them to stand up and do what’s right, they won’t,” Prather said. “If I was asked what has made me the maddest in all this, it’s the oil and gas commission not doing what they are supposed to do.” Three companies operating in the area — Marathon Oil Co., Petroleum Development Corp. and Nonsuch Natural Gas — have been released from notices of alleged violation. Williams Production has been released from a notice on one drill site but is still being investigated on another site above the Prathers’ place. The oil and gas commission has spent $129,000 on the services of four environmental contractors and two chemistry laboratories and a still untallied amount on hundreds of hours of staff time and travel…

The four companies initially suspected in the contamination of Prather’s drinking water formed a group to investigate the problem. They installed 44 groundwater monitoring wells and 37 soil gas probes. As he stood out in the middle of the monitoring pipes that bristle up the draw from the Prathers’ spring, attorney Richard Djokic, who represents the Prathers, called the commission’s actions thus far “enforcement by negotiation” and likened the self-investigation to a bungled crime scene. “Imagine you have a body on the ground here, and we’re all standing around holding guns. A cop comes and says, ‘Figure out amongst yourselves who did this and let me know.’ ” [Dave Neslin, director of the oil and gas commission] argued with that analogy. He said the commission staff reviews all the companies’ studies and raw data.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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