Well-water testing recommended at citizens gas forum
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Mike Smith, a landowner south of Silt, seemed to sum up the concerns of much of the crowd attending a citizens forum on water issues in Garfield County’s gas fields.
“How can we protect our wells from gas-industry activities?” he asked Jaime Adkins, the northwest area engineer of the State of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Smith was one of more than 60 people at “Mixing Gas and Water,” an event presented by Peggy Utesch and Peggy Rawlins of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Steve Smith of the Western Colorado Congress. The meeting was held at the Roaring Fork School District office in Glenwood Springs on Saturday.
Adkins answered Mike Smith’s question by explaining the probability of such an event.
“There are 1,500 wells between New Castle and DeBeque,” Adkins said. “I’ve been with the commission for the past 10 years. In that time, there’s been one drilling incident out of 1,500 wells. I’d say that’s a pretty good success rate.”
Adkins explained that the one “incident” of well contamination occurred when a gas bubble surfaced in a homeowner’s well four years ago, making the well water unusable.
Adkins added that the gas company was fined about $60,000 and was required to test aquifers around the homeowner’s property before drilling another well to replace the contaminated well.
“It was a serious matter, and it didn’t go unnoticed,” Adkins said.
Success rates aside, people attending the forum expressed concerns ranging from surface contamination by oil industry uses, to the impacts of fracturing rock ” called “fracing” ” deep in the ground during drilling operations. There were also concerns about the gas industry’s waste-water disposal and the possibility of the industry taking aquifer water away from existing wells.
Sloan Shoemaker, conservation director for the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, attended the meeting for different reasons.
“There’s a lot of public land out there,” he said of the Piceance Creek region. “I’m concerned over the oil and gas industry’s environmental impacts on habitat in those areas.”
To address some of those concerns, the forum included six presentations on hydrology, local enforcement of water rights, water law, a comparison of regional gas basins, environmental law and water-quality protection, leaving audience members more informed, perhaps, but still not entirely addressing their specific apprehensions.
To drive his point home, presenter David Sturges, who described himself as “a recovering attorney,” brought out an easel with the words, “Knowledge is Power” written in big letters.
A former member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, he talked to the group about the importance of understanding the maze of entities that regulate water quality in gas fields.
“You need to hear the bad news so you don’t waste time,” he told the crowd. “You have to understand the legal process, and understand the agency relationships. You need to learn how the government conducts their business.”
To do that, Sturges recommended that people research Web sites such as the Colorado Foundation for Water Education as well as the State of Colorado’s water law sites.
Adkins advised that landowners concerned with gas-industry activities adversely affecting well water should have water-quality testing done on their wells.
“That way, we have irrefutable evidence of your water quality,” he said. He added that the state’s oil and gas conservation commission provides water-quality testing to landowners paid for by a gas industry severance tax. Landowners can contact him for information on getting their well water tested.
Doug Dennison, Garfield County oil and gas auditor, said it’s a good idea for landowners to have their water tested for other reasons. too.
“Some of the wells I’ve seen are extremely poorly constructed,” he said. “Some are illegal. Some I wouldn’t drink from; they’re downstream from cattle and other contaminants. It’s a bigger issue than simply gas industry contamination. It’s up to every landowner to protect yourself.”
The event ended with a lively question-and-answer segment with Adkins fielding questions like Mike Smith’s ” and moderator Steve Smith promising to present another citizens forum soon.
“I’ll pass out a stack of my business cards,” Adkins said with a smile when people asked how to reach him. “They make good fire starter, but they’re a little thick to roll a cigarette.”
The laughter from Adkins’ comment helped ease the tension in the room from landowners ” many of whom live where drilling rigs continue to pop up in the rural landscape and are feeling that their water and land is increasingly out of their control.
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
– For well-water testing, contact Jamie Adkins, northwest area engineer, State of Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, 970-285-9000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
– For more information on water rights and oil and gas industry activity, log onto http://www.oil-gas.state.co.us and http://www.water.state.co.us.
– For an overview of Colorado’s water resources and issues, log on to Colorado Foundation for Water Education, at http://www.cfwe.org.
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