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Northern Colorado family continues legal battle with Phillips66 years after losing home to gas leak

Colorado family continues battle with Phillips66 years after losing home
Colorado family continues battle with Phillips66 years after losing home 04:28

Five years after their home was contaminated and destroyed by a gas leak, a Northern Colorado family says they're still waiting for someone to take responsibility for ruining their property.


Julie and Mark Nygren have spent their savings and retirement to battle companies like Phillips66, which they have sued for its alleged role in the discovery of an April 2, 2019 gas leak just outside of Johnstown.

The Nygren family had called their property "home" for decades and had hoped to retire on the property.

"I've been here for 71 years," Mark Nygren said.

"The land is kind of our soul, and the home was our heart," Julie Nygren said. "(The land) is still our soul, but our heart is gone and broken."

Pipeline leak forced home to be demolished and the soil around it dug up in Colorado
Several years after a pipeline leak forced Mark and Julie Nygren home to be demolished and the soil around it dug up they are still waiting for a settlement with the pipeline company on June 29, 2023 in Johnstown, Colorado. RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Five years ago, the couple noticed some of their neighbors gathered near the ditch at the edge of their property. At first, Mark said he thought maybe there was a fire. However, when he made his way over to the ditch, there was no way he could have predicted how drastically his life was about to change.

"What I found wasn't a fire, it was gas coming up out of the ground," Mark said. "It was alarming to us."

The Nygrens contacted the authorities and companies involved to come and survey the property for toxins. Julie's persistence, according to Mark, resulted in Xcel Energy sending out one of their technicians to come check the family home.

"An Xcel Energy employee came into our house, and his alarm that he wore went off when he was just a few steps down into our basement," Julie said. "That was the last time we were ever able to live in our home."

The family's house was surrounded by liquid gas condensate; a lime-green liquid that had flooded the dirt below their home and around their farm.

The toxins from the chemical were so dangerous that the family was not able to return home, nor were they able to save a drastic majority of their personal items.

Phillips66 demolished the family home, disposing of their items, in the process of trying to stop the leak and clean the dirt.

"(Our home) was everything we had worked for our whole lives, and raised our family in," Julie said.

Phillips66 declined to comment on CBS News Colorado's report, citing pending litigation, but the company spent weeks formulating and executing a plan to clear all of the condensate out of the soil. County roads were closed and torn out, just like the family home.

The company had to dig more than 20 feet down into the dirt to reach the depth of the gas leak, removing several acres' worth of dirt in the process.

Julie Nygren recorded as her family home was demolished as part of the project, her tears and gasps evident in the background of the video.

"They had to build roads to be able to get the trucks in and out. They were hauling truck after truck after truck," Julie said.

Phillips66 has denied responsibility for the leak. In court records obtained by CBS News Colorado's Dillon Thomas, the company suggested its line was compromised by a construction project by a third-party company, Mountain Constructors Inc. of Platteville.

Courtesy / Julie Nygren CBS

Its court filing claimed Mountain Constructor built and installed a culvert that came within inches of their line. The document then suggests that trucks making turns near the culvert created pressure on the dirt and concrete which then led to their pipeline below being compromised.

Phillips66 said it would have either further protected or relocated its line if it had known the culvert was being placed near its line.

CBS News Colorado contacted Mountain Construction seeking comment on this report. In a statement, the company's lawyer John Chase also denied any responsibility. Chase cited Weld County's approval and supervision of their project and suggested the blame for the leak lies solely on Phillips66.

"Mountain Constructors' role was to install drainage improvements at the north intersection of WCR 42 and 13 per plans drawn by Baseline Engineering," Chase wrote. "The work was done in 2015 in compliance with the plans and was accepted by Weld County.  Nearly four years later, the Nygrens discovered that one of DCP's pipelines was leaking in the ditch across the street from their house. Mountain Constructors did nothing during the course of construction to cause damage to DCP's pipeline and is not responsible for DCP's failure to maintain its pipeline. Mountain Constructors denies all liability in the case."

The Nygrens, who say they are not against oil and gas in Colorado, have used their savings to file legal action against Phillips66. They have also shared their story at the Colorado and United States capitols. They are seeking further legislation to inform residents of the lines in which are underneath their properties.

safety pipe
Weld County residents Mark and Julie Nygren, front, speak during the press conference about a bill to improve pipeline safety and inspections at the Colorado State Capitol in Denver, Colorado on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Julie said most people may not realize their homeowner insurance likely does not cover this type of claim.

"There has to be some accountability when there's a problem and the public is harmed," Julie said.

She said she feels most people would not be able to fight as hard as her family is because they wouldn't have the financial ability to do so. The Nygren family said they have exhausted much of their savings to take on this fight in the hope that they will help others in the future have a fighting chance.

"I feel like it is a David and Goliath we're up against," Julie said. "You're kind of fighting by yourself, fighting a multi-million dollar company."

The family is also arguing the companies created health issues that could have been avoided if the line beneath their property was never compromised. Julie had to be hospitalized several times in the years leading up to their home being demolished.

"(We had) pain in our legs and feet, nose bleeds, headaches, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness," Julie said. "It was a lot of things going on that weren't adding up or making sense that do now."

It has been five years since the gas leak was first detected. In that time, the Nygren family says not one single company has offered to rebuild their home or cover the cost for them to do so themselves.

While the Nygren's lawsuit makes its way through the court system, Julie said she hopes Colorado lawmakers, and Congress, will create laws that further protect innocent victims of oil and gas leaks.

"There needs to be some education of the dangers of them," Julie said. "We don't want another family to go through what we've gone through."

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