Phase III study met with public skepticism

Tetra Tech's P.E. Operations Manager David Bohmann (right) and his co-worker  answers questions about Phase III Study

Tetra Tech’s P.E. Operations Manager David Bohmann (right) and hydrogeologist Chris Gutmann (left) answer questions about Phase III study at December 5 EAB meeting

An accident that closed I-70 in Glenwood Canyon on Thursday (12/5) nearly derailed the Phase III study presentation. When the freeway opened up shortly after 6:00 p.m., Tetra Tech’s P.E. Operations Manager David Bohmann and his sidekick Chris Guttmann were able to continue on toward the roomful of folks awaiting their arrival at the EAB meeting in Rifle. Approximately 25 people braved the frigid temps and bad roads to see and hear the Phase III study presentation. Even though it was essentially the same information presented at the November 12 BOCC meeting, it is difficult for locals to make daytime meetings.

What was different this time was the number of questions and comments from board members and the public. Everyone appreciated that the new board chair Howard Orona and Kirby Wynn (GarCo oil & gas liaison) allowed all questions and comments. No one was interrupted or cut off for time. It was utterly civilized even though the meeting went on till the ungodly hour of 9:00 p.m.

Remember, in the Phase III study there are three pairs of nested wells, one about 400 feet deep and the other about 600 feet deep. The Currie well, a nearby residential water well, was also sampled. Domestic water wells are typically 200 feet deep. Water quality samples were taken from each well in January 2011, May 2011, August 2012, and December 2012. Even though the initial water samples showed significant levels of chloride, methane, and benzene, for reasons unknown they did not increase the sampling.

No one can accuse Tetra Tech-ies of over-sampling.

To recap, the three-year study concluded that the chloride, methane, and benzene detected in the water samples was naturally occurring (biogenic) and in many instances – but not all – the concentrations were declining.

Those results have been met with a great deal of public skepticism since they were released in November. That skepticism was evident during comments and questions on Thursday night.

BTW, the county commissioners did not attend. Apparently they are satisfied with the results. John Martin, Tom Jankovsky, and Mike Samson are not interested in the public’s response to the study. They are more interested in putting it to rest. They don’t care what we think. If we have something to say we’re supposed to bow down before them in BOCC chambers.

For those of you who are new to this blog, the Mamm Creek Study (Phases I, II, & III) is a big effing deal. It’s the most important study of my lifetime because the region of the Mamm Creek Study known as the West Divide/Wasatch aquifer is Silt’s watershed. I live in Silt. The confluence of West Divide/Divide Creek and the Colorado River is upstream from Silt’s water intake. As you can see from the diagram below, the region is loaded with gas wells. Hint: The monitoring wells are green circles; the gas wells look like spiders. Phase III_proximity gas wellsOne of the problems with the study’s conclusion, and a major criticism brought forward from the public on Thursday night, is that the study talks about biogenic and thermogenic gases but there is no reference in the report to the gas wells surrounding the monitoring wells, except for the diagram. The report ignores the fact that two gas wells exploded upstream from the region in 2004. There is no mention of the COGCC study in 2010, which resulted in new drilling recommendations specific to the West Divide/Wasatch aquifer. It’s difficult to understand how the study can conclude that oil & gas development is not the cause of the methane, benzene, and chloride in the water samples when the oil & gas wells were not even taken into consideration.

In response to such criticism, Bohmann said he felt that they did take into consideration the oil & gas activity in the vicinity.

But you see that’s the thing. It’s not about how he feels. It’s about what the data shows — or doesn’t show. In the 55-page Phase III report, “gas well” is mentioned only 7 times and always in reference to the past Phase II study.

And while I was counting words in the report I added a few more:
may be – 28 times
likely – 27
suggest – 15
possibly – 4
probably – 3

Sort of screams uncertainty at you, doesn’t it? That’s an awful lot of guesswork. So much for science …

I read the report. One thing does stand out. This was a study in search of a predetermined outcome.

Forget about the cause for a moment – the whole naturally occurring thing. What cannot be disputed are the test results of the water samples. They showed A LOT of methane, benzene, and chloride in the aquifer. See Figures 7-18: Water quality and water levels

We are not relieved!

Bohmann said water containing that much methane, benzene, and chloride is “not good to drink.” He stopped short of saying it was not safe to drink. Gutmann said if people who live downstream are concerned, they should have their water tested.

Of course he made reference to the safe drinking water standard of 5 ppb for benzene, which we’ve had shoved down our throats because of the Parachute Creek spill. But what if you’re not like everybody else and 3 ppb makes you sick? What if you’re 4 years old? Should you be drinking water that contains 3 ppb benzene? Or even 1.5 ppb? Probably not. But I digress …

A brief history – in 2004 when the Arbaney and Schwarz wells blew up, many of us actually believed the state and Encana would come to their senses and stop drilling in such a geologically sensitive area. After all, they wouldn’t risk poisoning the aquifer!

It’s hard to imagine how naïve we were back then.

My family has been drinking bottled water since 2010. Now we believe the West Divide/Wasatch aquifer is contaminated from oil & gas drilling. As far as we’re concerned, the results of the Phase III study prove it. We are not alone is this belief.

So, NO we are not about to put this thing to rest.

The study does recommend – albeit timidly and almost a whisper – that water sampling should continue at those monitoring wells:

The monitoring wells may be useful to obtain future water-level measurements or water-quality data.

On Thursday night, a consensus definitely arose from the public, and also from certain board members, that we need another public meeting about the Phase III study where we ask the county to continue sampling the water in those monitoring wells. Kirby Wynn mentioned the possibility of a meeting in February, though no specific date. We must remind him and hold him to that.

The Mamm Creek Study – especially Phase III — is a highly disputed, emotionally-charged topic. More guest posts are planned. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please feel free. Guest posts are welcome. Please send to:

This webpage contains links to documents related to the study:
Phase III Hydrogeologic Characterization for the Mamm Creek Field Area

The past seeps into Phase III study

Bob Arrington: Cooking in the kitchen

Phase III study: Judy Jordan

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5 Comments on “Phase III study met with public skepticism”

  1. R.Vottero Says:

    how many Siltians even know about this study or their water and air? Next time the citizens must meet before and formulate a strategy and formulate good questions, thanks for the site and comments Peggy. Looking at the Divide and wondering… can we protect all we live by, our essential .air water and land? .

  2. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    Well the purpose of this series is to bring people up-to-speed on the study. A lot of people in Silt read this blog so I’m hoping they will spread the word.
    What shocks me is that the town of Silt and the BOCC know about the study and they don’t even care.

  3. Bob Arrington Says:

    You know the stodgy old engineers that go back and do their late night reading before bedtime, so well portrayed by Dilbert, well –

    The raw data in pages of Phase-III-Hydrogeologic-Study-Mamm-Creek-Lab-Data-1143-Pages.pdf if you go to pages 301 to 320 of 1143 you find trace amounts of the BTEX’s, trichlorobenzene and gasoline of wet thermogenic gas usual origin. Go to pages 128 to 134 and you will find traces of frac fluids chemicals including our old friends methylene chloride and ethyl alcohol (Methylene chloride from Colburn’s TEDX report). These are .pdf extractions of some of those pages:

    Raw Data 1

    Raw Data 2

  4. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    Those must be naturally occurring BTEXs and trichlorobenzene 😉

  5. Bob Arrington Says:

    Peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by Human and Ecological Risk
    Assessment (November 9, 2012).
    An Exploratory Study of Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations
    Theo Colborn, Kim Schultz, Lucille Herrick, and Carol Kwiatkowski
    TEDX, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Paonia, CO, USA
    Address correspondence to Carol Kwiatkowski, PhD, Executive Director, TEDX. PO Box 1407,
    Paonia, CO 81428. Phone and fax: 970 527 4082. Email:
    Running Head: Air Quality near Natural Gas Operations
    Received 11 September 2012; revised manuscript accepted 8 November 2012
    Relevant abbreviations and definitions:
    COGCC Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission
    Mcf thousand cubic feet
    ng/m3 nanograms per cubic meter
    NMHCs non-methane hydrocarbons
    PAHs polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
    ppbc parts per billion carbon
    ppbv parts per billion by volume
    pptv parts per trillion by volume
    μg/m3 micrograms per cubic meter
    μg/ml micrograms per milliliter
    VOCs volatile organic compounds

    PAGE 1 (See the Methylene chloride ref. below caps added -non methane hydrocarbon)
    This exploratory study was designed to assess air quality in a rural western Colorado area
    where residences and gas wells co-exist. Sampling was conducted before, during, and after drilling and hydraulic fracturing of a new natural gas well pad. Weekly air sampling for 1 year revealed that the number of non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHCs) and their concentrations were highest during the initial drilling phase and did not increase during hydraulic fracturing in this closed-loop system. METHYLENE CHLORIDE, a toxic solvent not reported in products used in drilling or hydraulic fracturing, was detected 73% of the time; several times in high concentrations. A literature search of the health effects of the NMHCs revealed that many had multiple health effects, including 30 that affect the endocrine system, which is susceptible to chemical impacts at very low concentrations, far less than government safety standards. Selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were at concentrations greater than those at which prenatally exposed
    children in urban studies had lower developmental and IQ scores. The human and environmental health impacts of the NMHCs, which are ozone precursors, should be examined further given that the natural gas industry is now operating in close proximity to human residences and public lands.
    Key Words: drilling, endocrine disruptors, hydraulic fracturing, natural gas, non-methane
    hydrocarbons, PAHs, VOCs.

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