Garfield County Energy Advisory Board looking into complaint against Williams

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RULISON, Colorado – Marion Wells already was unhappy with the Williams gas drilling company when, last June, a surge of water came cascading down a gully and caused – what she reported as – considerable damages to her property in Rulison.

Wells believed back then, and still believes today, that the water was runoff from a Williams gas drilling pad, which overflowed a settling pond perched high up a gully above her land.

Williams, however, maintains it is innocent of any wrongdoing and that it has tried to satisfy Wells’ concerns, and a state agency ruled that it could not determine for certain if Williams was at fault.

In addition to Wells’ ongoing fight with Williams, Wells said this week, she believes that at least two other well pads pose similar threats to her property.

“I’m still arguing with Williams and with CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment],” Well said, adding that she has had numerous disputes with Williams for the past three years. The CDPHE oversees drainage issues for the oil and gas industry in Colorado.

Wells, who declined to say how much money she thinks the damages represent, noted that she has complained to the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board starting last summer, and that some EAB members recently came to view the scene of the damages.

According to a report – by board member Jeff Simonson – to the EAB at its monthly meeting on Thursday, Wells’ complaints have validity, and he agreed that there is reason for concern about “the number of pads that exist up-basin” from Wells’ property.

Simonson, who this week was elected to be chairman of the EAB for 2010, said he and the two other board members who went to visit the site – Scott Brynildson and Leslie Robinson – need to study the matter further before giving a final report to the board.

Williams has denied responsibility for the damages, according to documents available on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s website.

Williams spokeswoman Donna Gray called the Wells’ case “a very, very touchy subject” among company officials, but said that because Wells’ attorney has been in touch with Williams legal staff and there would be no official comment from the company on the matter.

Wells filed a complaint with the COGCC on June 8, 2009, and state investigators concluded that the water that wrecked Wells’ spring-fed water line and plugged up her gully with “muck” may have come from what is called the “Stubbs pad.”

The runoff from the pad, according to the report, is gathered in a settling pond that Williams built in the gully that leads to Wells’ property.

And while Williams admitted that the water from the pad ultimately runs through an “outflow pipe” and into that same gully, the company maintained that the water level in the settling pond did not get high enough to cause it to overflow.

“With the recent unusual amount of rain in the area and with the existing drainage ditches flowing into the retention pond, it is at least possible this is the source of the water impacting the spring on the Wells property,” the report stated in June.

“Williams Production states they are not responsible,” concluded the report, adding, “No definite determination of cause can be made.” But the COGCC nevertheless required Williams to carry out “mitigation” work to prevent any future runoff from the Stubbs pad from flowing onto Wells’ land.

Wells maintained, however, that two other pads above her property, which are not on her land and not controlled by Williams, pose similar hazards to her property.

“If you go by any well pad, you will find non-compliant mitigation measures,” she told the Post Independent on Dec. 2, declining to say more due to the ongoing dispute.

As for the state’s response to her concerns, Wells said, “COGCC and CDPHE sort of both washed [their hands of] the matter.”

Calls to the COGCC on Thursday were not returned.

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