Encana, landowner in battle over flood damage | PostIndependent.com

Encana, landowner in battle over flood damage

John ColsonPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Colson Post Independent

PORCUPINE CREEK, Colorado – Looking north toward the Colorado River and Rulison, one can gaze over a complex of creeks that have carved gulches leading down to the river from the Mamm Peaks.Standing at the spot where a gas-well access road passes over Porcupine Creek, landowner Thomas Thompson shook his head and pointed upstream as he discussed a flood-damaged area on his land, roughly the size of a football field. The damage was caused when a flash flood plugged a culvert carrying Porcupine Creek under the access road.Thompson and a gas drilling company, Encana Oil & Gas (USA), have been wrestling since last year over Thompson’s belief that the company should pay approximately $710,000 to clean up the debris.Thompson said he has had no luck so far getting Encana to agree with his proposal.Doug Hock, a spokesman for Encana, said Thompson is incorrect in many of his claims and has been blocking the company’s efforts to fix the damage.Hock said the company has drawn up plans for $75,000 worth of rehabilitative work at the site, including straightening and widening the creek and “recontouring the area to help contain the creek.” “The problem has been Thompson’s refusal to let us do the work,” Hock wrote in an email to the Post Independent. “We told Thompson that we need to install a low water crossing, repair our access road to our well pad and redirect the creek channel. We want to get started now so that we can be finished before spring runoff, but he won’t let us.”Thompson, however, said the company’s plan is far short of what is needed.”They couldn’t replace the trees for that much,” he said of the $75,000 proposal.Thompson said Garfield County officials “haven’t done a thing” to help him find a solution.Then he glanced up the creek again and sighed.He has never received an apology for the mess, he said. “It has always been about how they can limit their liability.”Stressing that he is not a foe of the gas industry, Thompson said, “I have never said they should not be doing what they’re doing. They should not be doing it how they’re doing it, is what I’ve said.”

Thompson, who has lived on a 40-acre parcel straddling Porcupine Creek for about a decade, has lease agreements with Encana for the company and its contractors to cross his property to reach well pads in the hills surrounding Thompson’s home.He said the current trouble with the creek began when Encana installed the culvert at what had simply been a low-water crossing for a ranch road.”Every year, we have a flash flood,” Thompson said. “It’s been going on since God was in grammar school, I guess.”But in the years he has lived on Porcupine Creek, the creek banks have largely contained the surging runoff waters, typically caused by monsoonal rains in the spring and summer. The sudden onrush of water would carry logs, massive amounts of dirt and other debris, which would inundate the road crossing for a while and then end up deposited at lower elevations.The company, Thompson recalled, was concerned that vehicles engaged in drilling and other activities might be disabled or stranded by flood waters.It hoped that building the culvert would solve that problem.

There is some disagreement about dates for both the culvert installation and resulting back-ups.Thompson said the culvert was installed in 2009. Hock said it was in 2006.Hock said the culvert was needed “because the creek channel changed position by approximately 100 feet due to upstream blockage in 2005 or 2006,” posing a hazard to the company’s access road.Thompson recalled no such shift of the stream.In 2010, Thompson said, the culvert proved inadequate to its purpose.The culvert was partially plugged by debris, causing minor flooding, and the debris was later cleared and hauled away by Encana.In the spring of 2011, Thompson said, a heavy rain turned the creek into a raging torrent that sent massive amounts of debris into the culvert, plugging it completely.”It was a roar,” he said of the sound from the creek, “with all of the rocks grinding together, and all of this was moving,” pointing at the ground beneath his feet.”It was scary.” he continued, “There were rocks that this was moving that weigh as much as my pickup truck.”Hock maintained that the flood in question happened in 2008 or 2009, and that there was no flood or consequent damage in 2011.Thompson, dismissing Hock’s dateline, insisted there was a massive flood last year and suggested it was intensified by a loss of vegetation caused by gas drilling activities on the land above him.Hock blamed the intensified runoff on a 2009 forest fire on BLM lands above Thompson’s property.Whatever the cause, the culvert was blocked, the creek quickly topped its banks, and the hydraulic power of the water pressing on the banks caused geysers to spout up from places well away from the creek itself, Thompson said.”It was exploding up out of the ground outside the creek banks,” Thompson recalled. “It was destroying the creek banks.”Afterward, he explained, the formerly hard-packed ground was stripped of plant life and turned into a slurry of silt.While the ground is dry now, and feels solid underfoot, Thompson fears it is ripe for serious erosion with the coming spring floods.

For perhaps 100 yards upstream from the service road, the land on either side of Porcupine Creek is barren of plant life and looks rather like one might imagine a close-up of the moon.On either side of the creek, approximately 50 yards of barren, dried mud extends outward to a clearly defined line of sagebrush and other plants, giving an observer an idea of what the land looked like before the flooding occurred.The creek bed itself is a trench, perhaps five feet deep and a dozen feet across, lined with large boulders stacked one on top of another.Thompson said Encana placed the boulders there to stabilize the banks.”They’re slipping down already,” he said, pointing to several spots.Downstream from the culvert is a different picture.The banks of the creek are roughly the same height, but are made up of packed earth, straggling roots and other signs of a long-established Western Slope stream formed by eons of runoff and dry conditions.

Thompson has contacted three companies – Zen Excavating of Carbondale, Consolidated Division of Sedalia, and Pauls Falls of Grand Junction – that submitted estimates that add up to roughly $710,000 to fix the mess.According to documents provided by Thompson, the estimates came in at:• $661,000, from Zen Excavating, to restore the creek banks and the land alongside to pre-flood condition, by trucking in 1,300 tons of fill dirt, 2,250 tons of rocks and other material and compacting it.• $35,600, from Consolidated Division, to revegetate, seed and stabilize the ground.• $13,200, from Pauls Falls, to plant 10 cottonwood trees and 20 aspen trees.Thompson said he is still waiting to hear from Scott Parker, Encana’s construction superintendent in Parachute, about how much the company believes it should spend on the reconstruction.”He has always claimed that he doesn’t think the culvert had anything to do with the problem,” Thompson said of Parker. “Encana’s first plan was that they were not going to do anything,” other than clear the culvert and repair the road.Hock, however, wrote in an email on Thursday that the company plans to spend $75,000 to reclaim the creek and surrounding area.”Mr. Thompson is looking at importing new material, whereas we would use native material for reclamation,” Hock reported.Expressing his own frustration over the ongoing dispute, Thompson predicted, “I think Encana’s probably going to get away with it. I don’t have $150,000 to go to court against these guys. That kind of money’s not [even] coffee money to them, but to me it’s my whole life.”jcolson@postindependent.com

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