EnCana works to mitigate drilling impacts
As Garfield County’s largest natural gas producer continues to increase its local operations, it is committed to working with the public to address the impacts of drilling, a company official says.”The concerns of the stakeholders that you read about in the media are not falling on deaf ears,” Doug Jones of EnCana Oil & Gas said during a recent presentation to members of the Club 20 Western Slope lobbying organization in Grand Junction.EnCana has “learned a number of lessons,” particularly in the past few months, Jones said.”We’re going to try to continue to address the issues and do better and better as time goes by.”One lesson for EnCana has involved drilling mistakes it made south of Silt that led to natural gas surfacing in West Divide Creek. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission levied a record $371,000 fine against EnCana for causing the seep.Other drilling impacts by EnCana and other energy producers have been of a more routine nature but still can have big impacts on residents. Jones said one “huge issue” involves traffic related to the hundreds of workers involved with EnCana’s drilling and gas production in Garfield County.That many workers results in a lot of vehicles on local roads, Jones said.On Grass Mesa near Rifle, drilling traffic created a lot of conflicts with residents because there was only one access road to the mesa. Jones said EnCana responded by building private access to its drilling operations.EnCana also fines employees and contractors $1,000 for traffic violations and gives revenues to the Grass Mesa Homeowners Association, Jones said. A second traffic offense results in termination, and that has occurred quite a few times, he said.Like other local producers, EnCana has begun to regularly use remote telemetry that enables wells to be monitored without workers having to drive to the site.EnCana also has reduced truck traffic through the use of self-skidding rigs when doing directional drilling. Although directional drilling can be done from the same well pad, crews still have to move the rig 20 feet to drill each new well. Previously, that meant bringing in trucks to tear down and move the rig. With self-skidding rigs, the rigs are simply slid that distance instead.Ninety-five percent of EnCana’s drilling in Garfield County is now directional, Jones said. This means the company has to create far fewer well pads.EnCana also has begun operating two rigs side by side on some well pads, with each rig drilling about five wells. That further reduces the surface impacts of drilling.Some of EnCana’s other drilling mitigation efforts include:• It has begun using what Jones called “rig power packs.” These look like trailers and have engines inside that power the rig more quietly.Gas compressor stations also cause noise complaints. Jones said EnCana has been working to improve the building acoustics of its stations, and the stations are well below state noise standards. It also tries to locate the stations where they create the least noise impact.• It is using flowback vessels as an alternative to flaring, or burning off gas at the surface.Flaring traditionally has been needed to clean up sand and debris in the gas. However, residents complain about the light and air pollution associated with it, and fear that it could trigger wildfires.EnCana believes that by using flowback vessels instead, it eventually will have no need to flare gas, Jones said.• EnCana installed a water transfer station on Grass Mesa that, combined with a water pipeline, has reduced water truck traffic sharply.EnCana also installed a water treatment facility that recycles water produced during drilling. The water is used for well fracturing and other drilling operations.”We don’t really want the water but since we’ve got it, we recycle it and use it again,” Jones said.• EnCana has begun using combination gas separator units that save well pad space. Previously, separators had to be at least 20 feet apart.The combination unit “results in smaller pads. Everybody likes that,” Jones said.• EnCana bought out five properties on Grass Mesa as another means of mitigating drilling impacts, Jones said.Jones said EnCana is working to enhance its community standing in other respects as well. It is working with Colorado Mountain College and through its annual energy expo to try “to create a workforce that’s local,” Jones said.The company also is trying to strengthen its efforts to communicate with the public through meetings and other means.”We want to hear from anybody and everybody who has concerns and issues,” he said.He also said that many of the current impacts related to EnCana’s natural gas production will tail off over the years. EnCana officials expect that the company’s heaviest local drilling may occur over the next three to five years.”After the drilling and completion is done then life is going to be a lot better for everybody,” Jones said.DeAnna Woolston, an organizer with the Western Colorado Congress citizens group, questioned EnCana’s commitment to address impacts. For example, she said it only agreed to install a private road on Grass Mesa after the WCC and other activists staged a “press event” showing the problems on the public road.”It took complaint after complaint for you to respond,” she said.Jones said EnCana’s hand wasn’t forced and that it voluntarily built the road.”We did it because the neighbors, we knew that they needed it, and we needed it as well,” he said.Doug Dennison, Garfield County’s oil and gas auditor, is encouraged by some of EnCana’s efforts to reduce drilling impacts. The drill site power packs, for example, are cutting down on not just noise complaints but odor problems, because they are being powered in part by natural gas, he said.Dennison is amused by the “no cussing” signs he now sees at some rig sites. Such signs weren’t so necessary before the power packs were put to use.”The engines are so quiet that you hear everything else,” he said.He likes what he’s heard of EnCana’s initiatives and hopes they might help set trends for the industry in terms of reducing impacts.”If they’re able to achieve them, then I’m real optimistic,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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