Dr. Thyne and COGCC expected to defend Phase III conclusions

lisa bracken headshotGuest post by Lisa Bracken
Project Forsaken

On February 10th (this coming Monday) at approximately 10 a.m. (please refer to Agenda for details) Dr. Thyne and the COGCC will make presentations to the Garfield County Commissioners relative to the conclusions of Garfield County’s 9-year Hydro-Geologic Study. Those wishing to view the presentation(s) can do so remotely via a web-link found here.  [Note: click the link on the left-hand menu to: Channel 12 Live Webcast, which will only feed streaming video during the meeting.]

Whereas Phase III of the study concluded recently and the authors presented findings at both an Energy Advisory Panel meeting as well as to the Commissions, I raised questions as to the validity of findings which inappropriately excluded prior key studies, foundational precursory events, mischaracterized facts and the presence of ongoing drilling and fracking activities within the study area itself.

As some of you may know, in 2004 one of the largest (and ongoing) ‘blowouts’ occurred during a natural gas fracking operation which left natural gas and benzene hemorrhaging into the aquifer and surface waters of West Divide Creek. Amid continued drilling and fracking, a second seep emerged in the same vicinity in 2008. The COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) and others have ceaselessly characterized the 2004 event as strictly related to a poor drilling and cementing job. But, remedial cementing failed to fully correct the problem, which has left the mechanics of fracking in serious question. The 2008 seep remains unacknowledged. I’ve endeavored for the past ten years to extend collective and shared scientific knowledge of those events in an effort to advance better understanding of environmental and human health risks involved in both drilling and fracking operations.

The Mamm Creek study (including Phases I, II, and II) was undertaken in 2004, after a faulty gas well operated by Encana was determined to be the source of methane gas leaking into the groundwater in what became known as the West Divide Creek seep.  [photo courtesy Journey of the Forsaken]

The Mamm Creek study (including Phases I, II, and II) was undertaken in 2004, after a faulty gas well operated by Encana was determined to be the source of methane gas leaking into the groundwater in what became known as the West Divide Creek seep. [photo courtesy Journey of the Forsaken]

John Martin (GarCO Chair) offered a follow-up presentation wherein Garfield County’s consultant, Dr. Geoffrey Thyne, is expected to present his perspectives on both the West Divide Creek seeps and the findings of Phase III – separately. In July 2009 (after Phase II of the same study and the second seep emerged in West Divide Creek), Dr. Thyne became of subject of strong controversy when he advanced the possibility (along with Judy Jordan – former Garfield County Oil and Gas Liaison) that produced gas may be leaking from drilled natural gas wells into domestic water supplies; specifically and according to the COGCC:

  1. That there is a temporal trend of increasing methane in groundwater with increased drilling for natural gas;
  2. That there is a temporal trend of increasing chloride in groundwater with increased drilling for natural gas;
  3. That chloride concentrations above 10 milligrams/Liter (mg/L) in groundwater indicate impacts from water associated with natural gas production; and
  4. That the stable isotope signatures of methane in groundwater indicate that the methane is thermogenic in origin and is due to the drilling activity.

His suspicions were vehemently tried before a COGCC “‘hearing,” wherein the COGCC and several oil and gas industry representatives attempted to debase his thought process. His and industry representative’s hearing presentations appear to have been removed from the COGCC’s website, but one of his Powerpoints is still on file with Garfield County here. The COGCC’s main presentation refuting his assertions can still be found at the COGCC website: Technical Memorandum: Evaluation of “Review of Phase II Hydrogeologic Study” (12/08) for the Mamm Creek Field Area

Since the recent Phase III conclusion, however, Dr. Thyne’s position on potential gas migration from natural gas industry operations appears to have reversed, and he now appears in general agreement with the Phase III authors that gases found in the West Divide Creek aquifer, including benzene, appear to be naturally occurring and unrelated to oil and gas operations past or present.

To my further amazement Dr. Thyne commented right here on this blog last summer making a connection between the West Divide Seep and the Parachute Creek spill:

The seep at West Divide Creek (aka Silt Seep) has recently fallen below actionable levels. The seep was first identified in 2004 and Encana began air sparing shortly thereafter. That means almost 8 years of remediation. All the quarterly monitoring data is on the COGCC website. An initial contour map of the first data from Parachute indicates pretty extensive contamination that will continue to be leached out into the water for some time. Hope it doesn’t take eight years to clean this one up!

The COGCC is also expected to present their position on West Divide Creek’s legacy of contamination, their decision to allow EnCana to curtail sampling along with air sparging of benzene into the aquifer, and the COGCC’s/EnCana’s present mitigation measures.

This study, the drilling and fracking methods which gave it rise, and the arguments employed to defend both reflect not only similar circumstances in the Marcellus, but represent key risks shared by vulnerable watersheds and hydro-geologies the world over where drilling and fracking operations occur.

Worse still, these efforts collectively represent a tried approach to defense which the industry and its regulators are increasingly depending upon to further an aggressive exploitation policy all too heedless of human health and irreversible environmental impacts to critical water resources.

A full decade in … I remain determined to bring to light the truth of these impacts and their causes. Fortunately, it is the very nature of such impacts to reveal themselves over time despite others’ best concerted efforts to bury them. Nothing so inspires the quest for truth than the imposed subjectification of objective fact.

As this 9-year long running study will surely be relied upon as a strategy to further exploitation of our communities, the vulnerabilities of it must be revealed and noted of record somewhere.

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