From The Greeley Tribune (Catharine Sweeney):
Galeton was slated to go east of Ault and south of Colo. 14, but during the lengthy permitting process, a landowner in the area ended up leasing to Noble Energy.
Now there are 24 active wells on the site.
“You can’t fault the landowner, if somebody’s going to come in and offer (them) money,” said Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water Conservancy District, which acts as the project’s lead agency.
Now the organization has to decide: mitigate or move.
“It can get mitigated,” Werner said. “We can cap those wells.”
But it will be expensive and difficult. In some areas moving might be the more difficult choice, but it’s looking as though that isn’t the case for the Galeton reservoir.
“(There’s) a very similar site across (Colorado) Highway 14 to the north,” Werner said. “And it doesn’t have 24 oil and gas wells in the footprint.”
More coverage from Jacey Marmaduke writing for the Fort Collins Coloradan:
To mitigate contamination risk, wells on the proposed reservoir site would need to be plugged according to state regulations, said Ken Carlson, an environmental engineering professor at Colorado State University.
“As long as they do what (the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) says, there’s not a risk,” Carlson said. “There’s over a million wells drilled in this country. This is not a new situation.”
The plugging process is highly regulated and basically involves inserting huge plugs — at least 100 feet long and usually made of cement — into the drilled hole of the well. The top of the well is then sealed and covered with dirt. Carlson said the process cancels out any risk of contamination, although some research suggests that abandoned wells emit small amounts of methane.
However, plugging a well can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The 15 communities and water districts signed on to use the additional water stored by NISP would probably have to foot the bill, and the costs wouldn’t stop there.
If the wells haven’t reached the end of their useful lives by the time construction of the reservoir begins, Noble could reasonably demand additional reimbursement for plugging them, Carlson said. Noble Energy representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The wells were built in 2010 or later, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. The average lifespan of an oil and gas well in the Weld County area is about 11 years, according to data analysis by Colorado Public Radio. So although the construction timeline for Galeton is several years away — assuming NISP gets federal approval and wins the court battle that would almost assuredly come after — construction could prompt closure of the wells before they’re done producing.
Werner said the decision to move the proposed reservoir location remains up to the project participants.