GarCo wants drilling moratorium to return

Garfield County commissioners have agreed to ask the state to reimpose a drilling moratorium in the area of the 2004 natural gas seep south of Silt.

The county acted in response to Lisa Bracken’s concerns that gas produced as a result of energy development may be contaminating domestic and surface water in the West Divide Creek area, where Bracken lives.

Commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson on Monday agreed to Bracken’s request that the county ask that the moratorium be reinstated. Commissioner Tresi Houpt recused herself from considering the matter to avoid a possible conflict of interest. She also sits on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which will consider the county’s request.

“I very much appreciate you taking that stance with the state,” Bracken told commissioners.

Before they made their decision, she said the county hadn’t done enough to address her concerns, and accused Martin of having a bias toward the energy industry.

Samson defended Martin, saying he and other commissioners stood up for Bracken and other residents in the area in asking for the original moratorium.

“They could have very easily said, ‘Forget you,’ but they didn’t,” said Samson, who took office in January.

The oil and gas commission imposed the first moratorium after gas and cancer-causing benzene from an EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) well surfaced in West Divide Creek in 2004, resulting in a $371,200 fine against the company. The commission later lifted the moratorium after putting new drilling rules in place there to try to better protect water.

Bracken contends renewed drilling by EnCana has resulted in gas contaminating groundwater and leaking to the surface at her property. EnCana and oil and gas commission staff say there’s no evidence to support Bracken’s assertion.

Bracken said she wants the moratorium temporarily reimposed in those parts of the original moratorium area where concerns remain, so those concerns can be studied and addressed.

But Martin voiced doubts that more investigation would contradict the state’s conclusions.

“The answer will most likely be exactly what we have in front of us right now,” he said.

The county plans to hire geology professor Geoffrey Thyne to look into Bracken’s concerns. In reviewing results of a county hydrogeological study last year, Thyne said increasing drilling is leading to more gas showing up in domestic water wells south of Silt and Rifle, and particularly in the Divide Creek area. He said he disagrees with state officials who blame biological sources for the gas rather than drilling.


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