EnCana reveals plan to deal with gas seeps
Special to the Post Independent
The gas drilling company connected to natural gas seeps on West Divide Creek has begun work to protect residents and wildlife from possible effects of the seeps.
Representatives of EnCana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc. explained their plan to deal with the seeps in a series of meetings with area residents Tuesday. Such a plan is required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency that regulates gas drilling activity.
But some residents don’t believe the plan is adequate for correcting the seep and protecting them from negative effects.
On March 30, a resident found natural gas bubbling up in West Divide Creek, and more seeps were soon found downstream for a half mile. These seeps are near gas wells recently drilled by EnCana.
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On Wednesday, the company started surveying the soil for more gas seeps. The seeps were first noticed by residents because they bubbled up through a stream and a spring, but any gas coming up through porous soil would be invisible.
So technicians are checking for ground seeps by using infrared gas detection devices, starting from the known seeps and moving in concentric circles outward from the seeps. Gas seeps are recorded on a map using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.
This process, however, will only go as far as gas detection readings are found, said Walter Lowry, director of community and industry relations for EnCana.
Lowry said EnCana will also install gas monitoring devices in the ground at nearby homes. These devices collect samples drawn out of the ground through a piece of pipe, with a vacuum pump. The samples can be quickly checked for natural gas by a laboratory.
Doug Dennison, oil and gas auditor for Garfield County, said EnCana also installed an aeration system in West Divide Creek, just downstream from the largest gas seep. This is near where benzene, a cancer causing substance, was detected in water samples last week.
Benzene, toluene and methyl phenol xylene, all poisonous chemicals associated with natural gas, were found in the water, but only benzene was found in quantities over acceptable standards.
The company hopes the air released from the aerator, called an “air sparging system,” will cause some of the benzene to escape from the water and evaporate.
Benzene does not dissolve thoroughly in water, Dennison said. In the same way that the chemical evaporates from the surface of the stream, it evaporates from the water into the bubbles, and escapes into the air as the bubbles break on the surface.
EnCana has also placed porous tubes filled with activated charcoal, called booms, across the stream at several points downstream from the seeps, to absorb benzene and other toxic chemicals from the water.
Since learning of the natural gas seeping out in the stream, EnCana has also begun testing water from nearby East Divide Creek, at the request of a landowner whose property stretches between the two streams, Lowry said.
The results from those tests show that no water wells are contaminated with benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene or xylene, said Lisa Bracken, who lives a few hundred feet from the seeps.
Bracken learned of the test results during meetings with EnCana and COGCC officials Tuesday, she said.
But Bracken said the company’s consultant did not test for dozens of other chemicals that can be associated with gas drilling.
She also said she thinks the company’s soil surveys will be inadequate.
Gas could be coming up anywhere within hundreds of yards of the known seeps. The search, as described by company officials, wouldn’t detect gas because the surveys are only being carried out near the known seeps, she said. The thought of undetected gas seeps is disconcerting to her.
“For those of us who are right there, it’s very, very scary,” she said.
The company is also supplying water to residents within one mile of the known seeps on West Divide Creek, in case their water wells have become contaminated by natural gas. The residents’ water wells are being tested every day by Cordilleran Compliance Services, a consultant hired by EnCana, Lowry said.
EnCana has stopped work on all its wells within two miles of the seeps, too.
Not all nearby residents believe EnCana is doing enough. At a meeting of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance Tuesday evening, citizens peppered representatives of the COGCC with questions, wanting to know exactly what had gone wrong to allow the gas seeps, Dennison said.
Silt resident Duke Cox, president of the GVCA, said this reaction was to be expected. The GVCA is an advocacy group formed to represent the interest of citizens in issues where the gas industry has impacts.
“I think something [EnCana] already knew was reinforced,” Cox said. “Citizens in the Silt and Rifle area are concerned about the impacts of the gas industry on our community.”
“We question the science that the industry uses to conclude that it is safe to drill for gas in residential areas,” Cox said.
“We don’t believe you can trust the industry to police itself,” he continued. He said the COGCC, the state agency charged with policing the gas drilling industry, shouldn’t be the only group with regulatory authority.
“I think too much regulatory control has been place in the hands of one organization,” Cox said. “I think there should be more local control.”
Lowry, however, thinks the COGCC is doing a good job.
“We feel like they’re doing their job,” he said. “They’re not jumping to any conclusions, and they do a good job of informing the public. I think they’re very fair and concerned.”
Lowry said the remedial activities and testing programs in place so far will cost the company about $100,000. The cost of holding off on drilling wells in a two-mile radius of the seeps until the issue is resolved will also be costly, he said.
Contact Jeremy Heiman: 945-8515, ext. 534
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