EXCLUSIVE: Evidence of another methane seep on West Divide Creek

Guest post by Lisa Bracken*

In August, on our property, I noted the emergence of a new seep along the bank and discharging into the waters of West Divide Creek. I’ve been observing it since then and notified the COGCC and others of the activity on the 20th of this month. My correspondence with them follows this introduction.

The letter to the COGCC, the primary authority follows, with copies to EnCana and EPA. So far, I’ve had one email response from the COGCC asking if I would allow EnCana’s environmental compliance contractor to take a sample.

This is, of course, following two major seep events in 2004 and 2008, and also after all evidence of surface seeping has been disavowed by the state and its sampling/remediation program nearly completely dissolved as of 2010.

[For more information read An Eight Year Cover-Up]

Under the state’s requirements, EnCana hasn’t sampled on our property since that time except for a private agreement arranged just prior, in exchange for allowing EnCana subsurface access to minerals beneath our property which was the only leverage we had.

It is very important that data collected around these events remain within the public domain, yet there is tremendous pressure to allow narrow, private discovery which can then be more easily bought, buried, or otherwise quietly manipulated.

Just after the state rolled back its sampling and remediation requirements for EnCana, a sale to Summit Midstream purportedly followed in 2011 of EnCana’s assets in this area.

I just wanted to demonstrate how little has changed in authority structure or response protocols to these types of situations despite highly publicized political efforts to appear vested in public health and environmental integrity.

In this current climate of political cluster-clucking, it remains simply business as usual for industry and their well-positioned political agents.

At least within my experience and for anyone interested in the “process,” below is an example of “how it rolls” …

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October 20, 2014

To:  COGCC Environmental Supervisor (and other recipients)
Re:  Noted emergence of seepage in West Divide Creek

To whom it may concern;

On or about August 18th of 2014, I noted what appeared to be visual evidence of a seep along the eastern bank of West Divide Creek. The seep appears visually the same as other seeps which have emerged in this general region along the banks of West Divide Creek (specifically in 2004 and again in 2008).

This seep is in the same area associated with a much more widely distributed area of seepage in 2008, but which had visually subsided a number of years ago.

Divide Creek-2014-WDC-Seep-1

New seep area in West Divide Creek. Note the bio-film. Photo by Lisa Bracken taken on August 18, 2014.

Water is flowing gradually across the ground associated with this seep, and the mud appears rust-colored and possessed of what appears to be bio-film in certain areas. Please see attached photos. [see above and below]. Some of the flowing water (in the area of the attached photos) is discharging into west Divide Creek approximately 30-50 feet upstream from our domestic water well. This seep was found to have had a hydrocarbon-type odor associated with it on one occasion out of several in which I have observed it.

The seep appears to trend southward along the eastern bank of West Divide Creek to our southern property line, intermittently expressing in additional areas. It is unknown how much farther, if at all, the seep may extend beyond our southern property line.

Because every other event similar to this one on our property has been determined by the COGCC and EnCana as unrelated to any natural gas extraction activities, and my personal accounts have been publicly devalued on the COGCC’s website, I have been observing this seep since I first noted its presence in order to better determine whether it was a fleeting, intermittent or a consistent phenomenon.

Divide Creek-2014-WDC-seep-2

New seep area in West Divide Creek, two months later. Note the bio-film turned to sludge. Photo by Lisa Bracken taken on October 20, 2014.

Between the date of my first noticing it and the photo taken today (10-20-14) and attached [see above], it appears to be consistent both visually as well as in its distribution on our property.

I have no specific knowledge of potentially related natural gas/extraction activities being performed in this area during the time of noted seep activity.

Given the Mamm Field’s history of hydro-geologic risks together with documented natural gas drilling and completions failures, I feel the emergence of this seep is noteworthy in that it may pose a risk to human or environmental health.

In order to better determine any such potential risks, the location and persistence of this seep activity should, in the least, warrant relevant methane, BTEX, and mining metals sampling of the seep site(s) as well as a reinstatement of both surface / ground water monitor sampling and remedial measures to help ensure the water quality of West Divide Creek, its shallow alluvial waters and the ground water of the region.

Should any entity wish to engage existing, new or expanded sampling on our property, relative to this seep or any other event, please coordinate with myself, as landowner in order to secure permission and logistics of access.

Permissive access should not be assumed. Any raw as well as refined data resulting from such collection will be expected to be made available to all landowners of this property.

Thank you, once again, for your considerations of this matter.

Lisa Bracken

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Response from COGCC —

Lisa,

Encana has their consultant collecting quarterly samples from monitoring wells today. Will they be able to collect a sample from the referenced seep while they are out there yet today?

Thanks

**********

My responses —

Thank you for contacting me directly.

EnCana’s consultant is only accessing our property to collect samples from our domestic water well within the confines of a pre-existing agreement, so I cannot grant access to him for any further purpose without mutual agreement between ourselves and EnCana.

While I understand that such an idea might seem expeditious and even frugal, and I certainly don’t discount EnCana’s consultant’s collection abilities or protocols, such a request does not account for proper access precaution, better protecting all parties.

The COGCC and EPA have both accessed this property over the past decade as a matter of relative routine. These are, however, state and federal agencies with certain implied authorities and duties. EnCana, Rule Engineering and myself are private entities, which require appropriate agreements in place prior to access.

I am interested in properly accommodating access and equally sharing in resulting data. Given the legacy of environmental impacts to this area associated directly with oil and gas operations, it would seem appropriate for the COGCC or EPA to respond initially to this report within the framework of their authority.

I therefore welcome any further forthcoming communication from a COGCC representative, an EPA representative or an EnCana representative bearing authority to quickly resolve these issues, so everyone can appropriately proceed.

Certainly, while it is a strong possibility, I don’t automatically assume that EnCana is responsible for the emergence of what I can only now speculate (without data) to be a methane seep. Regardless of its composition, the source of this seep presumably remains unknown. It seems unlikely, then, that EnCana would be inclined nor that EnCana should be expected to assume costs associated with sample collection, particularly around an event impacting a public waterway, when so many variables remain unknown.

I am available all day today should your environmental specialist based in Rifle, or another COGCC representative wish to visit this site and/or collect a sample. I could accompany.

Thanks, Lisa Bracken

**********

Later, apart from any further communication with the COGCC or any communication from anyone directly representing EnCana, I met with the environmental field tech while he was collecting a sample from our water well. He expressed an interest in viewing the seep site, so I led him across the creek as a guest.

My follow-up to COGCC —

Just an update: at around 1 pm this afternoon, I met with the environmental field technician on our property while he was preparing to conduct the annual sampling of our domestic water well. As he expressed an interest in the seep and its location, I led him, as a guest, to the location so he could visually ascertain the event in real time as well as its location. No further orientation and no sampling of that or other locations took place.

Thanks, Lisa Bracken

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lisa bracken headshot*Lisa Bracken has been researching and documenting the impacts of on-shore natural gas extraction since 2002, when operations began in her rural neighborhood on West Divide Creek. In 2004, the largest documented on-shore natural gas blow-out in the US occurred during a fracking operation on West Divide Creek and continues today — as chronicled on her website, Journey of the Forsaken. Amid continued drilling, a second seep occurred in 2008. Approximately 80 producing gas wells have now been drilled within a mile of Lisa’s home prompting her to advocate for policies and industrial practices which safeguard human health and the natural resources such as air, water, and ecological biodiversity on which life depends. She works with communities and organizations throughout the country educating citizens about the impacts of unmitigated oil and gas operations in neighborhoods and inspiring others toward their own efforts at grassroots advocacy.

West Divide Creek Seep

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