EnCana answers critics about Wyoming groundwater study
September 7, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A natural gas company has hit back at its critics, at least indirectly, regarding possible groundwater contamination in a gas field in central Wyoming.EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) sent out a letter on Aug. 28, addressed to the residents of Pavillion, Wyo., emphasizing that the Environmental Protection Agency has not reached any conclusions yet about the groundwater contamination question, and urging the residents to keep an open mind on the subject.Meanwhile, a Garfield County group is planning to urge local officials to call for a state study of the potential effects of drilling on the residents of Battlement Mesa, where a gas company is planning to drill up to 200 wells.EnCana, which is one of the largest operators of gas wells in Garfield County and Colorado in general, wrote to the residents of Pavillion, “The purpose of this letter is to help separate the science and facts-to-date from some … unsubstantiated rhetoric and speculation,” referring to rising commotion concerning an EPA study of groundwater pollution in the Pavillion area.The EPA reported recently that, based on water analysis studies earlier this year, 11 of 39 domestic wells tested showed traces of methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, among other substances.The tests were conducted following complaints from local residents that water quality had deteriorated following a period of gas drilling in the area; EnCana owns wells near those tested. The EPA report states that more tests are needed before any conclusions can be drawn as to whether nearby gas wells have caused the contamination.EnCana has been a target of claims from local critics that the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing,” has contaminated groundwater aquifers in western Garfield County.EnCana, according to spokesman Doug Hock, has not done any drilling in the Pavillion area since 2007, and according to the letter the company did not start operations in the area until 2004, when it acquired another gas exploration company.”Some people want to come to all sorts of conclusions about this,” Hock said, adding that the company is working with the EPA to determine what caused the contamination.He said that the Pavillion area and Garfield County are similar in some ways, noting that “the water quality is very poor” in both regions and that both have relatively shallow gas deposits.As to whether the EPA should conduct similar tests in Garfield County, where the population is considerably more dense than it is in central Wyoming, Hock said, “That’s up to the EPA. But it’s a totally different situation.”The issue of possible contamination of local groundwater by gas drilling activities will be addressed at two upcoming meetings of the Garfield County Commissioners.On Tuesday, a contingent from a newly formed group, Concerned Citizens of Battlement Mesa, intends to talk about Antero Resources’ plans to install 10 well pads in the Battlement Mesa neighborhood, and up to 20 wells from each pad.And on Sept. 14, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance will appear for what is being called a “Frac Facts” discussion, a reference to the technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing.” This involves the injection of large quantities of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to shatter underground rock formations and free up deeply buried oil and gas deposits.The “Frac Facts” discussion originally was set for Sept. 8, but according to GVCA spokeswoman Leslie Robinson, it was delayed because Commissioner John Martin was planning to be absent from that meeting.The group’s “mission for the meeting is to present more factual and scientific information about the dangers of frac’ing fluid than was presented previously by a COGA [Colorado Oil & Gas Association, and industry group] lobbyist,” Robinson said in an e-mail.She said the group plans to ask the board of county commissioners to request a study by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on the potential health hazards of the “frac’ing” technique and the chemicals it deposits deep underground.”There are no other health studies in Colorado on health effects from drilling chemicals that GVCA members are aware of,” Robinson wrote, adding that upcoming planning reviews should provide a good opportunity for such studies.