Barrett asks COGCC for exemption
An energy company hopes to develop up to 20 wells just inside an area where a moratorium on drilling is in effect due to a natural-gas seep into a creek south of Silt.Bill Barrett Corp. has applied to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for an exemption to the gas-drilling moratorium, put into effect last year following a seep caused by another energy developer.The wells all would be drilled within 2,000 feet of the edge of the moratorium area, said Barrett spokesman Jim Felton.Were looking to basically just step over the line, he said.Barrett contends that the exemption is justified because no complications were experienced during drilling of nearby wells near the edge of the moratorium area, and within the area of the proposed wells before the seep occurred. Most of the new wells would be drilled from existing pads.But a resident living within the moratorium area said exemptions shouldnt be allowed because a hydrogeological study of the area has not been completed.I think its premature before we have gotten the results of the hydrogeological study, said Nancy Jacobsen.The study is being funded by a $371,200 fine levied against EnCana Oil & Gas for causing the seep. The seep occurred last year when EnCana encountered difficulties sealing off a well casing in the West Divide Creek area, allowing gas to escape through a geological fault and to surface in the creek. The COGCC responded by imposing a moratorium on gas drilling by EnCana within a two-mile radius of the problem well, in part so it can test the effectiveness of new drilling rules it put into place. Barrett also agreed to abide by the moratorium.Felton noted that the a drilling moratorium is a result of another companys violation. He added that while some consider the seep to be a geological matter, we would characterize it as operational.He said Bill Barrett Corp. and a previous company that was operated locally by Bill Barrett drilled thousands of wells in western Garfield County over 20 years and never encountered problems like the one with the seep.But Jacobsen said that while EnCana made mistakes, this area does present problems. The moratorium area has geological uplifts and shallow pockets of natural gas, she said.This is an unusual area, and it needs more attention paid, she said.She thinks a moratorium is one good means of getting responsible gas developers to lean on irresponsible ones to clean up their act.If some of this blood drips on them, maybe theyll put some pressure on those causing problems, Jacobsen said.One state official believes energy developers already are acting more responsibly since the seep.I think it seems like everybody is now doing a good job, including EnCana, for that matter, said Tricia Beaver, the COGCCs hearing manager.She said COGCC staff has not had a chance to review Barretts application or make a recommendation to the COGCC about whether to allow drilling inside the moratorium area.If its application is approved, Barrett plans to do monthly testing of water wells within a half mile of drill sites within the moratorium area.It also would share gas measurements and other drilling data to augment the hydrogeological study. Felton said Barrett supported deferring drilling while the nature of the seep was being determined.But he added, We have mineral owners that are certainly getting eager for us to get in there and do as we were held to do via the leases that we signed with them.One of those owners is Duane Scott, of Rifle, who owns ranchland totaling about 330 acres up Divide Creek, including a small amount of land within the moratorium area. Scott owns his mineral rights and has had Barrett drilling elsewhere on his property, and said he has been happy with the job the company has done.His son, Duane Jr., added, Were farmers, and we dont know the gas business, but they seem to be cooperative.The Scotts arent worried about the threat of another seep, and appreciate the value of the gas being produced from below their land.The mineral rights and the gas drilling have helped our family considerably, the younger Scott said. I dont know if you pay attention to the cattle market, but you dont make a lot of money.He also believes getting the gas out by drilling is the best way to keep it from seeping into surface water.But Glenwood Springs attorney Don Kaufman is worried about further drilling in the seep area. Divide Creek runs through a ranch that belongs to his extended family, and he has seen dead fish and other impacts of the chemical contamination of the waterway.It wreaked havoc on that creek, he said.
Bill Barrett Corp.s application for an exemption to a drilling moratorium is scheduled to be heard by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on July 11, at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle, during the COGCCs regular monthly meeting.The hearing location was moved from Denver to Rifle because of previous plans to consider a proposal by Presco Inc. to drill in a state-imposed buffer zone at the site of a 1969 underground nuclear explosion south of Rulison.However, the state has put off that hearing and asked Presco to revise its application or submit a new one after Garfield County officials raised concerns that the company wants to drill four wells in the zone rather than just one.
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