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Group addresses oil and gas reclamation

With oil and gas production in full swing in Garfield County, issues of concern usually center on the immediate effects of the industry on local landowners. However, long-term impacts also need to be addressed.At issue for the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a property rights group from western Garfield County, are both short- and long-range reclamation of well pads, which they believe are not being adequately considered by gas producers.This week the organization brought in engineer James Kuipers, a mining and environmental consultant from Butte, Mont., to speak about reclamation of oil and gas production sites and its costs.Kuipers spoke to the Rifle City Council Wednesday night and on Thursday led a tour of drill pads in the West Mamm Creek and Dry Hollow areas.According to Kuipers, gas producers are not conducting uniform interim reclamation of well pads, nor are they putting up sufficient bonds to cover the eventual cost of long-term reclamation.The federal government “lets oil and gas off with about one-tenth the (financial assurance) of hard rock and coal mining,” he said.The mining industry has learned to incorporate the cost of reclamation early in the mining process, and it “does it right,” he said.GVCA member Peggy Utesch said EnCana, the largest producer in the county, pays $525,000 in blanket bonding that covers the entire state.Kuipers argued that reclamation of an individual well pad could cost up to $100,000 and gas producers should be required to bond that much per individual well.The GVCA crafted a community development plan that calls for reclamation of one well pad before another is constructed. Thus far, two gas production companies, Antero Resources and Galaxy, have agreed to abide by the plan.On Dry Hollow Road south of Silt, the group stopped at a well pad where Bill Barrett Corp. had completed several wells. Walking along a country lane, Kuipers pointed out a serious erosion problem on the back of a berm surrounding the well pad. He showed the path of melting snow into a ditch below the berm and winding underneath the lane and toward Dry Hollow Creek.Straw bales were placed near the mouth of a culvert going under the lane, the water had breached the bales and carried mud into the culvert and toward the creek.While the company should have taken interim reclamation measures, “instead we’re seeing huge amounts of erosion,” he said. “In my opinion, this is a clear violation of the Clean Water Act.”Scott Donato, manager for environmental health and safety for Bill Barrett Inc., acknowledged there were problems with that particular well. The company’s storm-water consultant looked at the drainage from the well pad and found the straw bales were inadequate.”He didn’t find the sediment going too far” toward Dry Hollow Creek, Donato added. “There clearly needs to be some maintenance done.”Later, standing by the side of the West Mamm Creek Road between Rifle and Silt, overlooking two completed EnCana wells and the surrounding pad, Kuipers pointed out what he characterized as missteps of the company in preparing the site for reclamation.Kuipers pointed to a sizable pile of topsoil that will be used to revegetate the site once all the wells are drilled. “We should be seeing this stabilized and hydroseeded,” he said. Without a covering of grass, the soil is liable to erosion.Kuipers also pointed out a ditch at the bottom of the pile. “Here we have a ditch that is catching runoff that’s going into the arroyo (nearby). It’s about half full (of water)” that will fill and drain on to the well pad.”What they’re doing is not much more than cosmetic,” he said. “If we lose one-quarter of this top soil, we’ll lose any chance for successful reclamation.”EnCana, which typically drills multiple wells from one pad through directional drilling, will probably come back to this pad and drill additional wells, said GVCA member Bob Elderkin. Elderkin is retired from the Bureau of Land Management, where he worked with the oil and gas industry.He said some companies will drill one or two wells on a particular lease to keep it active and move to another location. So reclamation can lag for some time.According to EnCana spokesman Doug Hock, the two wells on the pad in West Mamm Creek were completed in October and November of last year. “We have one year to reclaim (the wells),” he said. “We try to speed that up and try to do it within a year. We’re well within the timeframe.”EnCana contracts with independent consultants to inspect its well pads to ensure it is meeting state regulatory requirements to prevent storm-water runoff. That well pad was recently inspected.”We’ve been assured by the inspectors that we’re well within compliance,” he said.Bill Barrett’s storm-water expert consults on the construction of well pads.”He goes out to the sites before construction (and) puts together best management practices” to try to prevent erosion, Donato said. “We started that a couple months ago. He also goes backwards and looks at previous best management practices to see if we’re doing an adequate or inadequate job.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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