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Family to present contaminated water well findings to Colo. oil and gas commissioners

Posted at 8:19 PM, Jan 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-30 00:36:35-05

DENVER -- Colorado's oil and gas commission will decide if its staff was wrong in concluding that oil and gas activity is not contaminating a family's water well.

Gary and Kari Ohlson have been pressing the commission (COGCC) to more closely examine the case, which they initially opened through COGCC's formal complaint process more than a decade ago.

The Denver7 Investigates team first profiled the family's concerns in November.

The Ohlsons contend that COGCC staff dismissed the case too quickly, especially since COGCC and its contractors were unable to locate a plugged and abandoned oil well that's somewhere on the family's property.

COGCC maps and data have proven to be useless in the search.  The oil well was drilled and plugged in the 1970s -- long before detailed records were kept.

The family was unaware of the abandoned oil well when they purchased the land in 2004 and built their home.  The seller was not required to disclose it.

Several years ago, after the family discovered a sinkhole on their property in an area that may be near the old oil well site, COGCC conducted tests on the Ohlson's water well and discovered benzene.

"There's been no sound science employed to prove where this pollution is coming from," Ohlson said to the commissioners on Monday.  "We're not here to sue the state; we're not here to actually reap any benefits other than clean water."

Denver7 found a hydrogeologist who agreed to review the family's case for free last year.  He ultimately concluded that "past investigations conducted by COGCC have been too limited and therefore unsuccessful" in ruling out oil and gas activity.

The hydrogeologist sent a detailed analysis to COGCC staff in early November, which staff ultimately dismissed. "Based on the information reviewed, the COGCC has not identified basis for additional investigation," a staff analyst wrote, in part.  "At the conclusion of your previous complaint [in 2015], your rights as a complainant included a 28-day period in which you could petition the Commission to review the staff determination; this right was not exercised."

"I'm compelled to want to know more," COGCC commissioner Tommy Holton said in Monday's meeting after Ohlson's presentation. "I mean, we don't even know where the abandoned well is."

Other commissioners agreed.  They unanimously voted to grant a variance to the Ohlson family so they, and the independent hydrogeologist, can present their more detailed analysis -- likely at the next COGCC commission meeting in March.

It's unclear if the commission will decide to essentially overrule its staff's previous determinations.  But the latest development gives the Ohlson family some hope that COGCC is taking their concerns more seriously.

"And they have to respond," Ohlson said after the meeting.