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October 15, 2009
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Garfield County man waits for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to make a move in contamination case

DE BEQUE, Colorado - A Garfield County man claiming he was poisoned by contaminants from a natural gas drilling operation wants to know what state regulators will do now that a report indicates he may be right.

"We're waiting to see if the commission is going to follow those recommendations," said attorney Richard Djokic, referring to a recent consultants report sent to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees gas drilling operations in the state.

Djokic represents the complainant in the case, Ned Prather, who already has been waiting for a year and a half to learn the outcome of an investigation by the COGCC regarding an incident on May 30, 2008, at his backcountry hunting cabin.

According to Prather, he and his wife had just arrived at the cabin, located north of I-70 between DeBeque and Parachute, and he immediately went for a drink of water from his faucet to slake his thirst.

Within seconds, said Prather, 61, his throat was on fire, his stomach hurt and he had to be taken to the hospital. Prather filed a complaint with the COGCC, and tests later showed his water, which comes from a nearby spring, was tainted with a chemical brew known as BTEX.

The chemicals - benzene, toluene, ethylbenzine and xylene - are known to be carcinogenic and a neurotoxin, according to reports.

Prather currently undergoes regular medical tests to watch for the appearance of any further ill effects from the exposure, Djokic said, adding that Prather "seems to be doing well."

Prather recently handed a Garfield County official a report by a consultant to the COGCC, Halepaska and Associates of Littleton, Colorado, that indicated the contamination probably came from nearby pits used to collect a sludge that comes from oil drilling operations.

The report, dated Sept. 10, named the Williams and OXY natural gas companies as the "likely" sources of the contamination.

The report also lays out recommendations for continued monitoring and testing of water and soil in the area.

The Garfield County oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, reported to the board of county commissioners this week, "I think we're seeing ... water contamination that's associated with management of the pits."

A spokeswoman for Williams, Donna Gray, said her company has been cooperating with the COGCC investigation, and that the company denies being the source of the contamination of the Prather springs.

According to OXY spokesman Eric Moses, "We fully intend to work closely and cooperatively with COGCC to determine if the contamination came from our operation and, if so, to correct it as soon as possible."

He said his company is "deeply committed to safeguarding the environment and protecting the safety and health of our employees and neighboring communities." Gray issued a similar response.

Djokic said that the report seems to implicate the companies, but noted that "there are no citations of anyone," and he has yet to hear from the COGCC about the report.

Asked whether Prather feels vindicated in any way by the report, Djokic hesitated and replied, "No. The contamination is still continuing and is present in both springs," referring to what are known as the Prather Spring and the nearby Spring No. 2.

It was the Prather spring that was connected to the tap when Prather took his painful drink, and that is the spring that has been linked to the Williams pit, according to the report.

Spring 2, according to the report, is linked to the OXY pit by virtue of the kinds of materials and chemicals found in both locations.

Although no lawsuits have been filed in the matter, Djokic said, "We're not ruling that out."

He noted that Prather has not been able to do business at his cabin - he is an outfitter for hunting trips - for two years because of the contamination.

COGCC officials could not be reached on Wednesday for comment.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Oct 15, 2009 12:11PM Published Oct 15, 2009 01:11AM Copyright 2009 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.