Barrett backs off burning plan
Following public outcry, Bill Barrett Corp. has decided against doing more burning to get rid of smelly petroleum byproducts at several natural gas wells south of Silt.It had planned to do some burns Friday but canceled them. It will now have to find other ways to get rid of accumulated petroleum condensates.The company conducted several burns just before Christmas, sending black plumes of smoke into the sky. While they were technically successful, Barrett executive Duane Zavadil said it proved too difficult to adequately notify and educate people about what the company was doing.”I guess it’s a bit of a lightning rod,” Zavadil said of the burning.Zavadil is Barrett’s vice president of government and regulatory practices.Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt, who earlier this week had criticized the burning and said Barrett had done a poor job of explaining it to the public, praised its decision to cancel the remaining burns.”I’m always encouraged when any industry is willing to listen to the concerns of the people who are being impacted,” Houpt said.Beth Dardynski, a Dry Hollow resident who complained about the burning to the Post Independent, also cheered Barrett’s decision to stop the practice.”I never even hoped for that. I just wanted to get (concerns over the practice) out there. I didn’t think we’d come close to being able to stop that,” she said.Barrett burned off condensates on several reserve pits last week. The pits are used to hold water associated with drilling. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission requires that condensates be removed within 24 hours of their appearance in pits. Barrett has encountered a problem this winter with a buildup of condensates that the company says occurred after it hit underground deposits of oil containing a waxy substance.The oil hardens below 70 degrees, which has made it difficult to remove in cold weather. The COGCC issued Barrett three notices of alleged violation in connection with the condensate problem.The agency agreed to let Barrett address the problem through burning if it received permits from the state Air Quality Control Division. Barrett also had to notify neighbors of its plans and do the burning on days when the smoke would head skyward rather than toward residences.Said Zavadil, “We had pretty much done all we could do for notification in the community.”He said it would be impossible to notify the hundreds of people who live close enough to see the smoke and have concerns. Compounding the problem, Barrett had to wait until the mornings of planned burns to see if the weather would allow it to go forward on those days. It was impossible to alert everyone in just a few hours’ time, he said.He said Barrett’s decision also was a response to concern by Houpt and others about a failure to adequately communicate with the public about the rationale for the burning.Still, Zavadil believes the burns went well and dealt with the problem at hand. The company had obtained permits to do nine burns altogether. Before canceling its remaining burns, it already had decided against doing a few of them because they would have been too close to homes.Zavadil said Barrett is looking into the best way to extract the condensates, other than burning them off.”We’ll have to figure out a way to address the odor relatively quickly here,” he said.One option is to use a backhoe to remove condensates from the surface.”There’s some issues with that as well. We have to have a place to put the material and thaw it,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a flammable material … you do have to be careful.”Barrett may try out new technology to heat up the reserve pits to 70 degrees so workers can skim the condensates off the surface as is customarily done in warmer months. One problem with that is that the condensates would give off more vapors than when they are frozen, Zavadil said.But Dardynski doesn’t think burning addressed the problem at the reserve pit near her home. She said the odor was still a problem there on Friday.”It was just as bad … as it has been, so whatever they did burn off didn’t make any difference,” she said.Several residents of the area have complained to the Post Independent this week about the problem of odors at the reserve pits in recent weeks and months. Houpt said she has also heard from several constituents about it.Dee Hoffmeister lives on Dry Hollow Road, and has three gas wells nearby, including one within about 500 feet of her residence. She said she had emphysema and suffers from asthma, and had to move out of her home in September because the smell was so bad.She said the odors cause her skin to burn and her lungs to hurt, and make her dizzy. It takes her a week to get over the symptoms after she leaves, she said.”It’s really scary – really scary,” she said.She said she still has family members living in two residences on Dry Hollow.”They have no place to go. I mean, they’re stuck there. … They’re sick all the time.”Zavadil said it wouldn’t be appropriate to discuss Hoffmeister’s specific situation, but added, “We’re sensitive to the odor issue, be it a simple nuisance odor or a health issue.”He said the company hasn’t detected a health threat in connection with the odors.Said Houpt, “I think it’s really important that they recognize that this is a situation that never should have gotten to the point that it had.”Barrett has installed new equipment that Zavadil has said will prevent future condensate buildups. Houpt wonders if the company should go further.”Perhaps they should look at other approaches to drilling. You don’t have to have pits anymore. Sometimes it’s more cost-effective to do it in a more environmentally friendly way initially rather than having to go back and clean things up.”Hoffmeister questions the effectiveness of the burning and is glad it is done.”The smells are so bad the way it is, we don’t need any more put into our environment,” she said. “We’re already having problems just breathing.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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