Earthworks video exposes emissions at Extraction’s Coyote Pad

August 29, 2018

Colorado, oil and gas drilling

Breaking news

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams announced today that Initiative 97, a setback measure for oil and gas development made the ballot. The measure would mandate that new oil and gas development, including fracking, be a minimum distance of 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other areas designated as “vulnerable.”


On Friday morning, August 24, residents in the Vista Ridge subdivision reported black smoke billowing from the stacks at Extraction’s Coyote Pad near Erie, Colorado.

Erie Town Trustee Christiaan van Woudenberg told Denver 7 News: “People noticed from up to a mile away a visible plume of smoke. We’re very much concerned about protecting the air quality that we and our children breathe.”

Let’s take a look at where Extraction’s Coyote Pad is located. This is an aerial photo of the well pad.

Extraction Oil & Gas — Coyote Trails Well Pad

This map shows the location of the Coyote Pad in proximity to homes in the Vista Ridge subdivision:

As luck would have it, Earthworks had a field crew in the area. That day van Woudenberg was working with Pete Dronkers, certified optical gas imaging thermographer, and Nathalie Eddy, Colorado organizer for Earthworks. Broomfield resident Heidi Russ Henkel gave them a heads up on the emissions plume at the Coyote Pad and suggested they film at the site. Dronkers shot the footage below at the Coyote Pad on August 24. The video* makes visible normally invisible methane and toxic volatile organic compounds that are subject to Colorado’s oil and gas safeguards.

Van Woudenberg said: “What we saw qualitatively was greater than any other site I had seen in my time with Earthworks.”

Earthworks Colorado organizer Nathalie Eddy said, “This video shows why Coloradans need the 2500-foot setback ballot initiative to protect their health. Even with some of the strongest pollution controls in the country, the health of Coloradans is still threatened by oil and gas production.”

Once the evidence of pollution was recorded, van Woudenberg and the Earthworks’ field staff reported it to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). A formal complaint will be submitted along with the footage. The COGCC responded the same day and Extraction Oil & Gas took steps to reduce pollution at the site.

“We asked Earthworks to inspect Extraction’s operation and they happened to be available,” said Heidi Russ Henkel. “If they hadn’t been, we have every reason to believe Extraction’s pollution would still be blowing into nearby homes. There are more than 50 thousand active wells in Colorado. Regulators, no matter how strong our rules, cannot stay on top of pollution from so many sites. The only real way to protect our families is to keep oil and gas production far away from where we live, and play.”

In response to the alert from Earthworks, the COGCC sent an inspector to the site. He brought along a FLIR camera and filmed the stacks from a great distance. The result was poor-quality video footage that you can view here.

The COGCC released this statement to Denver 7 News:

The operator, Extraction, was doing some maintenance work on a location in preparation to bring some newly drilled wells into production. This video from Earthworks was shot during that time (late morning Friday).

Our inspector did visit the site that day, and did note an issue with an emission control device and notified the operator. He also notified CDPHE, as it’s an air quality matter.

At this time, COGCC believes the venting is no longer occurring; an inspector will likely stop by the location again to take some additional footage and verify.

Contextually, it should be noted, that these venting episodes do happen occasionally when operators are adjusting equipment in preparation for new wells to begin production. The rules do allow some leeway for venting during maintenance/equipment adjustment activities.

In this case, we believe the nearest residence is more than 1,000 feet away.

Click here to read the COGCC Field Inspection Report.

So this is probably how it played out last Friday: After Earthworks members contacted the COGCC, the staff alerted Extraction so that workers could get emissions under control by the time the field inspector arrived. That way they wouldn’t be in violation of the rules at the time of the inspection.

Colorado Rising volunteer Anne Lee Foster said, “With only 28 inspectors for more than 50,000 active wells statewide, not every community will be so lucky as Erie as to have a problem like this identified and dealt with. This is a clear example of how regulations have failed to protect our communities, and why we need to keep these dangerous operations away from our neighborhoods and schools with the 2500-foot setback initiative. This abusive industry should not be allowed to risk the health and safety of our children with explosions and cancer-causing chemicals, as seen in these videos. We need a safer setback.”

This week Denver 7 News sent a copy of the Earthworks FLIR video to Extraction Oil and Gas. In a statement, Extraction spokesperson Brian Cain criticized the video:

As is often the case when dealing with extremist groups, this one seems to be misrepresenting the facts. We believe the infrared footage in question shows a heat signature from combustors working as designed. These are not VOCs or other emissions as is alleged by these groups. It is our understanding that this site has been inspected by the relevant regulators and that there was no issuance of any violation.

Additionally, as this facility is in its startup phase, our onsite technicians are constantly watching and adjusting the facility to optimize its equipment. Our trained infrared camera technicians inspected this site four separate times earlier in the week and the site was and remains in compliance.

This discrepancy shows the importance of properly trained infrared inspection technicians who are knowledgeable of the processes and regulations in oil and gas.

Earthworks’ Nathalie Eddy responded: “We are disappointed Extraction’s response failed to address community concerns about the pollution documented coming from their Coyote Trails site for at least several hours on Friday, August 24. COGCC explained there was a pollution episode on site, and Extraction stated that they are permitted to vent. Yet Extraction denied any volatile organic compound pollution. This simply doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t provide the information and transparency that residents and Earthworks seek.”

Besides that, Crain is simply wrong that the “infrared footage in question shows a heat signature.” The FLIR GasFinder 320 camera is specially calibrated to detect methane and other VOCs. See below* for the complete list of chemical emissions that can be detected.

Eddy continued, “This video shows why Coloradans need the 2500-foot setback ballot initiative to protect their health. Even with some of the strongest pollution controls in the country, the health of Coloradans is still threatened by oil and gas production.”

Earlier this year, the University of Colorado published the latest study in a growing body of peer-reviewed science demonstrating that living in proximity to active oil and gas operations is strongly correlated with negative health impacts. Based on recent research, the Environmental Health Project now recommends a 3,281 foot minimum setback from wells and 6,600 foot minimum setback from gas processing plants and large compressor complexes.

* About the video

  • August 24 optical gas imaging video taken by Earthworks’ ITC-certified thermographer showing plume of methane and other volatile organic compound pollution from Extraction Oil & Gas Inc’s Coyote Trails operation blowing towards Erie homes.
  • Earthworks takes these videos on behalf of oil and gas impacted communities around the country as part of its Community Empowerment Project.
  • Earthworks thermographers are ITC-trained, the same used by industry and regulators to train their thermographers to detect oil and gas air pollution.
  • Earthworks thermographers use the industry standard FLIR GF320 optical gas imaging camera which is specifically tuned to detect volatile organic compounds. FLIR GF = Forward Looking InfraRed Gas Finder.
  • Independent laboratory (third party) testing confirms that the FLIR Gasfinder Model GF 320 camera can see the following gases at the minimum detected leak rate (MDLR):
    1-Pentene – 5.6g/hr
    Benzene – 3.5g/hr
    Butane -0.4g/hr
    Ethane – 0.6g/hr
    Ethanol – 0.7g/hr
    Ethylbenzene – 1.5g/hr
    Ethylene – 4.4g/hr
    Heptane – 1.8g/hr
    Hexane – 1.7g/hr
    Isoprene – 8.1g/hr
    MEK – 3.5g/hr
    Methane – 0.8g/hr
    Methanol – 3.8g/hr
    MIBK – 2.1g/hr
    Octane – 1.2g/hr
    Pentane – 3.0g/hr
    Propane – 0.4g/hr
    Propylene – 2.9g/hr
    SF6 (Sulfur Hexaflouride) – 0.026g/hr
    Toluene – 3.8g/hr
    Xylene – 1.9g/hr

About the impacts of oil and gas and the need for setbacks

Denver 7 News coverage:

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