Garfield studies not part of EPA fracturing probe

A draft Environmental Protection Agency plan for looking into concerns about hydraulic fracturing’s possible impacts on drinking water doesn’t include any of several Garfield County sites that have been proposed for case studies.

The omission concerns Lisa Bracken, who lives south of Silt, where several natural gas wells have been proposed for directional drilling beneath West Divide Creek. Gas and benzene from a well seeped into the creek starting in 2004. Bracken had asked the EPA to look into drilling in that area as part of its hydraulic-fracturing investigation.

“It needs to be included. It needs to have a more thorough study,” Bracken said.

The EPA released its draft study plan this week. Part of the EPA’s proposed overall study plan is to conduct three to five case studies involving sites where possible drinking water contamination has occurred due to fracturing. The agency said it is considering five finalist sites, including one in Colorado, where coalbed-methane drilling is occurring in Las Animas County.

Forty-one sites had been nominated for studies into possible contamination. Five of those were Garfield County sites. In considering candidate sites, the EPA has been considering factors such as the knowledge gap that studying a site could fill, and geographic and geological diversity.

The EPA already is playing a role in addressing drilling concerns south of Silt. It has met with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission officials regarding their ongoing investigation of issues there, and it hired a consultant to review gas wells near a water well where methane possibly linked to drilling has been found.

Meanwhile, EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) wants to drill 12 wells from a pad near the site of the 2004 seep, which state regulators said resulted from EnCana’s improper cementing of a well. The state plans to approve the 12 wells, five of which would be drilled beneath the creek.

Bracken has objected, contending stricter drilling rules for the area aren’t keeping gas from contaminating water.

State regulators say there have been no verified instances of gas wells, drilled under those new rules, impacting domestic water wells. For the 12 EnCana wells now at issue, the state plans numerous additional requirements, including visual monitoring of the creek during drilling.

Said EnCana spokesman Doug Hock, “The COGCC wouldn’t have granted the permits if they didn’t believe the conditions of approval provided adequate environmental protection.”


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