State takes another look at Mamm Creek gas wells
RIFLE – State oil and gas regulators are taking another look at whether or not gas drilling activities in our region are causing a resurgence in contamination of local water sources.At a meeting in Rifle on Oct. 21, engineers for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission described work they are doing to determine the impact of gas activities of several domestic water wells in the area known as East Mamm Creek.Kevin King, northwest engineer for the COGCC with an office in Rifle, described three wells that are currently under investigation – those of Lisa Bracken, Orrin and Cindy Moon family and the Miller family.Much of the data to be examined by the engineers, according to King’s report, will be coming from EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), which has been operating in the area for years and recently filed for permits to sink 10 new wells in the area.It was EnCana that was fined $378,000 by the COGCC for violating state laws about well construction, after an EnCana well was found to be contaminating Divide Creek in 2004 in what was called the Divide Creek Seep.The COGCC imposed a moratorium on drilling in the area for approximately a year while the situation was studied, but that ban no longer is in effect.Bracken, whose property is in the vicinity of the seep, wrote to the Garfield County Commissioners earlier this year that the seep had begun leaking chemicals into the local waterways in 2008.The Moons bought the land formerly known as the Dietrich property, where the well was found to be contaminated in 2004. A new well, dug by the Moons, may also be contaminated.King reported that EnCana has been directed to conduct tests of “monitoring wells” in the area to determine if the contamination is happening again.At the same time, King reported, the nearby Miller well is to be investigated by the Bill Barrett Corporation, another gas drilling company.And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at the invitation of Bracken, is to begin studying another well in the vicinity.A member of the COGCC, ecologist Richard Alward, commented during the presentation that new testing procedures may show different results than the old tests.”It’s becoming a little more clearly thermogenic,” he said of chemicals being found in the Miller well.In geological terminology, thermogenic hydrocarbons come from sources deep in the rock layers where gas is trapped. A different process, known as “biogenic,” is related to the production of methane and other hydrocarbons during the breakdown of organic substances closer to the surface of the ground.The presence of thermogenic gases in water wells is believed to indicate seepage of hydrocarbons from gas wells into the surrounding rock.Another COGCC member, engineer Mark Cutright, questioned whether bringing in all these different agencies and experts is a kind of “doctor shopping,” which he described as “asking the questions ’til you get the answer you want to hear.”But engineer Linda O’Rourke, who is working on the investigations with King, responded that it was more a matter of staffing.”I don’t feel like we’re trying to get somebody t get the right answer,” she told Cutright. “We just don’t have the staff” to get all the work done.She said evidence from the Moon water well indicates that the seep “is still there.”It surprised us,” she told Cutright, adding, “That is making us take a fresh look” at the email@example.com
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