Record high fine in Colorado for oil and gas contamination

Williams, a large natural gas producer, has agreed to pay a fine of $423,300 to resolve a case where a spring was contaminated in De Beque, Colorado. A local outfitter drank water from the spring and fell ill; the spring was contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen.

State investigators found that the spring was contaminated by a leaking toxic waste pit that was constructed on a pad without a required state permit. Tests of the spring water found benzene levels at 32 times state groundwater standards.

According to news reports, this fine is the highest ever imposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a single incident. That's good news, and we hope not an isolated example. Meaningful penalties are needed to encourage compliance with oil and gas regulations. But penalties are not enough -- where were the inspections that should have caught a pit that was poorly constructed, improperly maintained, and located on a pad without the proper permit? Vigorous inspection and enforcement are essential to ensure that dangerous contamination doesn't happen in the first place.