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EnCana could be fined $500,000

Suzie RomigGlenwood correspondent

EnCana Oil & Gas could face nearly a $500,000 penalty if, during a public hearing on Monday, the company is found to have used inadequate construction procedures.The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will hold a hearing about alleged drilling violations at 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 16, in the downstairs meeting room at the Ramada Inn in Glenwood Springs. “Inadequate cementing allowed the well to blow out underground, uncontrolled,” which resulted in a natural gas seep into West Divide Creek this spring, according to the hearing notice.Brian Macke, COGCC acting director, said the commission asserts that operators of the Schwartz 2-15B well south of Silt should have realized from standard temperature survey logs and common diagnostic equipment that the well had not been properly cemented between the bore hole in the ground and the well’s steel casing. “Rules require immediate steps to remedy any well construction problems. The COGCC staff is alleging that [well operators] did not take immediate steps,” Macke said. The state believes the cement column was not high enough to prevent the flow of gas from the well bore into a fault or fracture system, which provided a pathway to Divide Creek, he said.”This is a very uncommon problem that was caused by a very unique and unusual set of circumstances,” Macke explained. The well, located 5.5 miles south of Silt in Dry Hollow on a private road between County Road 331 and Country Road 311 on Divide Creek, was cemented on Feb. 9. The underground blowout allegedly went unchecked for 55 days until a property owner discovered a gas seep April 1.EnCana is continuing to monitor water, soil and air in the area, and 20 families in the rural area have been provided safe drinking water since the incident.On Aug. 6, EnCana community liaisons issued an updated plan of action report to residents and landowners that outlines the company’s steps, under way or planned, to address environmental and safety concerns. The action steps range from installing monitoring wells in a bank area near the seep, to monthly monitoring of methane in nearby water wells, to ongoing soil gas sampling around residences. The updated report notes, “test results of water wells, springs and ponds continue to indicate no impact to any drinking water sources from the gas seep.” Regarding stream water, the report states that “weekly sampling events from all six monitoring stations in the seep area have shown no detectable hydrocarbon constituents including BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene) since April 19.”Groundwater in the area may require more attention, however. “Benzene concentrations over drinking water standards were detected in groundwater encompassing an area similar to that of the soil gas survey,” the report states. “Continued monitoring will be conducted over the next several weeks to determine if additional monitoring and/or remediation of the site will be required.”Further testing is underway on soil gases near the seep.”A soil gas survey indicates the seep extends outside the creek but is confined to an area that is approximately 500 feet in length,” the reports states.Macke said a new state requirement for the Mamm Creek Field area was instituted July 23 to speed up reporting of well construction data to the state that could have signaled a problem with the Schwartz well. Instead of 30 days, drilling rig operators will now have to report within one week of cementing a new well. The notice affects potentially hundreds of wells yet to be permitted and drilled, Macke said.”This notice to operators is intended to prevent other situations similar to what caused the event at West Divide Creek,” Macke said.Macke said no other seepage issues have been detected in the area since the problem was discovered in April. New drilling within a two-mile radius of the seep was halted by EnCana, which a company spokesman in Denver said put eight new wells on five pads on hold until after the hearing.Silt resident Duke Cox, president of the grassroots Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, said representatives from the group will attend the hearing to present witnesses and testimony. He said the group, which is part of the Western Colorado Congress watchdog coalition, plans to press for attention to 10 points listed in a “motion to intervene.” The requested actions in the intervention range from a thorough hydro-geological study of the Divide Creek area, to a permanent monitoring program within a 2-mile radius of known seeps, to suspending production of producing wells near seeps. Cox said the group is concerned about long-term, “irreparable” damage to the area. “The issue is not the violation. The violation is pretty clear. The issue is, is the law going to be enforced?” Cox said. “This issue is so complicated and so politically sensitive.”Macke said 34 drilling rigs for new wells are currently in operation in Garfield County, and close to 1,900 previously drilled wells are still producing natural gas in the county. He said a well typically exists for at least 20 years.


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