Drilling impacts near Silt worry DOW
November 14, 2007
SILT, Co. A state wildlife official says a 40-well natural gas drilling plan south of Silt only adds to concerns about region-scale energy development impacts on deer and elk.Dean Riggs, area wildlife manager in Grand Junction for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, has written in a letter that the agency believes species will suffer large-scale, widespread impacts as a result of energy development that is taking place “at a level that no one could have dreamed of a few years ago.””As the state agency that is tasked with protecting, preserving, enhancing and managing wildlife within the state we continue to be more disturbed by each (drilling) permit and lease sale that happens,” Riggs wrote.His letter came in response to a letter by Lisa Bracken, a resident near where EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) is proceeding with a 40-well drilling plan in the West Divide Creek area.Bracken is chiefly concerned about the safety of the drilling, which is occurring where gas from an EnCana well contaminated surface water in 2004. But she also worries that drilling activities will impact winter range and calving grounds for elk.Riggs agreed with Bracken’s contention that it would help deer and elk to leave some areas alone while concentrating gas development in others, to provide deer and elk with what he called “some areas of relative seclusion.” He said that philosophy is behind the agency’s recommendations for clustering development on the Roan Plateau, and not letting companies move on to other drilling areas there until reclamation occurs. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management agreed to that approach in its decision to allow drilling on the Roan, located near Rifle.Riggs said Bracken’s idea of having EnCana direct resources elsewhere to help big game in the West Divide Creek area “is worthy of note and should be considered by the company.”If this is not an option I would recommend that the company begin working with my staff to outline a drilling plan that could help to minimize impacts while drilling continues on the designated pads,” he wrote.EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said the company always welcomes and has been responsive to feedback from the DOW, and could address any specific concerns Riggs might have. But he said Riggs has been wanting to see a gasfieldwide consultation with not just EnCana but other companies about how to mitigate wildlife impacts.”I think from our standpoint we’re not sure that that’s really a practical way to do it or could practically be done,” he said.But DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said the problem now is there’s no way to deal with landscapewide wildlife impacts from drilling. Instead, they are assessed on more localized levels that involve drilling plans for smaller groups of wells or even individual wells. These plans often are considered to have relatively small impacts, but that’s because they are weighed individually, he said.”When you start stacking relatively small impact on relatively small impact, suddenly wildlife starts running out of habitat,” Hampton said.The question of cumulative impacts arose earlier this year when three wildlife conservation groups protested a BLM decision regarding a 139-well natural gas development project near Parachute. The BLM had found that the drilling by EnCana would have no significant environmental impacts. The Colorado Mule Deer Association, Colorado Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation argued the BLM looked only a few years ahead and failed to consider longer-term habitat impacts. The BLM state office rejected their protest, saying the agency lacked a proposal for longer-term development that it could analyze.Hock noted that a new state law requires the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to consider wildlife impacts in its regulation of the industry. The COGCC is currently drawing up new rules to comply with that law.”Our thought is let’s let that process work its way through, and we’ll see what we come up with,” Hock said.Meanwhile, a consultant for EnCana has tested gas that Bracken had noticed bubbling up in a new beaver pond in the middle of West Divide Creek since drilling resumed near the 2004 seep area. That initial testing found no traces of cancer-causing benzene and three other volatile organic compounds associated with drilling. Hock said that while final tests results still are being awaited, the initial findings indicate the gas instead is coming from sources such as decaying plant materials in the water, and not from natural gas development.However, Bracken said she is convinced the source of the gas isn’t biological. She said the bubbles aren’t emanating in a stagnant area where decaying materials can build up. She said that by Tuesday, the bubbling had become almost constant, which adds to her belief that they are from natural gas venting.