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Antero, Service Companies Sued for Alleged Water Contamination

A Colorado family alleges in a lawsuit filed Thursday that natural gas driller Antero Resources Corp. and two oilfield service subcontractors contaminated their drinking water supply and air, which forced the couple and their two children to abandon their home.

Antero's Colorado operations are focused in the Battlement Mesa area of the Piceance Basin. The producer and service companies Frontier Drilling and Calfrac Well Services are accused of negligence by plaintiffs Beth and Bill Strudley, who own a home in Silt Mesa, CO. The lawsuit was filed in Denver District Court. The plaintiffs are seeking damages to cover medical costs and health monitoring for themselves and their two children.

Silt Mesa is within the Battlement Mesa area, an unincorporated community of around 5,000 that is situated near Parachute, CO, in western Garfield County.

The family is represented by an Aspen, CO, law firm and New York-based Napoli Bern Ripka & Associates, which also is suing driller Anschutz Exploration Corp. for allegedly contaminating the drinking water of nine families in New York. Anschutz, also based in Denver, has stated that the lawsuit is "an act of financial extortion."

The lawsuit alleges "that the operations undertaken by Antero Resources and several of its subcontractors...caused the contamination of the property, leading (to) their forced exile from their home and serious health effects." In addition, "the law firms anticipate filing similar actions in the near future."

According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), tests previously conducted on the Strudley's water well showed no chemical contamination that could be attributed to gas drilling. However, the Strudleys claim that independent tests of the water well were found to be "abnormal."

In response to requests from residents living in the Battlement Mesa area, Garfield County, CO, officials asked the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) to conduct a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to determine the effect of a density drilling plan by Antero, which wants permission from the COGCC to drill up to 200 gas wells from nine surface pads inside the community boundaries (see Daily GPI, Sept. 22, 2010). The COGCC would authorize the drilling plan.

The first draft of the HIA was released late last year, but it was taken back for revisions after energy industry representatives and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment criticized the report's methodology and results.

In the executive summary of the second HIA draft, which is about 500 pages long, the CSPH stated that the "principal findings of the HIA are that the health of Battlement Mesa residents will most likely be affected by chemical exposures, accidents/emergencies resulting from industry operations, and stress-related community changes."

Garfield County commissioners last Monday agreed to a 30-day extension of the comment period for the HIA, which was to expire at the end of this month. Antero asked for the extension because it said the length and complexity of the HIA requires continued review, and the company wants to submit data to be included in the final HIA.

"The HIA team welcomes a thorough review of the second draft," stated a letter from the CSPH to the commissioners. "We feel that the HIA has prompted the industry to seek deeper understanding of the emissions, sources and potential associated health outcomes" of drilling in a dense residential area. However, the school opposed Antero's request to extend the comment period.

According to the CSPH, "the second draft of the HIA does not include large amounts of new data or information to analyze. Most of the new data used in the second draft was provided by Antero," and therefore an extension of the comment period is not warranted. The second HIA draft "is only 10 pages longer than the first draft," and the report's appendices do not add much length to the original document.

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