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Natural gas drilling pads in nearby Garfield County.
Natural gas drilling pads in nearby Garfield County.
Confusion reigns ahead of key oil and gas meeting in Glenwood Springs
Garfield County wants controversial issues aired, but agenda remains uncertain
By David O. Williams

July 11, 2009 — The agenda for a highly anticipated two-day Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting in Glenwood Springs this week is about as clear as the waste water in a natural gas reserve pit.

Garfield County officials are frustrated that topics of critical concern — including drilling near the Rulison nuclear blast site and the West Divide Creek gas seep — have not been set for certain days and times.

“This has been very frustrating for the county staff,” Garfield County attorney Don DeFord said Wednesday. “I have received verbal representations some time ago from the [COGCC] director, Dave Neslin, that West Divide Creek would be discussed at this meeting, but in spite of repeated efforts to get an agenda, a description of an order of events, time allocated, we’ve received nothing.”

Faulty concrete work on a gas well near Silt in 2004 resulted in methane and benzene seeping into Divide Creek, and the COGCC fined EnCana Oil and Gas a record amount of more than $370,000. But Divide Creek resident Lisa Bracken maintains EnCana hasn’t fixed the problem. She filed a complaint this year seeking to reinstate a drilling moratorium in the area.

Garfield County officials want to hear from the COGCC on the issue after the state agency found Bracken’s complaint had no merit, and the county also hired an independent consultant, Dr. Geoffrey Thyne of Science Based Solutions, to investigate Bracken’s claims. The county wants Thyne’s report discussed at the meeting.

”I think Dr. Thyne will be prepared to discuss that, but we have not submitted any information because the COGCC hasn’t set out any ground rules on how that issue will be brought up, how it will be discussed, who will make presentations, anything,” DeFord said. “So he’ll be there, and I guess we’ll all find out at the same time if we’re going to talk about it.”

The meeting is set to start at 9 a.m. next week Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, but beyond that basic information, not much else is known. E-mails to COGCC staff resulted in referrals to this website, which reveals only the most rudimentary details:

“In addition to regular hearing matters, there will be a general public comment period shortly after the start of the hearing, and information on oil and gas activities in the vicinity of the Project Rulison test site and hydrologic and environmental information related to various investigations of potential impacts to water resources will be presented,” the COGCC Web site reads.

Project Rulison was the subterranean explosion of a 43-kiloton nuclear device in 1969 that was designed to free up natural gas trapped in dense sandstone formations. The gas was too contaminated for commercial use, and now some Garfield County commissioners want to block all gas drilling in the area.

Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who’s also on the board of the COGCC, confirmed both Rulison and Divide Creek will be on the agenda, but even she wasn’t completely clear on what would be discussed and when.

“Well, that’s a good question,” Houpt said. “I do know that we will be discussing the Divide Creek concern, and the Rulison blast site discussion will be on the second day. I think we’ll do general business on Tuesday morning and then move into the Divide Creek discussion.” But she then deferred to DeFord for more details.

“I have to tell you that I haven’t been privy to [Divide Creek] because when this came up, I first discussed this as an Oil and Gas commissioner at the state level, so I had to recuse myself as a county commissioner,” Houpt said. “The other two county commissioners are the ones who are taking the lead on this, but I have heard that [Thyne’s report] is I believe going to be presented to us.”

Thyne said he is prepared to discuss his Divide Creek findings at the meeting, and that Bracken’s complaint deserves a public hearing.

“A lot of people say, well, she’s just a nutso, but she went to the county and she documented all the information and she said, ‘I’m going to file a lawsuit if you guys don’t do something,’ and she wants the drilling moratorium reinstated,” Thyne said.

“But she said [EnCana] never fixed the seep, so the county just hired me a few months ago to review the data and comment on the merits of her position, and that’s what we thought we were going to talk about at this hearing in Garfield County in Glenwood Springs.”

Thyne is a geologist and professor at the Colorado School of Mines who is transitioning to the University of Wyoming this summer. But all of his work for Garfield County, including a controversial summary report that he prepared last December (the Phase II Hydrogeologic Characterization of Mamm Creek), was done as a private consultant.

That report concluded there are elevated levels of methane in the greater area surrounding Divide Creek, where more than 1,200 wells were drilled during the most recent gas boom between 2000 and 2007.

“We received a preliminary agenda [for next week’s meeting], which I don’t think is public yet, and [the COGCC] said, ‘Oh, wait a minute, we want to talk about the original December report,” Thyne said. “’Because first of all we don’t believe there’s any impact from the 1,200 gas wells, and we want to talk about Rulison … and what the hell is this report you’re doing for the county on Lisa Bracken’s complaint?’”

DeFord confirmed the COGCC’s interest in the December report.

“That’s also been confusing,” DeFord said. “I have seen e-mail correspondence from staff members at COGCC indicating they expect a discussion of what we’ve referred to as the Mamm Creek Hydrologic Study II, which Garfield County has not requested discussion of that in front of the Oil and Gas Commission, and we haven’t seen anything on the agenda about it.”



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