Attorneys from Aspen and New York City have begun talking with residents of Silt Mesa about taking Antero Resources to court over the residents' claims of injuries related to gas drilling activities in the neighborhood.
Antero began drilling gas wells on Silt Mesa last summer, and has applied for permission to intensify its drilling activities.
The attorneys also have opened up talks with residents of the Battlement Mesa community, where Antero hopes to drill up to 200 wells within the community's boundaries.
Peter Thomas, of the Thomas Genshaft law firm in Aspen, confirmed to the Post Independent on Thursday that his firm has been "engaged as local co-counsel" by the New York law firm of Napoli Bern Ripka LLP, which is interested in taking on the case.
The New York firm recently won a roughly $800 million settlement for thousands of police, fire and other emergency workers who responded to the 9/11 attacks in New York City in 2001.
The firm also is involved in cases concerning hydraulic fracturing of gas wells in Pennsylvania, according to Thomas. Efforts to reach Marc Bern, a principal of the New York firm, were not successful on Thursday.
Hydraulic fracturing, or "frac'ing," is a widely used method of forcing vast amounts of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to break up deeply buried sandstone and shale formations and release trapped oil and gas to flow to the surface.
The method is in use in natural gas fields in the East and in Colorado, and residents near the drilling have voiced concerns about whether frac'ing can contaminate drinking-water aquifers, compromise air quality or cause human health problems.
Industry officials have responded that there is no proof that frac'ing compromises drinking water sources or is a hazard to human health, noting that the technique has been in use for more than half a century without any verifiable public-health problems.
Thomas said his office has begun meeting with residents of Silt Mesa to assess the case, and that representatives of his firm have begun evaluating various water-sampling results from Silt Mesa domestic wells.
Beth Strudley, a Silt Mesa resident and strident critic of Antero's drilling work near her home, was the first to be contacted by the Thomas Genshaft firm.
"They called me, and I thought someone was playing a joke on me at first," said Strudley, whose son and husband both suffer from rashes, nosebleeds and other symptoms that the family believes are related to the gas drilling activities in their neighborhood.
Asked about her reaction to the call, Strudley said, "I just felt really, really relieved, that a big weight of stress had been lifted. I feel stoic, now, like I've got big guns behind me now."
She said she would like to see drilling stopped in her neighborhood, but added, "I understand the mineral rights owners have their rights, too, but not when they're hurting people."
Thomas said representatives from his office also will be talking with residents of Battlement Mesa, although he said the office has not yet been "engaged" regarding the community.
He said that is mainly because Antero has not started drilling inside the community's boundaries.