Vacated Silt Mesa house stalled in foreclosure process
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
SILT MESA, Colorado – A house vacated by a family who claimed they were being poisoned by nearby gas-well drilling activities seems to be stalled in the foreclosure process, for reasons yet to be made clear.
The couple who used to own the house, Bill and Beth Strudley, believe the bank foreclosing on the property is worried about potential liability, if the house goes to a family that subsequently gets sick from toxic substances in the home’s water well.
But Jason Menke, of the bank’s media relations office in Des Moines, Iowa, said on Tuesday that it is not aware of any delays in the foreclosure process.
The house, at 7741 County Road 233 north of Silt, was owned and occupied by the Strudleys and their two sons for four years.
They moved out early in 2011, and stopped paying their mortgage, after the entire family began complaining of nosebleeds, severe skin rashes, trouble breathing and other symptoms.
The family’s health improved after they moved, according to Beth Strudley, and the family now attributes those health problems to exposure to a potentially deadly gas, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), that is sometimes associated with gas drilling activities.
The Strudleys believe the drilling activities, and in particular the process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” created a way for the H2S to seep into their water well and, from there, get into the air in their house when they turned on their water.
The presence of the gas, which can cause sickness and death in certain high concentrations, has been confirmed by reports from operators of drilling rigs in other parts of Garfield County.
Before they moved out, the Strudleys complained of “a smell like rotten eggs” permeating their house, which is characteristic of low concentrations of H2S.
A “bucket brigade” air sample was taken in mid-January 2011 at the Strudley home by volunteers living in Garfield County, who then sent the sample to a California environmental advocacy group known as Global Community Monitor, which trains local activists in how to gather air samples.
The resulting report, issued last July, indicated that H2S was present at the Strudley home at concentrations 185 times the level considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We all know, and we have complete proof, that there’s H2S in the well,” Bill Strudley said of the water well beneath his former house. He said private contractors have conducted two tests of the wells recently, and that he is awaiting results.
Industry officials, however, maintain that their activities are closely monitored by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and do not pose health threats to nearby residents.
According to Dave Neslin, executive director of the COGCC, tests conducted by his staff showed no indications that the well water was negatively affected by nearby drilling activities.
And Garfield County environmental health manager Jim Rada told the Post Independent that he doubted the accuracy of the bucket-brigade sampling methods.
The home currently is held by Wells Fargo Bank, and had been listed for foreclosure sale today by the Garfield County Trustee, according to the county treasurer’s office.
The scheduled sale, however, was withdrawn by the bank’s law firm, Castle Stawiarski of Denver, according to the county trustee. It has been rescheduled for sale on April 11, 2012.
After learning of the delayed sale, Beth Strudley said on Tuesday, “I’m pleased to hear that it’s not [going to be sold today], because I would not want someone else in there who might get sick.”
The Strudleys and their two sons now live in the eastern part of Garfield County, and currently are suing the company that has drilled several wells on Silt Mesa, Antero Resources.
A call to the Castle Stawiarski law firm, seeking comment as to why the house was withdrawn from the December sale, was not returned by press time.
Menke said Thursday afternoon that he was able to find records only of the April 11, 2012, sale date, but nothing regarding the Dec. 21, 2011, sale date.
Menke said he would continue to search the bank’s records for further information.
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Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or email@example.com