Garfield County to back resident in tainted water case
November 17, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Lisa Bracken now has Garfield County officially on her side in her struggle to pressure state bureaucrats into doing more about her case.
The Board of County Commissioners on Monday agreed, in part, to request detailed information and actions from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regarding a case of water contamination that goes back more than five years.
Commissioner Mike Samson, in particular, referred to his earlier criticism of the COGCC for falling down on its job of acting as a buffer between citizens and the gas industry.
“I don’t want to go into all that,” Samson said, cutting himself off.
Bracken, a resident of the West Divide Creek area south of Silt, has been wrestling with the COGCC since 2005 about what is known as the Divide Creek Seep, which was blamed on the failure of the cement sheath used to keep well bores from contaminating groundwater.
In 2004, chemicals began bubbling to the surface of the creek in a display of contamination generally attributed to nearby gas drilling activities, and which ultimately led to a moratorium on gas drilling in the area.
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The moratorium was canceled after approximately a year, however, after industry and state officials concluded that the seep had been “mitigated” by the application of additional cement to the bore drilled for the gas well.
In 2008, however, Bracken reported that the creek had begun showing signs of contamination again, and the county hired geologist Geoffrey Thyne to investigate her claims.
Thyne’s findings indicated that there are signs that the re-cementing of the well bore reduced the release of gases into the surrounding ground water.
But, he wrote, “It has not fully corrected the problem, and natural gas along with other harmful constituents continue to leak into the aquifer of West Divide Creek.”
The COGCC, at a hearing in Garfield County last July, promised to have the EnCana gas company, which was drilling near the Bracken property in 2004, work with Bracken to fix the problem. Bracken said that cooperation was supposed to include “thorough water monitoring” of the area near her home and the creek.
Bracken told the commissioners on Monday that EnCana had come out to inspect the scene once and that she has had “very little correspondence” with the company since.
In a letter submitted to the commissioners, Bracken said that signs of chemical seeps are showing up in places other than the ones associated with the 2004 seep, and Thyne’s report backs up her observations.
Although the presence of benzene, a known carcinogen linked to drilling activities, and other compounds in the water seemed to drop off after 2005, Thyne reported, “the current benzene concentrations in groundwater are still 30 times the Colorado state limit for this watershed.”
She reminded the commissioners that, at their meeting on Sept. 14, she was promised that Garfield County would be more involved in exerting pressure to see that something is done.
“This process requires direction and a commitment to see it through,” she wrote in her letter to the commissioners.
The commissioners agreed to contact the COGCC to request information about the investigation, including “all the data from the seep monitoring program, associated reports, and post-seep complaints and responses”; to ask the COGCC for an evaluation of the continued seepage of methane and other chemicals; and to seek data from nearby homeowners in Divide Creek regarding their water wells and any samples obtained by the state or the gas industry.
“I think it’s the next logical step,” Bracken said after the meeting, noting that the commissioners “are, so far, engaged [in helping her learn the source and extent of the seep], and I really appreciate that.”
She added that her family’s well is within a few hundred feet of one of the newly located seepage points.
“We don’t know what we’re consuming,” she said. “We get our water directly from the creek,” which she fears could contain a toxic soup that is harming her family.