Energy policy — oil and gas: The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission looks at hydraulic fracturing

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Here’s an in-depth report on the COGCC’s recent activity with respect to hydraulic fracturing, from Randy Woock writing for The Trinidad Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s and excerpt:

“The committee stated it couldn’t determine if that had any adverse effects on drinking water supplies because it lacked the information to do so. We’re in the process of reviewing our own records to investigate this subject,” COGCC Director Dave Neslin stated at the commission’s Feb. 22 meeting. “Our regulations do not require operators to report constituents of the fracturing fluids unless we request them to do so under Rule 205 (which governs how the industry may share information on fracing ingredients).”

The larger oil and gas operators in Las Animas County such as XTO Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources, the latter of which alone averaged 160 million cubic feet of gas pumped per day in the fourth quarter of 2010, have informed The Times Independent that neither they nor their contractors have utilized diesel fuel in their fracing operations in the Raton Basin. Pioneer’s Rockies Assets Team Vice President Tom Sheffield, for example, had described the use of diesel in fracing coal seams in the basin as “counterproductive,” stating that diesel use would reduce coalbed methane production by damaging the coal seams.

Gwen Lachelt, Executive Director of southwestern environmental group Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP), called the use of diesel a “huge concern” in the state’s southern drilling regions. She called for additional oversight on fracing, noting that regulators had “really done nothing” toward diesel concerns before the last few months. “Now some members of Congress have said, ‘you’re still using diesel, what the heck?’ and the regulators are throwing up their hands and saying, ‘so what?’” Lachelt said. “Diesel contains (methyl-t-butyl ether – MTBE), and just a few teaspoons of that can contaminate millions of gallons of water…it’s quite hazardous.”[…]

The COGCC also asserted that its current regulations “should have prevented” the diesel or other ingredients in fracing fluids from contaminating of drinking water resources in Colorado. “The fracturing fluids would have been injected into hydrocarbon-bearing formations at depths that often approach 8,000 feet or more, while most drinking water supplies are less than 1,000 feet deep. Rule 317 required the wells to be cased with steel pipe and the casing to be cemented to create a hydraulic seal,” the memo stated. “This should have ensured that any fluids or hydrocarbons flowing back up the well bore did not come into contact with the shallower aquifers. The memo also pointed to additional protections demanded by the COGCC’s 2009 revised regulations — such as cement bond logs, bradenhead monitoring, public water system setbacks, and water well sampling — as further ensuring water resources…

The COGCC reported that it had contacted all 13 service companies and 15 of the “largest operators” in Colorado that it suspected of having provided information to the House Committee regarding diesel use in the state, with “a number of responses” already received and the investigation ongoing. “This information should help us to assess whether this activity had any effect upon drinking water supplies by allowing us to identify and investigate nearby water wells…(i)f no diesel contamination is identified, then this would indicate that the hydraulic fracturing of the oil and gas well in question did not impact drinking water supplies. If diesel contamination is identified, then this could indicate that hydraulic fracturing of the oil and gas well did impact drinking water supplies and we can seek remediation of such contamination and take further action to ensure that it does not recur,” the COGCC memo stated. “Staff believes that if such impacts had occurred, whether due to the use of diesel fuel or other substances, then they would have been identified during our investigations.”

Meanwhile, here’s a report on the potential for radioactive materials being present in produced water in Garfield County, from John Colson writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. From the article:

There is little possibility that gas drilling activities in Colorado will result in the kind of radioactive wastewater treatment problems reported to be plaguing gas drilling regions in the Northeast, say state officials. That is because water produced by Colorado drilling activities is not dealt with in the same way as water produced by wells in the Marcellus Shale states, said two state agency directors. “No produced water is treated in wastewater treatment plants,” said Dave Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the agency that regulates gas drilling activities.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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