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Commissioners OK drilling impact study

Donna Gray

Garfield County commissioners on Monday gave the nod to a study that will examine the impacts of natural gas drilling south of the Colorado River.A $371,000 fine against EnCana Oil & Gas will fund the study. The fine is for drilling violations relating to a natural gas seep last spring that contaminated water wells on private land on Divide Creek south of Silt. Besides the study, the fine money will also be used to fund a health risk analysis and an energy education forum. A scope of work drawn up for the project will be presented to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Nov. 29. The COGCC imposed the fine on EnCana and will make the final determination on how the money will be used.The county will put the project out to bid in two phases, each with an estimated cost of $150,000, said county oil and gas auditor Doug Dennison. Phase 1 will involve collecting and analyzing existing data relating to water resources and geologic formations, especially those which produce natural gas. The study will analyze the amount of natural gas present in groundwater and identify the geological formation where it originates.That data could help to clarify the relationship between groundwater, geologic formations and drilling activity. Specifically, the study will attempt to ascertain if gas from the Williams Formation where EnCana drills for natural gas could contaminate groundwater or if the gas present in groundwater is naturally occurring.Phase 2 of the study would fill in any gaps in accumulated data.One limitation to the data collection could be the natural gas industry’s reluctance to share proprietary information, Dennison said.”They are willing to share any data except what gives them a competitive advantage,” Dennison said.But just how that will affect the outcome of the study will not be clear until Phase 1 is completed.All three commissioners agreed it was appropriate for EnCana to hold the $371,000 and dole it out for expenses as the project proceeds.”I have no objection to EnCana keeping the money as long as they pay the invoices (for project work),” said Commissioner Larry McCown.Contractors will submit bids on the project by Feb. 1, and the contract will be awarded by April 1. Phase 1 work is set to begin on May 1 and be complete by November.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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