Garfield officials concerned about agenda in state energy meeting |

Garfield officials concerned about agenda in state energy meeting

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County’s elected leaders want to ensure that at least three items get a public airing at the upcoming meeting of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is to be held somewhere in Garfield County in July.

The three topics include what county attorney Don DeFord termed the “Divide Creek seep,” located south of Silt, where natural gas drilling is said to have polluted local groundwater sources; the question of whether it is safe to drill near the Rulison nuclear test blast site, located between Rifle and Parachute; and plans by Antero Resources to drill multiple wells within the boundaries of the Battlement Mesa PUD, a community originally built south of Parachute by the Exxon Oil Co. to house its workers in the oil shale industry in the early 1980s.

“We need a continued conversation about Divide Creek,” Commissioner John Martin at a Monday meeting, referring to a complaint from Divide Creek resident Lisa Bracken lodged earlier this year.

Bracken said the practice known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing to break up subsurface geological formations, has polluted the groundwater around her property.

The commissioners are awaiting a report by consulting geologist Geoffrey Thyne, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines, on the validity of Bracken’s complaint. The COGCC has concluded there is no evidence to support Bracken’s claims.

The commissioners have been wrestling with Bracken’s requests to reinstitute a moratorium on drilling in the Divide Creek area, which was imposed by the commission when EnCana Oil and Gas was fined a record $371,200 in 2004 after gas and benzene seeped to the surface and appeared in West Divide Creek.

The moratorium was lifted more than a year later, and the Garfield County commissioners want to know the commission’s latest position on the question of whether it should be reinstated.

Another topic that has been on the commissioners’ agenda in recent weeks is the Rulison blast site, located about 30 miles west of Glenwood Springs, where the U.S. Department of Energy detonated a 43-kiloton atomic device at a depth of 8,426 feet in 1969 in an effort to free up deeply buried fields of natural gas and oil. The blast also was hailed as a potential peaceful use for nuclear energy.

The blast produced less gas than expected when it fractured the sandstone formations, though, and the gas that was produced was unusable because it was radioactive and the contamination could not be removed.

The Garfield County commissioners, along with several Colorado congressmen, recently asked the Department of Energy to determine how close drillers can safely come to the radioactive cavern created by the blast, and would like the COGCC to weigh in on the matter.

The commissioners also are hoping to iron out some issues related to the planned Battlement Mesa drilling activities. Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who is Garfield County’s liaison to the COGCC, noted that, in the original PUD, the county included a provision requiring a special use permit for any and all oil and gas exploration within the boundaries of the PUD. The county is exploring whether that provision would require Antero to apply to the county for permits before drilling.

According to Judy Jordan, oil and gas liaison for Garfield County, the COGCC is planning to hold informal discussions of the West Divide seep and the Rulison blast questions during the July meeting. But she was unsure if the Battlement Mesa drilling plans were on the agenda.

Following a brief closed-door session to discuss potential testimony by expert witnesses the county might bring to the meeting, county attorney Don DeFord announced the commissioners: will be forwarding the Thyne report directly to the Oil and Gas Commission as soon as it is received; will plan on having staff members at the meeting to talk about the Rulison blast site issues; and will expect to talk about the Battlement Mesa drilling plans.

Thyne, who has been working on the West Divide seep report and expects to send it to the county by the end of this week, said he also is planning to attend the COGCC meetings, scheduled for July 14-15, but also had not seen an agenda.

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