Energy policy — oil and gas: Garfield County commissioners urge COGCC officials to start cleanup of spring near Debeque

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Outfitter Ned Prather’s spring is still contaminated and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is under fire from the Garfield County Commissioners asking that the cleanup proceed while the search for the contamination goes on. Here’s a report from John Colson writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

Commissioner Mike Samson joined Commissioner John Martin in agreeing to send a resolution to the COGCC urging that something be done quickly to clean up the contamination at the Prather springs. Commission[er] Trési Houpt, who serves on the COGCC, excused herself from the discussion to avoid a conflict of interest. But, speaking from a seat in the gallery, she urged her fellow commissioners to “do what you need to do” in order to call attention to the situation.

After examining months worth of investigations by the COGCC and the various gas drilling operators working wells in the area, a consultant reported in September of this year that the contamination “likely” came from drilling rigs. According to the report, the types of chemicals found in the springs matched the types of chemicals used in the drilling operations of Williams and OXY, two prominent gas companies. The consultants also found “inconsistencies” in the earlier investigations by the gas companies themselves, and recommended further monitoring of the situation. This would include soil samples, water samples and tests to determine whether the plume of contaminants has spread beyond the immediate area around the springs. But, according to Dick Prather (Ned’s brother) and attorney Richard Djokic, there is no plan for such monitoring and testing. And while the Prather brothers were assured that a cleanup plan would be in place by last June, there is no such plan in existence that they know of, Djokic said…

Judy Jordan, the county’s liaison for the oil and gas industry, at one point told the commissioners, “This doesn’t have to do with the commission, it has to do with the staff.” She said the COGCC staff should have long ago recommended to the oil and gas commission that, regardless of where the contamination came from, the state should clean up the mess so the Prathers can salvage their livelihood as outfitters. Speaking after the meeting, Jordan said that once it is known where, exactly, the contamination came from, the state can then go to the appropriate company for payment of the cleanup costs. Representatives of Williams and OXY reported that their companies are doing all they can to determine the source of the contamination, although they indicated that the problems did not come from their companies…

Visibly unhappy about the fact that he and his brother cannot ply their trade for fear of poisoning their clientele, Prather said, “I guess the frustrating part is that, as landowners, you would think that [the gas companies] would want to be sure they did what was right” as far as impacts on other landowners.

More coverage from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

[Commissioner Mike Samson] said Gov. Bill Ritter is shortchanging the county by seeking to divert severance taxes away from energy-impacted communities to help balance the state budget, while leaving the COGCC without the resources to do its job. [Commissioner Trési Houpt] said the agency has a fund for remediation projects. The county’s oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, suggested that the state do remediation on the property now and bill the responsible companies once they’re identified.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate hydraulic fracturing techniques to determine safety to water supplies. Here’s a report from Katie Burford writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The call for a study was included in a conference report accompanying the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama on Friday.The conference report provides the EPA and other funded agencies additional instructions on how to use the money. The provision urges the EPA to “carry out a study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information.” Because the report must be approved by both houses of Congress, [Bruce Baizel, a staff attorney with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project] said it represents a clear consensus on the need for more study…

[Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata Energy Council, an industry group] said the EPA had studied fracing under the Clinton and Bush administrations, but never as it specifically related to drinking water. The differences on fracing lie in the question of whether the EPA should regulate it under the Safe Drinking Water Act and whether companies should be forced to disclose the chemicals they use. Federal legislation introduced in the House and Senate in June would require both. So far, Udall, Bennet and Salazar have not signed on as co-sponsors for the bill, which in the House was introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver.

Finally, near Walsenburg, according to the Associated Press (Judith Kohler) via the Denver Post:

Bernice and Jerry Angely like to show visitors the singed T-shirt a friend was wearing when their water well exploded and shot flames 30 feet high. The friend wasn’t hurt. But that and an explosion at another home weeks earlier forced Colorado to suspend natural gas drilling around this southern plains town until someone could find out why dangerous levels of methane were getting into the groundwater…

“The water is so saturated with methane and other chemicals it is not to be used for human consumption,” said Bernice Angely, who’s had water trucked to her home 10 miles west of town since her well blew up in July 2007.

Petroglyph Energy Inc., a Boise, Idaho-based firm that has worked the rolling plains of the Raton Basin since 1999, suspended drilling until it can stem the methane. Colorado also is rewriting rules that had allowed Petroglyph to discharge water runoff from its drilling into streams and creeks. But Petroglyph says it’s not clear the drilling caused the methane leaks or prompted other area water wells to run dry. Eying what it calls an extremely promising natural gas field, it believes a shallow water formation tapped by area homeowners isn’t connected to a deeper one pumped by the company for its drilling operations. Petroglyph chief operating officer Paul Powell also believes a growing number of new homes in the area could explain some of the dry water wells. “We’ll do what we need to do,” Powell said, stressing that his firm is working with the state on a solution.

Petroglyph has a plan to prevent the flow of methane into water wells by creating a hydraulic barrier. The company has proposed pumping water from an underground formation and injecting it into a row of wells where gas drilling occurs. Powell said gas will migrate into a void, and “if the void is full of water, there isn’t room for gas to migrate through it.” State regulators say the plan is plausible but that Petroglyph needs to prove it works. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who farms in the nearby San Luis Valley, has asked the U.S. Geological Survey to weigh in by evaluating the area’s water quality and formations to determine if the gas drilling is to blame for the problems.

From the Colorado Independent (David O. Williams):

Despite some speculation the commissioners might vote Monday on a resolution of support for the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, a measure introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) and co-sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), the commissioners actually decided to take on the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

One thought on “Energy policy — oil and gas: Garfield County commissioners urge COGCC officials to start cleanup of spring near Debeque

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