State re-examining Silt-area drilling concerns

The Environmental Protection Agency is joining state investigators in taking a new look at concerns about water contamination by natural gas development south of Silt.

Such investigations are uncommon for the federal agency. But it has been looking into a possible link between gas drilling and water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., and has been preparing to launch a national study into the drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Garfield County oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan is welcoming the decision by Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff to re-evaluate the situation through the use of a third-party consultant. In a report to county commissioners, she characterized that development as a major breakthrough.

The area in question drew attention in 2004 when gas from an EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) well seeped into West Divide Creek. The state lifted a drilling moratorium for the area after imposing new drilling requirements pertaining to practices such as putting concrete seals around wells.

But Lisa Bracken, who lives near the site of the 2004 seep, argues that water contamination by drilling is continuing, and the moratorium should be reinstituted.

Meanwhile, an investigation this year into methane in a domestic water well in the Dry Hollow area indicated it is coming from the same EnCana drilling pad responsible for previous well contamination on the same property.

Also, the state is finding increasing evidence that methane reported by gas producer Bill Barrett Corp. in a water well up Divide Creek is related to energy development. Linda Spry O’Rourke, an environmental protection specialist for the oil and gas commission, said the impact may have begun before 2001.

A third-party consultant for the EPA is beginning a review of gas wells within a half-mile of that water well. The agency and its consultant met with state officials in September.

Spry O’Rourke said Bracken first requested the EPA’s involvement in February because of her concern that a big-picture review of problems in the region wasn’t occurring.

The state is taking a fresh look at data for the area and at concerns raised by the county’s geological consultant, Geoffrey Thyne, who has pointed to rising methane levels in local water wells.

“Geoff and I are hoping that this (new review) will result in a full, objective analysis of conditions in the area,” Jordan wrote in her county report.

The state again has tested gas found in a creek bed on Bracken’s property and continues to believe it is microbial gas not related to drilling.


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