Rifle confident monitoring system is helping keep water supply safe

Installation of a unique monitoring system has boosted the city of Rifle’s confidence in the safety of an energy company’s operations in a municipal watershed.

The Rifle City Council on Wednesday agreed to let Laramie Energy II build two additional drilling pads in the Beaver Creek drainage, where the council last year issued a watershed permit for five Laramie pads, pipelines and associated facilities.

Beaver Creek, south of Rifle, is the city’s best and oldest water supply, said council member Alan Lambert. He said protecting it from Laramie’s operations has been a concern for council members, but Laramie has gone far to address those concerns.

Key steps have included putting in the monitoring system and relocating Beaver Creek Road away from the creek to provide a buffer from possible spills.

Said Lambert, “They’ve been a lot more responsive than other entities I’ve seen and they’ve put a lot of money into fulfilling our requests, so I have to give them credit for that.”

Lambert is particularly impressed by the around-the-clock monitoring system, which can detect sediment and oil and gas contaminants and automatically close the city’s water intake gate and notify authorities.

Bob Hea, Laramie’s vice president of engineering and operations, said the system is believed to be one of the first of its kind to be placed in a watershed and was specifically designed after consultation with engineers representing the city.

In an interview by e-mail, he said both the system and road relocation were “wise requests” by the city.

“We are pleased both projects came out so well and that the water monitoring system is fully functional protecting the water supply,” Hea said.

One council member, Jen Sanborn, voted against Laramie’s proposal to build more pads in the watershed. She couldn’t be reached for comment, but Lambert said she had sought disclosure of chemicals used by Laramie in its hydraulic fracturing operations in its wells, and assurance that it would always have someone on site who could ensure best management practices are followed during fracturing.

Hea said Laramie always has a company representative on location to supervise implementation of such practices, and the company has supplied the city with a list of materials used in its operations.

In November, the City Council will consider a request by Williams Production to conduct additional operations in the watershed, where Williams already has 13 wells.

Williams spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said the company wants to drill from one new pad and one existing one inside the watershed, and from a new pad that is outside but would be accessed by a road that is partially within the watershed.

“We know it’s a sensitive area and we tried to tailor our plans to reflect that,” she said.

She said Williams plans to share costs with Laramie to make use of its monitoring system.

Lambert thinks a time may come when the city will start to ask what level of drilling it is comfortable with in the watershed.

“How much is enough? When do you say, ‘OK, that’s enough activity up there?’ ” Lambert said.

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