Coming soon to West Divide Creek – two Niobrara wells

*Update: The May 14 BOCC Meeting video is now posted at the GarCo website*
[under Board of County Commissioners Meetings, click on 2012 meetings]

From the Styx exclusive interview with Lisa Bracken

FTS:  Lisa, before we get into the latest news, I should backtrack a bit. Since your last post here on April 30, the day we began our series on the West Divide Creek Seep, all hell broke loose and things got very complicated, very quickly, which culminated in your May 14 appearance before the BOCC.  I wanted to post a link to the video replay of the meeting but it hasn’t been posted on the GarCo website, which I thought was odd. So here’s a news article:

Study affirms newer West Divide seep is ‘naturally occurring’
Resident still wants localized monitoring

Many of our readers read the article in The Paper and I’m sure they’re wondering what’s going on. So – what’s going on?

Lisa Bracken: The article you referenced in the Post Independent is misleading at best – patently false at worst. I felt blind-sided by the liaison’s presentation to the county and Geoff Thyne’s apparent reversal of position on Divide Creek issues. I definitely wasn’t prepared to defend eight years of data in my allotted time without the opportunity to re-compile data references and re-align mischaracterized facts, which I am now preparing for a future appearance before the Commissioners.

FTS: You asked for continued and expanded groundwater monitoring. With the increased and planned increase in drilling activity up West Divide Creek – a major county watershed – and considering the history of the West Divide Creek Seep, why wouldn’t the county want to monitor groundwater?

Lisa: Flatly, I think it’s the same reasoning that continues to be advanced since the 2008 seep erupted.  Some folks think it’s easier to defend an absence of data than to deal with real science.  In other words, if you can’t defend it you don’t look at it in the first place. Someone still needs to account for the 2010 soil gas survey and the clear presence of thermogenic gas escaping into West Divide Creek from the shallow groundwater. I’d really like to know the condition of the groundwater. You know, the full scope of contamination there ahead of EnCana fracking into the seep.

FTS:  Okay let’s go back to what led up to your appearance at the May 14 meeting. Last month we alerted readers that the West Divide Creek Seep will get fracked again. The F12E well – what’s happening with that?

Lisa: The F12E pad has 10 wells on it (see diagram below) the ones to the left of the well pad run right underneath West Divide Creek. The latest word from Kirby Wynn [GarCo Oil & Gas Liaison] is that EnCana is set to frack in June.
FTS: But your keen sense of urgency these days is not just about F12E well, right Lisa? There’s something much larger looming on the horizon for West Divide Creek.

Lisa: Yes. On May 16, the COGCC approved permits for two Niobrara Shale wells to be horizontally fracked near West Divide Creek. I found out about the permit applications at the same time our series began. I had to drop everything and scramble to compile the data, compose my comments, and meet with the county, all of which falls far short of a properly planned response. But this is how it’s done. EnCana said right after the moratorium was lifted that they would hold regular community meetings and keep folks abreast of pending development. Of course that never happened. Instead they slip everything in under the radar and you don’t learn about development until they break ground with approved permits. It was a fluke that I learned about these horizontal wells.

These two wells are easily within a mile and certainly implicating the watershed and associated aquifer system. The new well pad, D11E will be adjacent to an existing pad – on EnCana land. Roughly the location is between the Arbaney and the Schwartz well. I expect the pad and associated facilities will grow to finally encompass their entire property.

EnCana approved permit 1

EnCana approved permit 2

Each well will plunge to around 11,000 or so feet in depth which will include a vertical portion and 90-degree horizontal run into the Niobrara Shale formation for another 8,000 thousand feet or so. They are likely to frack at multiple intervals along the way, at least on one well. To my knowledge, this is EnCana’s third horizontal well in the Piceance Basin, the first into the Niobrara Shale on West Divide Creek – already devastated by drilling and fracking activities.

Mishaps within this overly-pressurized, heavily vertically faulted, anticline/watershed are likely to prove disastrous. Neither the COGCC nor EnCana, however, seem to recognize those risks – or existing impacts.  Unfortunately, based on what I’ve researched about Niobrara (Mancos) exploration, much of it is experimental and designed to produce oil together with gas. As usual, West Divide Creek is the proving ground.

It is also my understanding that gel fracking would have to be used. Certainly, flowback potentially contaminated with heavy radioactivity from these shales is a major concern, as are pressure encounters at that depth, and proper isolation of production zones from ground water sources. A recent blowout of such a well in Wyoming helps illustrate these kinds of issues.

FTS: That happened north of Douglas, Wyoming. A blowout occurred at Chesapeake Energy’s Combs Ranch well into the Niobrara Shale formation on April 24. It took nearly three days to cap it.

Chesapeake Energy Well Blowout in Wyoming Causes Evacuation, Methane “Roared” for Days

So how do they expect us to believe they can cement 2½ miles of well effectively? The sub-surface is teeming with aquifers that are constantly shifting and changing because water moves!

Lisa: Cementing is a big question, to be sure. But it’s a lot more complicated than that, which is why I would like Garfield County to take the time to determine the safety and wisdom of allowing this type of development within an already heavily compromised hydro-geologic region.

The engineering specifics and geo-physical characteristics of this relatively new process – untried (to my knowledge) in the Mamm Field should be thoroughly studied, potential impacts determined, baseline groundwater and air quality radioactive data collected, emergency plans and mitigation measures in place well before development is allowed to occur.

Understanding these risks isn’t relegated to the scientific community. Regular people are beginning to realize these risks are real and not nearly as complicated as certain interests would like them to believe. Given the long and documented history of operational failures and on-going environmental and human health impact in this area, a pro-active approach to proper planning and forestalling of foreseeable additional degradation is both logical and reasonable.

The following comments best explain the magnitude of what should be not only my concern but the concern of everyone in this county. I submitted them to the COGCC prior to its approval of the D11E pad (EnCana’s deep horizontal wells in the Mamm Field). They are included in the EnCana approved permit 1:

Based on outputs from other Niobrara wells which produce both gas and oil, higher volumes of gas, oil, condensate, and associated products can be expected, which leads one to question what type and how many additional facilities will be required to handle reasonably anticipated volumes? What will be put in place now and in the foreseeable future that will be associated with this well? At such a depth, what lift technologies will be used? How will additional volumes of fuel be stored and transported? Will a new and bigger pipeline need to be installed?

What kinds of emissions will be likely? Is there a plan to conduct a baseline air quality sample? Such a baseline should be conducted.

How will EnCana cope with thermal loads at that depth and condensing dynamics as they bring product to surface? What will be the signature of liquids and paraffins? How will EnCana clean the gas? What equipment will be needed?

How will EnCana deal with gas kicks? There are sure to be statistically more and they are likely to be of greater pressure. EnCana has shown an inability to cope with gas kicks of any pressure or duration.

What about use of roads? Access is currently via a privately deeded, shared road.

How will EnCana be fracking? What zones? How will they prevent encounters with water underground? West Divide Creek anticline is loaded with natural deep springs.

What will they use to frack? Gas? What kind of gas? Propane? LNG? CO2?

What volume of fluids will be used? How much of that is water? Were will the volume of water come from to frack at that depth?

What chemicals will be added to the frack fluid and in what volume? How toxic are they and what precautions will be taken to avoid aquifer contamination?

How much toxic flowback waste water will be generated? Where will it go? Into the Crozzett? Dumped on the road? Dumped into streams? Will it be radioactive?

A great deal is unknown about the hydro-geology of this area. What risks does all of this pose?

EnCana will be fracking beneath the shallower waste injection zone. How will EnCana prevent encounters with waste water at that interval and prevent it from getting into the shallower aquifer? They have had numerous such encounters at shallower Wasatch and Williams Fork intervals.

What is the base geology (existing faults and fractures) and hydrology? No thorough study has been done. What does EnCana understand about the underlying conditions?  They’ve shown they have very little and very poor working knowledge.

How will blowouts be prevented?

There is evidence that the aquifer is contaminated with thermo-genic gas. And now, even radioactive. According to Judy Jordan, the county appears to have this evidence in their possession. Why hasn’t it been shared with the public who must depend upon this water source for their domestic water?

Newly discovered COGCC evidence supports the contamination of the aquifer dating to 2004. There are no rules or regulations to protect the integrity of rural water sources.

Even under ideal conditions, cementing within a zone saturated with CO2 from the Schwartz blowout is destined to fail. And it is failing. Recent cementing jobs have been insufficient and failed. How is it that a new procedure untried in this unstudied hydrogeology will be miraculously effective? EnCana has demonstrated a habitual inability to properly cement wellbores.

What other wellbores might the new well intersect?

This is a much deeper, technically challenging well in an inherently fragile area: It is an anticline, so it is bowed and loaded with vertical faults and fractures. It is also over-pressurized, and current wells must be vented to the atmosphere in order to prevent pressure buildup on the formation. How much more pressure with drilling to a depth of 12,000 feet create, especially should miscalculation result in intersecting faults, fracture, wellbores, and hydrologic features?

It is an outcrop, so its faults and fractures are more exposed. It is a watershed which makes it very vulnerable to any form of mistake, and transports that mistake downstream, contaminating and permanently compromising water quality and therein, domestic water consumption, human health, agricultural, livestock, habitat and wildlife populations as well.

All of these pre-existing conditions make this area technically challenging — and EnCana has habitually failed (as have oversight agencies including the county) to effectively mitigate those challenges and safeguard public health and safety. The last thing that is needed here is another experiment. West Divide Creek should not be a proving ground, but it has historically been treated as exactly that, implementing modification after modification to operational procedures upon failure after failure.

The pursuit of resource in and around the West Divide Creek area has produced an unfortunate and avoidable legacy of aggressive, reckless pursuit — heedless of impact.

There are downstream user implications for the entire basin. West Divide Creek, like the humans and wildlife that call it home — is a living ecological system. And it has had enough. This well should be denied until a full understanding and mitigation of conditions can be met.

FTS: Holy smokes, Lisa. That’s a lot to take in. Thanks for sharing all this information. There will be much more to come in the near future.

Lisa Bracken will make her 14th appearance (since the 2008 seep) before the GarCo BOCC with her presentation, which is currently in progress, tentatively scheduled for June 4. Once she is on the Agenda, I will post it here.

Lisa Bracken will be a guest at KDNK on Tuesday, May 29. It will be a call-in show and she will be happy to answer your questions. More info to come.

For more information:

Journey of the Forsaken

Lisa Bracken

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