GarCo breaks trust with Battlement residents over botched pipeline project

*Updated 9:45 p.m.

On January 27, COGCC environmental manager Greg Deranleau sent a letter to Garfield County oil & gas liaison Kirby Wynn, detailing a laundry list of problems with pipeline construction at two new well pads in Battlement Mesa.

Neither Wynn nor Ursa informed residents about the situation. A resident stumbled upon the letter while doing a search at the COGCC website. The Daily Sentinel and the Post Independent were notified, resulting in two articles this week:

Pipeline stormwater plan questioned

Battlement Mesa pipeline work sloppy, regulator says

What was it that Ursa and the county were trying to cover up?

According to the letter, during inspections conducted on January 12 and 13: “COGCC observed improper practices at the BMC B and BMC D Pad pipeline staging areas that would not be in compliance with COGCC rules, including inadequate topsoil protection, insufficient stormwater management, and a lack of effective stormwater controls.”

As explained in the letter, the COGCC does not regulate pipeline construction and installation. However Ursa is expected to submit their operations notices on both well pads by the end of this month. When that happens, the well pads will come under the jurisdiction of COGCC rules.

Deranleau wrote: “Based on our observations of actions taken by Summit Midstream during their construction activity at the sites, Ursa may have difficulty complying with those rules upon taking possession of the sites.”

Garfield County issues pipeline permits and is supposed to regulate construction and installation. Summit Midstream took over pipeline construction on behalf of Ursa as of January 3.

The COGCC inspection that occurred on January 12 and 13, uncovered several problems at both new well pad sites. The COGCC refers to them as “insufficient BMPs” (best management practices).

The following problems were observed at both the B Pad and the D Pad:

  • Unconsolidated soil berms (scraped vegetation and topsoil were utilized as unconsolidated perimeter berms at the north edge of the site; unconsolidated berms are not a properly engineered BMP, however compaction of this material would further degrade the topsoil);
  • Straw wattles (straw wattles installed in the access road ditches were not installed in accordance with good engineering practices);
  • Minimal topsoil removal and protection (clear and grub operations have been completed; as described above, topsoil left in place has been saturated and compacted rather than segregated and protected);

Ursa B Pad-January 12, 2017: Overview of well pad entrance showing topsoil not removed before construction is saturated, compacted and not protected. [COGCC photo]

Ursa B Pad-January 12, 2017: Overview of well pad entrance showing topsoil not removed before construction is saturated, compacted and not protected. [COGCC photo]

Additional problems at the B Pad:

  • Sediment and pipeline fluid traps (pipeline flushing fluids were directed to an excavation; the excavation was also receiving stormwater from onsite and in ditches along the access road. There was no stabilized outlet nor any indication of design capacity; the sediment trap was not designed or being operated in accordance with good engineering practices),

Ursa B Pad-January 12, 2017: Sediment basin/retention pond receives runoff from access road and pipeline flushing fluids from vac trucks. [COGCC photo]

Ursa B Pad-January 12, 2017: Sediment basin/retention pond receives runoff from access road and pipeline flushing fluids from vac trucks. [COGCC photo]

Additional problems at the D Pad:

  • At the southwest corner, stormwater had breached the berms causing erosion and transport of sediment offsite, no downstream BMPs observed);
Ursa D Pad-January 12, 2017: Stormwater breached perimeter berm at SW corner. [COGCC photo]

Ursa D Pad-January 12, 2017:  Stormwater breached perimeter berm at SW corner. [COGCC photo]

  • Straw wattles were overwhelmed by sediment and being undercut by stormwater;
Ursa D Pad-January 12, 2017: Wattles in access road ditches are overwhelmed by sediment and being undercut by stormwater. [COGCC photo]

Ursa D Pad-January 12, 2017: Wattles in access road ditches are overwhelmed by sediment and being undercut by stormwater. [COGCC photo]

  • Earthen edging (loose earthen edging along the access road at the site entrance had been breached by vehicle traffic. The breach included wheel ruts, vegetation damage and soil damage outside the boundaries of the intentionally disturbed area).

Ursa D Pad-January 12, 2017: Loose earthen edging along access road at entrance to well pad site has been breached by heavy equipment which rutted and compacted the area that had not been scraped. [COGCC photo]

Ursa D Pad-January 12, 2017: Loose earthen edging along access road at entrance to well pad site has been breached by heavy equipment which rutted and compacted the area that had not been scraped. [COGCC photo]

As outlined by the COGCC and shown in the photos, excess water and mud had already caused significant environmental damage at both well pads. [Click here for more photos.] That sloppy, hazardous mess set the stage for the environmental disaster that occurred on January 18. While Summit Midstream workers were boring the pipeline hole from the B Pad to the D Pad, a flood event occurred.

According to an email to residents from construction manager Cameron Bingham:

… while boring from the future B pad location to the D pad locations, we encountered an underground spring or artesian well of some sort. Our pilot bore hole was approximately 1450’ in and only had about 100’ left from being completed, when we started getting water running back down our pilot bore. Summit and our contractors where able to contain the water and bring in frack tanks and trucks to haul off the water, but it meant increased truck traffic and having to work 24 hours per day.…

…We have received anywhere from 250-300 barrels per hour, or about 6000-7000 barrels per day, which we are capturing in tanks and hauling it out with trucks …

For days on end, residents were subjected to constant truck traffic and a deluge of water and mud that caused slick roads. It’s unknown whether the county was aware of that flood event, which occurred a week after the COGCC inspection and the week before the COGCC letter.

While Summit Midstream is in charge of pipeline construction, Ursa owns both well pads and the pipeline so the buck stops there. Ursa will soon be taking over operations on well pads that do not comply with COGCC rules. Yet according to the Daily Sentinel:

Don Simpson, an Ursa vice president, said he’s not too worried about the situation.

“Right now it’s a Summit construction site and shortly it will be an Ursa construction site when we start building the pads. We’ll assess what needs to be done at that time to bring it into specs” under commission rules, he said.

Simpson told the Post Independent:

“Ursa, once it begins construction of the BMC B and BMC D pad, will access, address and make modifications to protect the topsoil per the regulations.”

According to the COGCC inspector, most of the topsoil was not protected and was instead used to create berms, or was saturated and compacted on both well pads, as shown in the photos above and here. After that inspection, a flood occurred at the B Pad, causing further degradation and loss of topsoil from runoff. It’s unclear how they plan to protect topsoil that has long since washed away. Or maybe they plan to truck in contaminated topsoil from another well pad. It’s anybody’s guess.

Simpson added:

“We trust that the COGCC will provide enough transition time between Summit’s current pipeline construction operations and Ursa’s pad construction so that we may bring whatever deficiencies that might exist into the COGCC’s specifications.”

“We do not see these operations as affecting Ursa’s current good relationship with the community.”

Well that ship has definitely sailed.

So it’s been almost a month since the COGCC letter. Where the hell is Garfield County?

According to the Post Independent:

… Wynn said Tuesday that he and the county are already directly working with Summit Midstream to address Deranleau’s concerns about site preparation and topsoil management. Summit is preparing the site within the Battlement Mesa residential area boundaries for natural gas drilling by Ursa Resources.

“We’ve known about the issue since January 27 and have been working with Summit Midstream to get the issues addressed,” Wynn said. “We’ve been communicating with them directly, flagged some of the issues that we’ve identified and have been working closely with them to get the issues addressed.”

Wynn has since corrected that statement in an email to Battlement residents today. See update below.*

But Battlement residents can’t help but wonder how the situation could turn into an environmental disaster in a matter of weeks. Where was the oversight from the county on this pipeline project? It doesn’t appear that the county even bothered to enforce the conditions of approval they set forth. (See 4.0 Resolution 2016-04)

In fact it looks like Garfield County turned a blind eye for their buddies at Ursa.

This entire situation boils down to one word — trust. Can we, as citizens, trust Garfield County to protect our interests?

Grand Valley Citizens Alliance chair Leslie Robinson doesn’t think so.

“Not once did anyone from Garfield County tell Battlement Mesa residents that the county had received this letter of concern from the COGCC. Battlement citizens learned about these infractions from the COGCC website,” Robinson said. “We were prepared for industry to make a lot of promises they don’t keep, but we expected better from Garfield County. GarCo officials absolutely failed citizens — again — by the lack of communication and the lack of drilling pads oversight. Trust? There can be no trust under these circumstances, just as the Ursa injection well applications come up before the county planning commission on March 8th.”

All of this is eerily reminiscent of a botched pipeline project seven years ago. In October 2010, Garfield County placed a “stop-work order” on a pipeline project after the property owner complained that the installation was sloppy and hazardous. The pipeline was under construction for Antero Resources at the River Ranch subdivision south of Silt, near the confluence of Divide Creek and the Colorado River. In February 2011, Antero bought the property in an out-of-court settlement over the faulty pipeline construction. The property owner took Antero back to court three months later over renewed concerns about the pipeline construction. Nobody knows if that pipeline was ever constructed properly. Antero sold the property, River Ranch subdivision, in 2012. The current owner of the property is unknown. That pipeline is now owned by Ursa.

*Updated 9:45 p.m. —

From the Styx received a copy of an email from Kirby Wynn to Battlement residents today:

As promised yesterday I am providing a couple handy COGCC web links …

COGCC direct link to BMC B Pad permit info: Note, near top of page click on “Doc” to access the various documents archived for the location(well pad) , sorted by date.

COGCC direct link to BMC D Pad permit info: Note, near top of page click on “Doc” to access the various documents archived for the location (well pad) sorted by date.

Pretty handy way to access everything COGCC has for the well pad, and individual well permits. Includes the interagency memo dated Jan 27 that summarized findings from Jan 12-13 site inspection related to stormwater and top soil we discussed. There are other clickable links in the above to peruse as well … For the D pad it also includes the formal notification that D pad construction would begin Feb 21. in the future as the site are developed the above links will provide access to site inspection reports.

Hope you find this helpful and please let me know if you need anything else going forward as I am happy to help. Transparency and regular communication are the goal as always as y’all experience the development activity and the county provides oversight of permit compliance and works to identify and address any nuisance or other resident issues.

Other items:

I misspoke yesterday when I said we started checking on stormwater management issues January 27 … The county was aware of the stormwater concerns raised by COGCC on January 12 and we checked the sites the next day, and then again inspected the site with COGCC and Summit Midstream on February 10 as we have been developing an action plan to be followed. More later as we know more.

With the drilling activity ramping up in earnest and the phase 2 permitting process starting perhaps it makes sense to schedule me and/or other county staff to provide update to BCC at an upcoming meeting sometime soon as well as to respond to questions and to garner feedback from the group. Happy to do that. Also, we will be at the Match 14 Ursa community meeting prepared to share county process as relates to phase 2 permitting.

Regards,

Kirby Wynn
Oil & Gas Liaison
Garfield County

**********

For more information:

COGCC letter to Garfield County

Well pads and pipeline in Battlement Mesa PUD

Daily SentinelPipeline stormwater plan questioned

Post IndependentBattlement Mesa pipeline work sloppy, regulator says

Denver PostFossil fuel extraction fights persist around Colorado, challenging state push for harmony Denver metro neighborhoods rising up against drill pads with as many as 40 wells

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