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New gas compressor among Wolf Creek facility upgrades

Part of the Wolf Creek natural gas storage field west of Carbondale, as seen from an EcoFlight flyover last summer.
John Stroud / Post Independent |

A natural gas utility that serves customers in the region and operates the Wolf Creek gas storage unit on the White River National Forest west of Carbondale said that it has been making significant upgrades to the decades-old facility and that it does not pose a risk for major leaks.

Black Hills Energy responded to claims by the Carbondale-based environmental group Wilderness Workshop earlier this week that the storage field contains “old and leaky wells” that could be compromised by adding a more powerful compressor to the nearby Crystal River Compressor Station.

To the contrary, according to Mitch Pebley, senior operations manager for Black Hills subsidiary Rocky Mountain Natural Gas, the utility has taken a “proactive approach” to upgrading the Wolf Creek facility over the past seven years following a 2009 well fire.



That work began with Black Hills’ predecessor, SourceGas, and has included rebuilding the well heads on all seven injection wells that are operated on the site under permit with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The wells are used for injecting gas underground for storage during the warmer months when demand is low and for use to meet the higher wintertime demand.

“We have been rebuilding one well every year now for many years,” Pebley said. “It takes a full summer to complete a new well head, because we have to fit it in a short window of time to be able to work up there.”



The equipment has to be ordered during the prior fall before the work can be completed the following year. The last of the wells was completed last summer.

Wilderness Workshop says it plans to appeal a BLM decision in December to approve a new compressor associated with the storage field, saying the agency failed to adequately consider system-wide impacts in allowing a more powerful compressor to be added to aging infrastructure.

“There are a lot of questions we asked the BLM to analyze in their environmental assessment that we don’t feel we got answers to,” said Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop.

“BLM has said they are not in a position to do an engineering study, but we believe NEPA requires them to do that,” Hart said in reference to the National Environmental Policy Act that guides the use of federal lands.

The group says its concerns were heightened by the large methane gas leak that occurred in late 2015 and early 2016 at the Aliso Canyon Storage Field in Southern California, which resulted in 100,000 metric tons of gas escaping and caused thousands of home evacuations before the leak was sealed.

“From a logical perspective, they’re talking about putting a much more powerful compressor on the system, and we wonder about that increase in pressure on the above-ground facilities,” Hart said.

The group points to infrared video footage taken at the site last summer that seem to show gas leaks coming from valves pipes and other infrastructure at the Wolf Creek site.

Carly West, community affairs director for Black Hills’ Colorado gas operations, said she can’t verify information gathered by an outside source, in this case the environmental group Earthworks. But the utility company regularly does its own video to survey facilities so that it can pinpoint and fix leaks, she said.

Although the compressor project application calls for the “addition” of a new compressor, it will actually replace the capacity currently provided by an older compressor, according to a description of the project on Black Hills Energy website.

“This will help to ensure that we can continue to meet high demand for natural gas in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys during the winter months,” it explained. “The existing station would be kept for backup in the future.”

Pebley said the new compressor is not meant to increase capacity, but to add newer technology to the system.

“The reason for a compressor is not to meet any increased demand, it’s for reliability,” he said. “We want to make sure we serve our customers, and this is a necessary piece of equipment to move gas to customers in the region.”

The project was endorsed during the BLM’s review process by the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and by the government policy group Club 20.


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