From The Greeley Tribune (Sharon Dunn):
Platteville rancher Roy Wardell was asking questions long before an earthquake shook the ground around Greeley. The oil and gas wastewater injection well proposed near his ranch would be the sixth in the immediate proximity to his small operation. It only made sense that adding another high pressure well in a line of other high pressure wells would tempt fate. Then came May 31. An earthquake rattled Greeley for a second or two, and his fears were confirmed.
“This is a concentration of wells that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Weld County,” Wardell told the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Greeley on Monday. “My concern is you cannot confidently say there’s not a seismic risk. It flies in the face of logic.”
He was asking that an injection well near his ranch proposed by High Plains Disposal be denied, given its proximity to other injection wells. Injection wells have been linked to earthquakes across the country. The majority of them operate for years without incident, while a few others don’t.
Oil and gas well wastewater is injected into deep underground wells into porous formations. Seismic activity occurs when water slips through geologic structures, allowing movement. The process of injection is considered more environmentally friendly than the process a decade ago of dumping used well water into pools at the well site.
All injection wells in Colorado undergo testing for a variety of concerns, including seismic activity. At present, there are 28 injection wells in the county, with another 20 in the permitting process.
The operator of the Greeley well, out by the Greeley-Weld County airport, is under investigation for potential violations after researchers, in a 20-day period in which NGL was required to stop injecting water, isolated the well as the cause of the earthquake and about a dozen smaller ones since. That well is 18 miles north of the proposed well near Wardell’s ranch.
In a hearing before the COGCC, state officials and representatives of High Plains Disposal discussed their plans to ensure safety, including placing seismic monitoring equipment at the well to act as an early-warning system of any induced activity. They said the Greeley well had different circumstances than the one High Plains had proposed, including drilling into a different formation.
Commission members stated while the concern is there, they felt comfortable with approving the well.
“If I were a landowner, I’d have the same concerns that there is a possibility for seismic activity,” said Commissioner Bill Hawkins. “All the technical testimony given today indicates it is not likely, and there really isn’t any reason we can see other than the fact that a well 20 miles away had seismic activity. Certainly seismic activity is of concern to the public and a large part of the county, and it’s a concern to the commission. If there is any activity we would definitely stop, (it is) injections.”
Commissioner Mike King agreed, stating that if there is any seismic activity associated with the well, they would respond just as they did with the Greeley well, and shut off injections immediately.
“Things change,” said King, also the director of the state Department of Natural Resources. “We found out in other wells there were some factors that weren’t as clear … (and it) caused us to take a 20-day timeout, to see what we missed, what things needed to change. … I’m comfortable, although in the last month, I’ve become less comfortable in general. I’m OK with being a little more on edge until we get more information.”
Wardell knew he was fighting a losing battle.
“I feel heard,” he said after the meeting.
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