BOCC approves injection well, residents ask for seismic monitor

earthquakes_oklahoma1To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Garfield County commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to approve Ursa’s second injection well in two years near Battlement Mesa and Parachute.

Public meetings and hearings were held where citizens voiced their concerns and objections. Everyone was heard. Everyone was polite. Everyone was thanked. And the commissioners approved it anyway. Afterward they all patted each other on the back for “engaging the public” as they bent over for the oil & gas industry.

This is the West Slope Way.

Just like last week’s episode of the injection well public hearing, there is no video available on the Garfield County website. So I guess it was only a public hearing if you were actually there in the room.

But the local media was there so let’s see what’s news. Here are some excerpts:

Commissioners OK injection well

… Prior to approval, Kirby Wynn, county oil and gas liaison, addressed several issues residents raised during a public hearing last week. The geologists Wynn said he has been in contact with have all said that the area is not prone to seismic activity that might lead to the dramatic increases in earthquakes since 2009 in Oklahoma, tied to a growth in injection wells since hydraulic fracturing increased there.

Yeah, well, Oklahoma wasn’t “prone to seismic activity” prior to 2009 either. The Nation reported back in February 2014: “The US Geological Survey found that from 1975 to 2008, central Oklahoma experienced one to three 3.0-magnitude earthquakes a year, compared with an average of forty per year from 2009 to 2013. And it looks like that number is going to get bigger. It’s only February, and the state has already logged more than twenty-five quakes of 3.0-magnitude or larger this year, and more than 150 total quakes in the past week alone.” [See graph above]

According to the USGS, before the 3.4 magnitude earthquake that struck on May 31, 2014, there had been zero earthquakes in Weld County, Colorado, since 1931. After the May 31st quakes there have been five more earthquakes in Weld County measuring between 1.7 and 2.6 in magnitude.

As for establishing a seismic monitoring station in Garfield County — which several residents in the Battlement Mesa and Parachute area have requested — Wynn said remote monitoring locations outside the county would be able to detect a magnitude 2.5 earthquake or greater within six miles. Any decision to fund a monitoring center within the county would be up to the commissioners, he said.

Repeating statements made at a previous meeting, Bleil said Ursa believes the potential for noticeable induced seismicity is extremely limited, if it exists at all.

With the county’s approval and the well — located 1.5 miles south of Battlement Mesa — already drilled, Ursa now must finish going through the regulatory process with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Assuming the process is completed without significant setbacks, Ursa could be injecting produced water — underground water extracted through the drilling process — by late fall or early winter, Bleil said.

The current designation from the state is for a small injection well, which would cap the amount of water injected at 5,000 barrels per day, Bleil said. Based on experience, he expects COGCC to approve around 2,500 to 3,000 barrels per day. One barrel is the equivalent of approximately 42 gallons. The injection well is not for commercial purposes, meaning that Ursa would be the only operator injecting at the site.

According to data from the COGCC, there are currently 56 active underground injection disposal facilities in Garfield County, including four operated by Ursa. However, the active designation does not mean those facilities are injecting right at this moment, Wynn said.

Since the amount of water injected is based on the amount of water extracted from the surrounding oil and gas wells, it’s unclear how much water Ursa could be injecting on a given day, Bleil said. Ursa intends to transport most of the produced water to the injection well via pipeline.

Wait a minute. The COGCC caps the amount of injected water at 5,000 barrels per day. But Ursa’s regulatory and environmental manager Rob Bleil says “it’s unclear how much water Ursa could be injecting on a given day.” So if most of the frackwater makes its way to the injection well via pipeline and Ursa doesn’t even know how much water they will be injecting per day, it’s a mystery to me how the COGCC will monitor the 5,000 barrels per day cap. Probably the same way they monitor everything else – they don’t.

GarCo OKs injection well; court challenge is possible

… Nathan Keever, a Grand Junction attorney representing local landowner and mineral owner Sharon Gardner, said a court appeal of the decision is under consideration …

Good. I hope she takes them to court. After all, you’re not a real operator in Garfield County until you’ve been served.

… Ursa says the well would be used to dispose of produced water from natural gas wells well below drinking-water aquifers, and in a geological area not prone to induced seismicity from injection.

Last week, researchers with the University of Colorado and U.S Geological Survey reported a higher risk for earthquakes in the case of injection wells with high injection rates. Ursa official Rob Bleil said Ursa’s well is considered a small one under COGCC rules, meaning less than 5,000 barrels a day would be injected. He expects the state to ultimately authorize an injection rate of 2,500 to 3,000 barrels a day. A barrel is 42 gallons …

Ok, now I’m confused. First Bleil says “it’s unclear how much water Ursa could be injecting on a given day,” then he says it’s “less than 5,000 barrels a day.” For a regulatory and environmental manager he’s kinda muddy on his details.

The injection well will be linked to Ursa gas wells on several nearby pads, with wastewater being transported by pipelines in trenches also containing gas production lines. Keever on Monday objected to the fact that Ursa’s proposal doesn’t fully lay out where pipelines will run, which he said violates county pipeline permitting requirements. But the county says Ursa provided what information it needed for the proposal, and Bleil said it has disclosed pipeline locations to the degree it has been able to forecast them so far.

I guess they’ll figure out the pipelines when they get around to figuring out how many barrels of frackwater they will be injecting per day. Details, details …

Some residents say a seismic monitor is needed in the Parachute/Battlement Mesa area, where Ursa and others already operate some other injection wells. Bleil said there already are four monitors within 35 miles of the new well, including one within 13 miles.

So, over the strident objections of the residents the commissioners approved the injection well anyway. Faced with that defeat, the residents asked for a seismic monitor. How much you want to bet – oh never mind. They won’t get it.

And speaking of earthquakes, we experienced our first injection-well-related earthquake in this morning’s Post Independent editorial advising the county to let the peasants in the gas patch have their seismic monitor. I was shocked to learn that Mr. Editor was even aware of oil & gas drilling activity from his lofty perch in Bonedale. He certainly didn’t read about it in the pages of his newspaper. Maybe he reads my blog.

Editorial: Monitor new injection well for seismic activity

Just as Garfield County has been proactive about monitoring air quality to identify any problems caused by natural gas work (or something else), it makes sense to approve seismic monitoring of a new injection well near homes.

Whoa. Stop right there. Garfield County air quality monitors only detect particulate matter (PPM) and ozone — barely. They do not detect BTEXs, methane, or other HAPs (hazardous air pollutants). Evidently Mr. Editor does not read my blog or he would have taken the Garfield County FLIR Tour and would know the county’s air quality monitoring is bullshit. But there’s always room on the magic bus and it leaves anytime.

We don’t fully know the effects and potential effects of shooting thousands of gallons of water under pressure into the ground, so it is only prudent to monitor whether seismic activity increases.

It is the least the county and the industry can do for justifiably concerned neighbors to these operations.

Oh. Wow. He must be new here. The county and the industry are in bed together and they aren’t the least bit interested in the least they can do for public health, safety, and the environment.

Because seismicity tied to injection wells is still being studied and isn’t fully understood, and because we are laymen, the Post Independent asked Rick Aster, head of Colorado State University’s Geosciences Department, his view of this.

Dr. Rick Aster is the geologist who gave the presentation at the June EAB meeting, Induced Seismicity: What it is, Why does it Happen, and What Should We Do About It? He came out in favor of seismic monitoring.

He agreed with industry experts that “there is indeed no evidence that injection activity is causing significant earthquake concerns in the Piceance Basin, and no indication that the geological conditions are conducive.”

However, he said, “This would indeed be a valuable contribution and prudent investment to general and specific seismic monitoring in this area (including any naturally occurring seismicity).”

“Colorado is not an especially seismically well-monitored state at this point, and every new seismic station helps to improve this situation,” Aster said in an email.

You can bet he won’t get invited back for free salad and pizza anytime soon.

The cost?

Aster said, “around $15,000, plus a few thousand dollars in enclosure, installation costs and telemetry equipment. The cost of telemetering the data (which would require having a suitable cell signal) would likely be a few tens of dollars per month.”

The data, he said, could be incorporated into the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission data feeds and used for routine local and Colorado earthquake monitoring.

Right now, the county pays $350,000 a year voluntarily for air quality monitoring. A little seismic monitoring is cheap. If this well shows nothing, it mutes the debate about monitoring future injection wells.

Collaborating with Colorado Mesa University, which operates a regional seismic network, and with Aster at a total cost of maybe $25,000 would be prudent on the county’s part. Perhaps more importantly, for a county commission that recently approved open-air fracking water pits without county permits, it would be a gesture of good will toward western Garfield County residents who must be neighbors to the industry — and whose homes would shake if by some wild quirk the experts are wrong.

Of course I agree with Mr. Editor’s recommendation. There are sound scientific reasons for seismic monitoring near injection wells. The USGS is currently studying seismic activity in close proximity to oil & gas activities and it only makes sense to continue to collaborate and contribute to the research for the benefit of everyone. It should not be some cheesy “gesture of good will” toward us po fokes down valley who has to abide the gas patch.

Don’t patronize us. We don’t want or need your good will. Or your pity.

We’re not blinded by science. We want science. We want research. We want data not bought and paid for by the industry. We don’t want to be heard. We’ve done the research. We want to be listened to – and heeded.

We want the MOST you can do for public health, safety, and the environment – not the least.

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