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Water study offers few answers

The first phase of a surface and ground water study of a 110-square-mile area south of Silt has prompted more questions that it has answered. Preliminary results of the hydrogeological characterization study funded by Garfield County were presented to a small public gathering Thursday in Rifle.The study, conducted by URS Consulting of Denver, focused on the Mamm Creek natural gas field south of Silt. The study area included Grass and Hunter mesas and the Dry Hollow and Divide Creek areas. The field has seen intense natural gas development in the last three years.In 2004, a gas seep was discovered in West Divide Creek. It was caused by gas from and EnCana well and the company was fined $371,000 by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.A 2-mile drilling moratorium area was established around the seep area. EnCana recently requested the COGCC to lift the ban. The request will be considered by the commission at a public hearing Monday in Glenwood Springs.According to Mark Leverson, a geologist with URS who headed the study, the first phase of the study was meant to examine existing data on water and gas wells and water quality sampling in the area.Essentially, URS found that water quality is very poor in some parts of the study area, notably the Dry Hollow, Divide Creek and the eastern edge of Grass Mesa. But whether the poor water in those areas is made even worse by natural gas drilling and fracturing remains to be seen, Leverson said.”I honestly don’t know. The reason the water is odd there could be natural water following natural paths or it could also be caused by gas wells,” he said.That was not what some landowners present at the public meeting Thursday night wanted to hear.Pepi Langegger worried that information contained in the study could not be digested in the short amount of time between Thursday and Monday when the COGCC is to meet. The gas seep is located on Langegger’s land.He also worries that fracturing of natural gas wells in the area has affected water wells on his and his neighbors’ land.”We have a (gas) well one-quarter mile away and when they frac’ed it (a neighbor) lost his water in his well for two weeks, then it came back again,” he said.Leverson explained that fracturing occurs many thousands of feet below the rock formation where domestic and irrigation water wells are drilled. However, the many natural faults or fractures in the area could transport water from deep underground closer to the surface and explain the contaminant-laced water that is characteristic of water wells especially in the Dry Hollow area.Contaminants such as sodium and other salts, selenium and nitrates are found in levels much higher than safe drinking water standards. Methane also occurs in many of those wells in high volumes.However, the very toxic chemicals found in the gas seep – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and toluene – were not found in any other areas according to the data URS reviewed for the study, Leverson said.”There’s still a great deal of work to do,” said County Commissioner Trési Houpt.In the second phase of the study “we can zero in on points of interest,” said Commissioner Larry McCown.


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