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Water well woes worry residents

Dennis Webb

Possible contamination of a water well by natural gas drilling prompted residents south of Silt to voice concerns Thursday about recent operations by EnCana Oil & Gas.Bob Chesson, an environmental protection specialist for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said he thinks gas surfacing in the water well of Laura and Larry Amos is coming from the Williams Fork geological formation, the focus of EnCana’s drilling operations.The state issued EnCana a notice of alleged violation for the well contamination in January, although Chesson said regulators still can’t say the gas is coming from a particular well.Speaking at a Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum meeting Thursday at the Garfield County Fairgrounds, Laura Amos said her concerns increased when an EnCana rig recently began drilling on a well pad on a neighboring property in the Dry Hollow area. EnCana suspended that drilling in the past week, and Amos believes an earlier well drilled from that same pad caused the contamination of her water.”I believe that’s why the rig is now down, because they know they’re not going to run over me and my family anymore,” she said.EnCana stopped drilling the new well after hitting pockets of shallow gas in the Wasatch formation, one at just 600 feet below the surface and another about 1,000 feet down. EnCana drilling engineer John Moran said the company is working with the state to set up a testing program for gas found in shallow zones, both to determine if it is a commercially valuable type of gas and out of concern about protecting water wells from contamination.But Amos expressed dissatisfaction with how EnCana and the state have handled a problem with her well that she said dates back to 2001.”I think EnCana owes me an explanation,” she said.”I believe that it was covered up by the operator and then it was covered up the gas commission, and somebody needs to be responsible and accountable,” Amos said to the applause of fellow residents at Thursday’s meeting.Nothing was ever covered up on the well, Chesson countered. “The Amoses lodged a complaint. We investigated the complaint.”Amos said she has faced years of frustration over the problem, which began during fracturing operations at the nearby gas well. Those operations create fractures within the sand formations holding the gas, in order to free up more of it to flow up the well.After the fracturing, our water from our well geysered into the air, she said.She said her well production dropped off sharply, and the water turned gray and fizzed.Amos said she since has been diagnosed with a rare adrenal gland tumor. She said she has come across research suggesting that a chemical sometimes used in fracturing causes such tumors in rats. She said EnCana has refused to reveal all the chemicals it uses in fracturing because that is proprietary information.EnCana spokesman Walt Lowry said he couldn’t comment on that, noting that Amos has retained an attorney in connection with the case.”That kind of limits what any of us really are able to talk about,” he said.Amos said when she originally voiced her concern to a COGCC representative, other COGCC staff, including Chesson, resisted doing anything about it.Chesson disagreed, saying the state looked into what the Amoses first reported only to be problems regarding their water well’s production, not gas contamination.Eventually, the state issued EnCana a notice of alleged violation, which the company agreed to, Chesson said.Amos said EnCana was cited for nine violations. The company wasn’t fined, but could have been penalized as much as $1,000 per day going back to 2001, she said. Earlier this year, EnCana was fined $371,200, the largest in COGCC history for a single incident, in connection with gas from one of its wells that was found in surface water in the West Divide Creek area south of Silt.Lloyd Moore, a neighbor of the Amoses who owns the property where EnCana recently suspended drilling of its well, said EnCana had told him it would keep him informed about issues related to its drilling. Yet he only became aware of the problem with the Amoses’ drinking water this week, he said.”It’s just like they’re hiding something,” he said. “The neighbors had to tell us what’s going on.”Lowry said he will look into Moore’s concerns, adding that EnCana’s policy is to work openly with residents.”We treat all of our landowners with total respect,” he said.EnCana has arranged to meet with residents of the area Monday evening to discuss the status of the well where drilling has been suspended.He said EnCana is doing all that the state asks in connection with the Amos well. He said the case is similar to one involving the Dietrich water well, also south of Silt. The Dietrich and Amos wells are the only ones in EnCana’s operations south of Silt where it has been found that Williams Fork gas may be contaminating well water, he said.In both cases, tests still have not positively indicated whether water contamination is resulting from Williams Fork gas, or gas from the shallower Wasatch formation or from biological sources. Virtually every water well in the area has some traces of gas from these latter sources, he said.He said when EnCana encountered shallow gas in its latest drilling on Moore’s property, it took the initiative of suspending work.”There is shallow gas all over that area but this seemed enough for us to warrant investigating further,” he said. “That was a proactive move on our part, I think.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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