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Garfield County: Reinstate drilling moratorium

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Garfield County commissioners agreed Monday to ask the state to reinstate a natural gas drilling moratorium in the east Mamm Creek area near Silt.

Lisa Bracken, who lives south of Silt, has crusaded for increased monitoring and regulation of drilling in the area, saying the county and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission haven’t done enough to address problems there.

“The truth is where you begin when you want to find answers and craft solutions. We want both,” she said. “Delay and confusion, however, are where you go when you want to hide the truth.”

Bracken fears something similar is happening to a 2004 gas seep in Divide Creek. EnCana Oil and Gas was fined $371,200 in 2004 when hydrocarbons and benzene, a carcinogen, seeped into the creek. The commission also imposed a drilling moratorium, but it was later lifted and additional drilling requirements imposed.

Bracken said a benzene flume “still persists” in the area and it’s irresponsible that an “aggressive” plan to drill about 60 new wells in the area is halfway complete.

EnCana has said there have been no problems since the moratorium was lifted. The commission tested Bracken’s property last year. It didn’t find evidence of a problem and has said it continues to look into Bracken’s concerns.

In January, an EnCana well in the area experienced a “kick” of high gas pressure and water flowed from the well. EnCana said the leak occurred hundreds of feet below the drinking water aquifer. Bracken and some other neighbors worry drilling operations could contaminate drinking water.

“We ask that the moratorium be reinstated only until such time as a thorough and complete investigation can take place into the failure of stipulations to protect our health and safety as well as the environment,” she said.

Dave Neslin, the commission’s acting director, couldn’t be immediately reached.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt didn’t vote on Bracken’s request Monday, saying she’d already discussed the matter at the state level. Houpt is a member of the state commission. An exchange between Bracken and Commissioner John Martin at times became a bit heated.

Bracken accused Martin of appearing supportive of her efforts merely for political reasons before his election last fall and acting biased toward the oil and gas industry. Martin disagreed with her claims, and said sampling has been done “numerous times.” Both county staff and the commission have been to the area to investigate, he added.

“We did take action. We did bring the [commission] here and testing has been done not only by the [commission] but also independently. We still found nothing, Lisa, but we’re still willing to work with you,” Martin said. “I do resent the comments that I did it for political reasons. I think that you are doing it for political reasons and you support the other people because of it.”

The commissioners’ decision included allowing county staff to pay for an expert to review the available data and write a report to present the state. Martin said he suspects there will be “very little answer” at this point from the commission.

Prior to Bracken’s talk with commissioners, she said she didn’t expect anything from Monday’s meeting and predicted the matter would probably end up in court. At the end of the hearing, she thanked Martin and Commissioner Mike Samson.

“This is the responsible step to take, and I thank you for that,” Bracken said.

Bracken has chronicled her observations at http://www.journeyoftheforsaken.com.

pfowler@postindependent.com


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