Oil and gas commission responds to lifting moratorium near Silt
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff say their decision to lift a moratorium on natural gas drilling in an area south of Silt was a sound one.The decision, the COGCC made at a public hearing in Glenwood Springs in April, was unwelcome news to some people who live in that area and who have felt the impacts of drilling and production for years. COGCC director Brian Macke and two of his staff laid out their reasoning behind the decision to the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board Thursday evening in Rifle.The moratorium came in 2004 after gas escaped from an EnCana well and bubbled to the surface in and around West Divide Creek south of Silt. EnCana was fined $371,000, one of the largest fines the COGCC ever imposed.”We understand there’s a lot of curiosity about that process,” Macke said Thursday. “EnCana voluntarily set up the two-mile [radius] moratorium and provided drinking water for residents.”EnCana still supplies water to several homes in the West Divide Creek area and continues to monitor and treat groundwater contaminated with toxins associated with the gas.In conjunction with the moratorium, COGCC issued a Notice to Operators that set up special regulations governing post-drilling operations and applied them to a large area around the moratorium in what is known as the Mamm Creek Field.The regulations called for monitoring cementing operations and increasing the amount and depth of cement in a drilled well to ensure that gas did not escape.”It was a high level of control by the oil and gas commission,” Macke said.Since the imposition of the moratorium, 313 gas wells have been drilled, and 13 had problems. Seven of the problem wells, including the problematic EnCana well, were located along a northwest to southeast trending alignment, believed to be a fault zone that likely was intersected during drilling of the EnCana well and led to the escape of gas along the fault line and into West Divide Creek.Soon after the gas was discovered in the creek, EnCana recemented the well and prevented further gas from escaping. However, residual gas from the original leak continues to surface and benzene, a toxic chemical associated with natural gas production, has been measured at levels above the health standard the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set, COGCC environmental manager Debbie Baldwin said.Two domestic water wells also along the fault were found to be contaminated with deep production gas from EnCana wells.In July 2005, COGCC allowed Bill Barrett to drill several wells in the moratorium area.The new regulations under the Notice to Operators “has been 100 percent successful at preventing contamination throughout the [Mamm Creek] field, including the moratorium area,” said Jaime Adkins, field engineer with COGCC.In addition to lifting the moratorium, COGCC also defined what it calls the East Mamm Creek Area, encompassing part of the former moratorium area and a 2,400-acre area around the wells aligned along the fault, in which operators can use only one drill rig at a time until five wells are drilled and then must consult with COGCC before employing a second rig, Adkins said. Additional cementing and testing is also required to ensure integrity of the wells.
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