Denver company probes for methane near New Castle |

Denver company probes for methane near New Castle

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. A Denver-based oil and gas company spent about a month looking for methane – the prime ingredient in natural gas – in an abandoned coal mine near New Castle recently. Vessels Coal Gas, which develops coal bed methane, drilled several exploratory bore holes into the historic Vulcan Mine on the Grand Hogback, about two miles east of New Castle and south of the Colorado River.The Vulcan Mine, along with the Consolidated on the north side of the Colorado River, jump-started New Castle’s economy in the late nineteenth century (See related story). Three methane gas explosions, in 1896, 1913 and 1918, took the lives of 89 miners. The coal seam continues to smolder today.Vessels owner and director Tom Vessels said recovering methane gas – which contributes to the greenhouse effect – from old coal mines could help reduce atmospheric pollution.Drilling avoided the smoldering areas, Vessels said.New Castle was “a potential reclamation or remediation project,” he said. “We didn’t know if we were going to find methane or combustion gas” such as carbon dioxide. He said the ground has subsided on the top of the hogback and methane may have seeped out of the mine into the air.No water was encountered during drilling, Vessels said. “We were way above the water level,” he said.Water from coal bed methane operations in other areas of the West have been problematic, as it can be highly saline and pollute surface water such as streams and ponds where it is discharged.Vessels has leased 7,500 acres of mineral interests in and around the old coal mine from CB Minerals, a company owned by Rushton Backer. A portion of the surface, just west of the Riverbend subdivision, is owned by Leonard Rippy and the Porter family, according to minutes of a New Castle town board meeting of Dec. 5. Vessels got crossways of the town in December for failing to obtain a watershed permit before commencing its exploratory drilling program.”We went through all the permit procedures with the county,” Vessels said. “We didn’t know about the watershed permit.”A stop-work order was issued to Vessels on Nov. 29, but according to town attorney David McConaughy, the company did not stop drilling until four days later.McConaughy also said the town subsequently issued a watershed permit to Vessels. “There was no risk to the town since it wasn’t taking water out of the Colorado River,” he said. The town has a diversion at the confluence of Elk Creek and the Colorado, downstream of the drilling area, which it has not used since 2002.Vessels is also liable for a $1,000 per day fine for violating the stop-work order.”I didn’t feel it was appropriate to punish them that way, but we (the town board) left it open,” said New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin. “It will be reconsidered,” said New Castle town manager Dave Blanchard.Vessels said his company got started late in the year and had to quit “because it was winter.”He also said the company may return in the spring for more exploratory drilling.”We might drill on the Alkali Creek side (of the hogback) but it’s not on the current agenda,” Vessels said. “We plan on coming back and poking around some more.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 16605dgray@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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