Wilderness Workshop appeals Carbondale-area gas compressor decision
A Carbondale-based environmental group is appealing a recent Bureau of Land Management decision authorizing a new natural gas compressor west of town.
Wilderness Workshop said the storage field that serves the compressor station has the potential for large methane leaks such as one in Southern California in late 2015 and early 2016 that resulted in mass home evacuations.
The organization filed notice that it plans to appeal the BLM’s decision last month that would allow Black Hills Energy to add a new compressor at the Crystal River Compressor Station, located a few miles west of Carbondale off of Garfield County Road 108.
“Our goal is not to stop this proposed compressor from being built, because we understand the importance of reliable natural gas delivery to local consumers,” Peter Hart, staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop, said in a news release issued Monday.
“But, in this case, BLM has not adequately considered or disclosed the potential impacts to health, safety and the environment associated with the project — especially impacts from aging infrastructure in the Wolf Creek storage field,” Hart said.
He said the BLM failed to consider potential health, safety and environmental impacts associated with adding a powerful new compressor to aging infrastructure, “including old and leaky wells in the Wolf Creek storage field.”
Black Hills representatives could not be reached for comment due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday.
Hart said concerns were raised with the BLM during the public comment process last fall, “but those were largely ignored by the agency.”
Black Hills, which uses the subsidiary name Rocky Mountain Natural Gas in the region, operates the compressor station as well as the Wolf Creek storage facility under lease with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service. Natural gas is pumped into underground formations for storage in warmer months and withdrawn for domestic use during the colder months when use is at its peak.
The planned compressor would double the capability in the Wolf Creek facility, located on the White River National Forest west of Carbondale and south of the Sunlight Mountain Resort and Four Mile Park area.
Wilderness Workshop points to a history of regulatory noncompliance as cause for concern, including an injection well fire in February 2009 and a 2013 spill that contaminated soil and shallow groundwater.
Recent infrared camera footage from some of the Wolf Creek facilities show “substantial” methane gas leaks, both unintentional and in cases from deliberate venting of gas, Sloan Shoemaker, executive director for the Wilderness Workshop, said in the release.
“Some of the facilities in Wolf Creek are very old, dating back half a century,” he said. “We asked BLM to consider the potential impacts that additional pressure would have on aging facilities in the storage field.”
The environmental group Earthworks says this is infrared video from a facility in the Wolf Creek natural gas storage area west of Carbondale showing gas emissions.
According to Shoemaker, the BLM indicated in its response that it’s not equipped to conduct an engineering review of the proposed new compressor unit or the overall operation, nor is it tasked to do so.
“We remind BLM that NEPA requires a hard look at potential impacts,” he said, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.
The concerns are heightened by the events at the Aliso Canyon Storage Field in Los Angeles County where Southern California Gas Co. discovered a methane leak in October 2015.
The leak continued for nearly four months, resulting in 100,000 metric tons of methane gas escaping before it was permanently sealed. In the meantime, thousands of residents in the nearby Porter Ranch neighborhood and had to evacuate their home, and schools and businesses were also impacted.
“These storage facilities raise serious questions related to health, safety and the environment,” Hart said in the release. “BLM needs to address these concerns before adding more pressure to the aging system.”
Natural gas was first extracted from the Wolf Creek area in the 1960s. As those wells depleted, they were converted to be used for injection and withdrawal, and in 1977 the area was designated as a storage unit.
Recently, Houston-based SG Interests has applied with the BLM to drill for natural gas on leases that it holds beneath the storage field, hoping to tap into gas resources within the Mancos Shale formation but raising concerns about new natural gas development in the Thompson Divide area that lies west of Carbondale and southwest of Glenwood Springs.