Experts Agree: Everything’s Fine

At the Antero town hall meeting last month we learned that Antero is all about controlling the discussion. And at the COGCC town hall meeting at the CMC Rifle campus on March 3, we learned the COGCC is all about controlling the message. Billed as a so-called “town hall” meeting it was more like Gas Well Drilling 101.

COGCC Exec Dir Dave Neslin

COGCC Executive Director Dave Neslin kicked off an hour-long lecture series which included contributions from members of the COGCC Rifle Office: Dave Kubeczkol (Locations Specialist), David Andrews (Engineering Specialist), Linda Spry O’Rourke (Environmental Specialist), and Margaret Ash (Field Inspection Manager). One-by-one they enlightened us about their various job responsibilities. The format seemed designed to lull the audience into a stupor.

Not that the meeting wasn’t newsworthy. It was. Here are a couple related articles:

Garfield County drilling to be stable this year
Two companies will be active

To be perfectly honest, I don’t recall any of this. Maybe I fell asleep …

Commission looking into use of diesel fuel in fracking operations
COGCC following up on congressional report

The diesel-fuel-in-fracking issue is actually old as dirt. I’ve been hearing about it for years. For a regulatory commission, the COGCC seems a little late to the whole notion of enforcement. They spend an enormous amount of time looking at, considering, and reviewing critical issues.

I understand if we want to continue these town hall meetings with the COGCC we should be grateful and not criticize, or poke fun. I certainly do thank Director Neslin and the COGCC Rifle Office employees for taking their valuable time to address the public’s concerns. Everybody agrees we should have more town hall meetings with the COGCC, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

County Commissioner Mike Samson was defensive when a citizen brought up the lack of advance publicity about the meeting. In the future, somebody needs to do a better job of informing the public. More than half the auditorium was full and it seats 300 so I would guess 175 people attended. Since then at least a dozen people have told me they would have gone if they had known about it. The meeting was not well publicized ahead of time.


The best part of the meeting was the Q&A session. Perhaps next time they could skip the lecture – or at least shorten it to 30 minutes – and get right to the questions.

Here’s my take on it –

In reference to Chevron’s policy of top-to-bottom concrete well casings, Neslin was asked whether the COGCC should require the same type of “best management practices” on all wells. Neslin said they would only look at requiring it on a case by case basis. Rifle Engineer David Andrews said they are looking at requiring it in the Mamm Creek area (featured in this NYT video) and will make a determination by the end of this year.

Then this story came out on 3/7:

Colo. regulators consider new top-to-bottom cementing rules for some natural gas wells

SILT, Colo. (AP) — Colorado regulators are considering new casing regulations for about 30 gas wells south of Silt because of groundwater contamination concerns.

The Daily Sentinel reported Monday that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission may also consider retroactive top-to-bottom cementing of natural gas wells in other areas of the region too.

Some wells are only cased from the bottom up to the gas production zone and from the top down to groundwater levels. That leaves the intermediate area unsealed.

There’s a potential for shallow gas of no commercial value to rise through the uncemented area and the outer edge of the well bore.

Gas associated with drilling production has been found in local groundwater supplies.

OBTW, the horses got out. Maybe it’s time to look at shutting the barn door? Or at least considering it …

Along those same lines of best management practices, Neslin was asked about the possibility of requiring green fracking fluids. He said the issue requires — you guessed it — more review, and they are looking into it this year.

In reference to the Regulski pipeline dispute, Neslin said the COGCC regulates flow lines but they do not regulate pipeline construction. Pipeline construction is federally regulated. That bit of info right there sickened me. We are totally screwed when it comes to the pipelines. Nobody’s minding the store. Unless somebody sees a problem and reports it in time before it gets covered up, the companies that do pipeline construction are in charge. Seems unwise. And what about the pipes in the ground? What if they leak? What happens if the pipes are abandoned?

I asked several questions regarding complaints, enforcement, and inspections. Rifle Field Inspection Manager Margaret Ash said her office handled about 60 complaints last year. She said the most common complaint was about odor. I said that didn’t seem like very many complaints and perhaps people don’t know what to do when they have a complaint.

So here’s what to do. Call the COGCC Rifle Office:  625-2497. They make an effort to respond to complaints within 24-48 hours. Ash seemed open to any and all complaints. I asked about reporting dumping or unreported spills because anecdotally those have been rumored for years. If you witness or have knowledge of dumping or unreported spills the most important thing is to give the location so they can go out and perform on-site testing. If you can get the license number of the truck, that’s also helpful.

I also pointed out what I saw as a gap between the COGCC’s rules & regulations and actual enforcement. Andrews explained about regular inspections and sometimes surprise inspections.

In the age of cell phones and instant messaging, the idea of an actual surprise inspection seems remote – maybe even laughable. But I promised myself I won’t go there.

Okay, so once a drilling application completes the approval process with the COGCC and the permit is issued, aside from routine inspections, the company is in charge and none of the subsequent stages in the process are subject to permitting. The companies just file their completion reports along each stage of the process. It’s mostly all paperwork.

Let me explain it this way. If I buy some land or a city lot and I want to build a house I have to go through the permitting process. Once I get permitted and the house is constructed, before I can move in to my own house, I have one more grand inspection in order to get my Certificate of Occupancy. That’s just the way it works for us folks.

Silly me, I would’ve thought it worked somewhat the same for gas well drilling. The company obtains the permit but before they can actually frack they have one more grand inspection before they can obtain their “good-to-go” certificate. Well dream on, cuz that’s not how it works for the gas industry.

I didn’t know that before the meeting. Learn something new all the time. Now that I know it, I wish I didn’t. I think I’ll go back to pretending those rules are the same for the gas industry as they are for you and me.

Fiona Lloyd and Trési Houpt both brought up the matter of cumulative impacts. Lloyd asked, “In terms of impacts where do you draw the line? How many wells are too many? At what point do you say one more well is too many?”

Neslin responded that during each application process they consider the impacts. As a rule, they don’t generally take into consideration the number of wells in any given area.

As a follow-up to that Trési Houpt suggested it may be time to begin looking at the cumulative impacts of gas well drilling especially as it pertains to drilling in populated areas and the impacts on air and water and the health of the citizens.

Neslin thanked Houpt for her comments.

The NYT article, Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers, also came up. Neslin said he read the article and then checked into it. According to Neslin, “No produced water is treated in wastewater treatment plants” in Colorado. Instead we have injection wells and lined evaporation pits. As if that’s supposed to make us all feel better. The radioactive isotopes either go deep underground or into the air. Cold comfort on a long rainy night.

Here’s a news story about his comments:

Slim chance for radioactive water from local drilling

I don’t agree with the headline.

There was also a question about the impact on property values. Andrews said a study was done in 2006, which indicated no impact on property values in this area. Well way back then, almost all natural gas drilling occurred in rural areas, miles away from towns and subdivisions. A lot has changed in five years. Perhaps it’s time for a new study.

Finally, GVCA’s Leslie Robinson pointed out a common complaint: when violations occur, companies are rarely fined.

All things considered it was a productive, news generating meeting. The COGCC did a good job of getting out their message.

Experts agree:  Everything’s fine.

In other news –

EPA Steps Up Scrutiny of Pollution in Pennsylvania Rivers

‘Fracking’ Disposal Sites Suspended, Likely Linked To Arkansas Earthquakes

and dead birds and dead fish

Wyoming Air Pollution Worse Than Los Angeles Due To Gas Drilling

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