No help for Bracken from COGCC officials |

No help for Bracken from COGCC officials

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

It was a duel among consultants Tuesday at the Hotel Colorado, but instead of the classic Western face-off with six-guns at 20 paces, the weapons were Powerpoint presentations and statistics.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday listened to hours of reports and rebuttals concerning the controversial Divide Creek Seep, in which many believe that gas drillers ruptured the underground strata and caused toxic chemicals to seep to the surface and poison the creek.

The seep, which occurred in 2004, led to a shutdown of gas drilling in the West Divide Creek area for about a year, and a record fine of more than $371,000 against the company, EnCana Oil and Gas.

EnCana official Chris Williams told the COGCC on Tuesday that the company was diligent in its efforts, stating, “At one point we were spending over $100,000 a month.”

But area resident Lisa Bracken, who filed a complaint about the seep in 2004, says that there are signs of a new seep, and she has asked for reinstatement of a 2004 moratorium on drilling, which lasted about a year, until the current status of things can be further investigated.

But both the company and the COGCC’s “environmental protection department” do not agree with her version of the situation.

“Mediation is working,” said EnCana’s Tim Baer, telling the commission members that the “plume” of chemical contamination radiating from the seep has shrunk so that “now it’s down to the size of probably a football field,” perhaps half its original size.

He said that since April 2005, Divide Creek has shown no sign of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical associated with drilling operations that appeared there with the seep. Baer and his associate, Chris Williams of EnCana, told the commission members that they were unaware of any contamination in area domestic water wells, or any new seep.

Bracken maintains that methane and chloride have shown up in her water well, which she believes is caused by the drilling activities and has gotten worse.

“There is a new seep,” she declared.

Geology professor Geoffrey Thyne, hired by Garfield County to study the matter, told the COGCC at the Tuesday meeting that he agreed with EnCana and COGCC, “There is no new seep.”

But, he maintained, his study of the available data indicates that it could easily be that the old seep has just popped up again, in a site far from its original appearance and in a way that could indicate ongoing contamination of the groundwater supplies.

A COGCC staff member, environmental supervisor Margaret Ash, countered that a field investigation showed no sign of such a new seep.

But Bracken responded that Ash came to the site “months after the event. We had been through the monsoon season by the time she showed up.”

Thyne, who did not visit the reported site of the new seep, said he confirmed its existence through a study of existing data from several years of monitoring and testing. He said his results showed that the introduction of methane into local water supplies, which had appeared in conjunction with the original seep, was not declining as it should if the source of the seep had been stopped up.

“The cumulative effect of continuous seepage,” he told the commission, “really hasn’t changed.”

Because the COGCC was meeting in an informational setting, and not for a formal hearing, no decisions were made at the meeting, although several commission members urged their staff to get to work on a plan for better monitoring and evaluating data from the Divide Creek area.

And Williams, of EnCana, agreed to meet with Bracken and look more closely into her belief that a new seep has bubbled to the surface.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Bracken after the meeting, declaring that EnCana has already dismissed her claims and that Williams’ pledge is not likely to change that. She maintained that the COGCC staff members did not do a thorough job of investigating her complaints, and that the commission members are too willing to accept staff members’ explanations at the expense of testimony from the public.

“But at least it illuminates all the deficiencies,” she said of the meeting in Glenwood, referring to what she felt were poor decisions based on incomplete understanding on the part of the commission members.

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