Claudette Konola

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December 13, 2012
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KONOLA: Who's protecting our groundwater?

There is a line in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": "Water, water everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink." The verse refers to the water of the ocean, which is unfit to drink, but there may be a time when it describes the groundwater of Colorado.

For years the oil and gas industry fought any testing of water before drilling. When landowners went to court claiming that their water had been polluted by the activities of the industry, the argument in court against the claim was that there was no baseline against which to measure the current water sample, therefore there was no proof that industry had caused the pollution. Case dismissed.

This week the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) held hearings about Rule 609: Statewide Groundwater Baseline Sampling and Monitoring. The rule is designed to establish best practices for the industry that would determine when industry is responsible for the contamination of the water that flows into our streams and rivers, and eventually our homes.

The draft regulation requires that two water sources within a half-mile radius of a proposed "Oil and Gas Location" be tested for a laundry list of chemicals. If no water sources are within that radius, the sampling might extend to a one-mile radius or the industry might obtain an exemption from the rule. The sampling is to occur prior to any drilling or well re-stimulation on wells more than a year old, and then again within 18 months and 78 months. But wells that are abandoned are exempt. If a water well owner complains, additional testing may be required.

According to a Bruce Finley-authored piece in The Denver Post, over the past five years there have been 2,078 spills reported to regulators, of which 17 percent resulted in contaminated groundwater. However in Weld County, 40 percent of the spills taint ground water. A similar article written by Bobby Magill for the Colorodoan reported "the 100 most recent oil and gas-related spills and releases statewide showed that 23 incidents had impacted groundwater between Aug. 28 and Dec. 6."

Magill wrote, "In the most recent case, which occurred last Thursday, an old battery of oil tanks owned by Anadarko Petroleum near Platteville was found to have leaked an unknown amount of oil on a 10,000 square-foot area over a long period of time. As the oil-laden dirt was being removed, the excavators encountered groundwater 12 feet below the surface. Lab tests showed that the levels of ethylbenzene and xyelene exceeded the groundwater quality standards."

It is not clear how effective the proposed rules will be. They seem to cover water that is far below the surface that might be contaminated as water migrates through rock fissures or through well bores that degenerate over time. The COGCC has argued that surface contamination is easily discovered and removed when industry brings in vacuum trucks to remove the stained soil. But well-casing failures impact the underground water, and therefore testing should be done to make sure that water remains useful to trout, eagles, rabbits, deer, elk and humans.

In hearings on Monday of this week, the industry asked that the monitoring rules be relaxed in Northern Colorado. Rules have already been diminished so that crude oil tank batteries, as an example, are not covered. The reason for the request to relax rules in Northern Colorado is alarming. Industry has been drilling and fracking there for so long that nobody could tell if new drilling caused pollution. Water is already threatened, so industry does not want to be responsible for cleaning it or delivering clean water to those who use it.

This is an industry that protects its bottom line before it even begins to think about the impacts to our ability to live on this planet. For every attorney representing the planet, there are hundreds of attorneys with much larger budgets working to make sure no claims are paid out to homeowners for air they can't breathe or water they can't drink. The Colorado agency (CDPHE) responsible for protecting our health has a seat at the table in COGCC hearings, but its executive director, Dr. Chris Urbina, seems to sleep through them.

Claudette Konola enjoys drinking clean Colorado water, and the wines that are made from vines irrigated with it. She blogs at and can be reached at

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The Post Independent Updated Dec 13, 2012 04:18PM Published Dec 13, 2012 04:17PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.