2008 Divide Creek Seep
|Contents - this page
December 05, 2011 COGCC hearing in Denver relative to potential rules associated with hydraulic fracturing.
COGCC to adopt new hydraulic fracturing rules
Today the COGCC holds a public hearing relative to Governor Hickenlooper's request for the implementation of hydraulic fracturing rules.
while I was unable to be in Denver for the hearing, several issues are interesting to note:
1) While the issue of disclosure of fracing fluids appears to be the impetus behind the Governor's request, the draft rules presented by the COGCC preserve an important loophole which would allow drillers and fracing companies to claim proprietary status under a variety of loosely conceived parameters, thereby skirting the presumed intent behind any rules at all. This is sadly not at all surprising, as the much touted 2008 rules promulgated by the COGCC also failed to account for important public health and safety issues and also was rife with loopholes. Such is the state of our regulatory system when a regulator is tasked with promoting oil and as development as well as safeguarding the public's health and safety together with environmental integrity.
2) It appears that many of the environmental organizations are fearful of asking for full protective measures relative to the practice of fracing. This is very unfortunate, given the opportunity this hearing presented to prioritize public heath, safety and the environment.
[This note added 02-10-12: Time recently broke a story about Sierra Club accepting a 20+million dollar grant from Chesapeake. (http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2012/02/02/exclusive-how-the-sierra-club-took-millions-from-the-natural-gas-industry-and-why-they-stopped/) After the story broke, and the head of Sierra Club resigned, apparently Chesapeake offered an additional 30 million, but the Club denied its acceptance). The Colorado Environmental Coalition and its associated organizations have also been reluctant to advance the concept of a moratorium, working instead with former Governor Ritter in his new position with a Colorado University in promoting natural gas as a bridge fuel. It's difficult to speculate what prompts such political decision, but in light of evident health and environmental impacts, I respectfully disagree with this type of advocacy approach. I dissolved my membership with Western Colorado Congress in 2011 for similar reasons, and, without evidence of an unbiased funding/decision policy, I am likely to dissolve me membership with Sierra Club over this.]
3) Many of the folks attending appeared to raise serious concerns that both the COGCC and public advocacy organizations failed to. This suggests that the public is beginning to see through the very thin veneer of safety often held forth as justification for the industry's manner of operations and secrecy. Unfortunately, many in the public fail to understand the nuance risks of fracing, and therefore are not in a strong position to advocate for their own interests which adds enormous value to loopholes implemented on behalf of the industry.
5) The Director still refuses to acknowledge the groundwater contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing... which occurred during the act of hydraulic fracturing... and, which continues despite efforts to mitigate well bore integrity with cement. That would be the 2004 blowout. The 2008 blowout still goes unacknowledged also. This unfortunately, mischaracterizes the known risks associated with the practice of hydraulic fracturing.
6) Also unfortunately, in my comments, I failed to note revelations made by COGCC's recent "Third-party Engineering Review" [ Divide Creek Area Joint Study Summary Report (Geology) / Divide Creek Area Joint Study Summary Presentation (Geology) / COGCC Cementing and Bradenhead Pressure Monitoring Practices (Engineering) / East Mamm Creek Project Drilling and Cementing Study (Engineering) ] which pointed to critical flaws in both drilling and fracing, sufficient to warrant yet another round of "lessons learned" which have been applied state wide. Regardless of whether this was noted in my comments, my position on this review is noted on page thirteen of this Divide Creek Seep chronology.
My Comments to COGCC relative to hydraulic fracturing rules under consideration
November 22, 2011
Re: 2011 Hydraulic Fracturing Rule-Making (7 pages)
Attention: Mr. Neslin (Director) and COGCC Commissioners,
Mr. Neslin, in accordance with rule-making procedures, please incorporate the comments represented by this letter as a part of the public comment process.
I had panned to electronically submit these comments, but the the COGCC’s server outage occurring on November 22nd has led me to mail them in order to meet the COGCC’s deadline.
To my knowledge, my comments and concerns are not represented by anyone or any organizational entity. They are represented solely by myself.
My comments and concerns represent my personal experience, the scope of my own personal knowledge and are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge. Further, they can be affirmed under oath.
Rules governing the COGCC’s regulation of hydraulic fracturing continue to be inadequate to safeguard human health and safety as well as environmental integrity. The following comments are relative to those shortfalls.
In 2004 a massive blowout released a conservatively estimated 115 million cubic feet of natural gas and all associated hydrocarbons such as methane, pentane, butane, benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, into the shallow groundwater and surface waters of West Divide Creek and the surrounding terrestrial area encompassing an approximately 3-mile radius.
The COGCC undertook a partial investigation into the matter, inappropriately constraining the extent of discovery and completely failing to account for a number of prior events, implicating events and areas of impact known by the COGCC and witnesses. Despite the narrow and skewed approach to investigation, the COGCC identified EnCana as the responsible operator, and the Schwartz O2E (pad) 2-15B (well) as the offending well.
The COGCC’s hearing document relative to the finding (cause no. 1V / Order no. 1V – 276) cited both drilling and completions (hydraulic fracturing) as the likely cause of the blowout. This assertion made by the COGCC’s own expert geologist appears to be a credible conclusion given that EnCana had lost cement in the wellbore (presumably into a fault system or aquifer) and without re-cementing the borehole, was in the process of hydraulically fracturing the well at the time of the blowout.
It may also be reasonably concluded that injected and unrecovered hydraulic fracturing fluids may have also been present in association with natural gas introduced to the surface and groundwater in the form of an uncontrolled release. Both CO2 as well as “slickwater” formulations were used to hydraulically fracture the formation, according to drilling records. Other than the presence of potassium, the makeup of the “slickwater” fluids has never been disclosed.
While remedial cementing effectively diminished the seep, it has failed to stop it. It remains active today, contaminating the shallow groundwater with high levels of benzene and other associated toxic compounds, including perhaps, the reasonably suspected presence of unrecovered hydraulic fracturing chemicals.
EnCana did not disclose these failures nor the impacts arising from them to the COGCC or surrounding landowners at the time of the 2004 seep, allowing contamination to seep into the creek unmitigated. My father died of pancreatic cancer approximately three years after unknowingly drinking water from the contaminated creek. He had been drinking boiled water from the creek for approximately six weeks before the expression of natural gas - in the way of fizzing in the creek - was discovered just upstream by a neighbor.
From the moment of discovery we petitioned the COGCC for disclosure of the chemicals and compounds used by EnCana to hydraulically fracture the Schwartz well. Those requests were denied by way of direct refusal or, later, silence. We have never been able to demonstrate the cause of his cancer. This has been frustrated by the COGCC and EnCana’s refusal to disclosure hydraulic fracturing agents. There is no family history of this type of cancer and any cancer is very rare. It is the same kind of cancer which was reported to have killed an industry worker from Rifle who had been allegedly and unknowingly exposed to hydraulic fracturing chemicals when asked to flush them from the tank of a transport vehicle.
Whereas, his death and the presence of hydraulic fracturing agents may or may not be related, my family must continue to depend upon the surface and shallow groundwater of West Divide Creek as our direct source of domestic drinking water. There is no alternate source. As one might reasonably expect, we continue to be extremely concerned for our health and safety given the potential of contamination to our water well by hydraulic fracturing agents.
For nearly a decade, and as a result of continuous impacts to the West Divide Creek area near and around my home, I’ve witnessed and documented via my website, journeyoftheforsaken.com, the holistic degradation of the environment including resources of water, air and wildlife. In 2008 I discovered, video-taped and presented to the COGCC’s environmental representative an amphibian with neurologic impairment swimming in gas bubbles, which had erupted in 2008 far away from the 2004 area of impact, monitoring and remediation. The COGCC representative refused to sample the bubbles or even look at the frog, telling me simply, “Frogs die all the time.”
When a soil gas survey was finally conducted in 2010, EnCana found the bubbles to contain thermogenic natural gas compounds like propane, pentane and butane. The COGCC has knowledge of this second seep, but still refuses to not only install a groundwater monitor determining the scope and potential source of impact, but the COGCC has totally refused to acknowledge the impact as having occurred. The second, 2008, seep also continues to this day.
Not only does the COGCC refuse to install a groundwater monitor at the site of a still active seep… and, not only does the COGCC refuse to disclose chemical agents introduced into the subsurface and potentially surface environments by hydraulically fracturing activities, the COGCC also refuses to conduct itself or require operators to conduct even basic baseline or post-frac sampling inclusive of metals or radioactivity as reasonably recommended by the Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment.
These devastating by largely unacknowledged impacts – occurring coincident with drilling and hydraulic fracturing activities and continuing without explanation; as well as the COGCC’s total and habitual failure to safeguard the public’s health, safety and the environment – even going so far as to attempt to publicly discredit public reporting efforts has formed the basis of my perspective outlined below.
Special Consideration of Watersheds and Tight Sand Formations
There should be no hydraulic fracturing within watersheds, or, in areas of prior and/or active impact. Further, there should be no hydraulic fracturing in areas of prior and/or active impact. Such impacts may include: shallow groundwater or surface water impacts such as 1) the presence of methane 2) the proliferation of reductive microbial colonies (iron- or sulfate- reducing bacteria which respectively produce an orange slime and iridescent sheen on the water); 3) the presence of formation/production/thermogenic gas inclusive of lighter or heavier hydrocarbons beyond methane; or 4) dead and decaying flora and/or fauna.
All of the above referenced impacts have been well–documented and continue on West Divide Creek, yet remain largely uninvestigated by the COGCC, the EPA, the DOW or the CDPHE. In fact, despite my protest noted in a letter to the COGCC dated June 03, 2010, the COGCC notified me via a response letter dated January 31, 2011 that it had permitted the drilling and fracturing of the Twin Creeks F12E (pad) directly into the already degraded watershed and unstable hydrogeologic formation at the site of the 2004 and 2008 seeps.
Again, these seeps not only remain active as well as respectively unexplained and unacknowledged by the COGCC, there is, further, no publicly vetted, supporting hydrogeologic data suggesting such approval and processes are safe. Rather, all known characteristics of the formation indicate that hydraulic fracturing is, in fact, unsafe, which makes such approval reckless. It is inappropriate that the COGCC assume authority to assume such public health and environmental risks then pass them onto an unwitting public without access to full discovery and therefore proper recourse.
As a component of the holistic process of risk-assessment, discovery and disclosure: a comprehensive body of knowledge is required to conduct proper site, situational and risk assessment relative to chemical use and hydrogeologic data.
It has been known for decades that the tight sand formation on the Western Slope of Colorado and elsewhere are highly faulted and fractured. In fact, the oil and gas industry relies upon these underlying hydrogeologic conditions to enhance recovery of the petroleum resource. These sands are prone to formation failure, particularly under high-pressure conditions, such as often exist in anticlines or near outcrops. Unconsolidated rock and mudstones and broken shales and water-bearing sandstones associated with watersheds and their associated aquifers are also at particular risk. It is unacceptable to jeopardize these formations, regardless of intended production depths, due to 1) their sensitivity to disruption; 2) the inability to adequately model and predict fractures and formation failures; 3) the current exemptions allowed this industry, and 4) the demonstrated inability of the COGCC to even respond to complaints, let alone acknowledge or adequately remediate environmental impacts.
Operators should be required to conduct thorough hydrogeologic surveys of the target and overlying formation, determining its composition, fault and fracture matrix, porosity, hydrologic conductivity, vertigenic capacity, stress sensitivity to induced fractures as well as contact sensitivity to the chemical composition of fracturing fluids. All of this can be determined through in-situ stress measurements; single well drawdown and buildup tests; multi-well inference tests; multiple log runs; core analysis; formation micro-scanners; variable-frequency televiewers; focused transducers and more contemporary, less invasive technologies.
Common Sense, Disclosure, Waste and Public Access
Toxic compounds should not be allowed into the environment, particularly without knowledge of them; their volume; their risks; their physical and chemical interactions within the environment; or knowledge of potential pathways of contamination and exposure to humans, wildlife or plants.
The oil and gas industry’s unfortunate and inappropriate influence in these matters of public health and environment, however, appears to indicate that toxic compounds will, in fact, be introduced into the environment, despite the fact that non-toxic compounds could be utilized.
Given these suppositions then, these should be full registration, disclosure and verification of all drilling and hydraulic fracturing fluid inventories, whether naturally occurring or synthetic, whether toxic or non-toxic. Such disclosure should accompany every aspect of hydraulic fracturing, recovery of fluids and waste disposal.
Disposal of fluid and/or solid wastes should only go to a licensed facility, not simply buried, “land farmed” or dumped into streams and waterways. Any spills and/or unintended disposals should be reported to the adjacent landowner, and immediately, fully remediate with verifiable assurances with standards utilized by the EPA.
Inventories, all associated safety data sheets and disposal plans should be field with the Application for Permit to Drill as a part of a broader operations plan further disclosing projected models and final analysis of fractured pathways together with a full hydrogeologic survey denoting relied upon hydrogeologic data.
Relative to hydraulic fracture fluid chemical compositions, these fluids are considered toxic waste both before and after their use. Comprising synthetic nano-chemicals and fibers or bead-like particles, the fluids tend to be anisotropic in nature and resist full separation into waste and clean water. This can create an enormous amount of fluid waste, which is typically injected as produced water. Produced water as a waste product (whether or not it is technically classified as such) often contains radioactivity and other compounds such as mercury and arsenic made mobile within the formation via chemical changes induced by the fracturing and recovery process. This waste is frequently injected. The injection of these fluids has been directly linked to earthquakes due to formation destabilization. Whether injecting produced water or re-injecting some other blend of fracturing fluids comprising produced water, the process is similar enough to warrant similar concern and caution as well as similar processes for risk assessment, discovery, disclosure and the preservation of hydro-geologic formation integrity. There are a number of laws at the state and federal levels which seek to protect the integrity of both surface and ground waters from toxic waste, not the least of which is the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act relative to waste injection.
Toxic, Non-Toxic Fluids
All chemical inventories should be registered and certified by a third-party and fully disclosed from manufacturing and point of sale to transport, to injection, recovery and disposal. ‘Source’ as well as ‘recovered’ mixtures and transports of them should be subjected to spot inspection and compositional analysis.
This registry and disclosure should be accessible by the public. The public should not have to depend upon the involvement of physicians or others willing to risk inappropriate scrutiny of their professional opinion in order to have actionable access to information on toxics, especially in emergency situations.
Despite the US Congress discovering dozens of toxic compounds used in the hydraulic fracturing process [US House of Representatives committee on Energy and Commerce report titled: “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing” prepared by committee staff for: Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and Diana DeGette, April, 2011], the COGCC supports protecting commercial interests over those of the public’s health and access to clean water. Many of the chemicals disclosed in the Congressional report as well as others associated with the exploration and production process have carcinogenic and mutagenic properties, directly imperiling the public and the environment through their unaccounted for use.
There should be no exemptions, exceptions, waivers or mechanisms of diluted accountability facilitating non-disclosure or secrecy. “Trade secret” protections are not intended to shield from liability those who would contaminate water sources, air sheds or soils, imperiling the public; therefore, they should not apply to situations where the public is put at potential and unwitting risk regardless of whether direct correlations to human health are made before, or after a death – if they are ever made at all.
Where exemptions exist, there is no concern on the part of industry to safeguard human health or the environment, freeing operations to occur within a strictly profiteering framework of least expensive, aggressive and rapid development. Where exemptions exist there is also no accountability nor perceived and compelling regulatory need to investigate. Where there is no need to investigate, there can be no discovery and quantification of impact. Where there is no discovery or quantification, there can be no accountability. This set of circumstances creates a catch-22 cycle of perpetual and undiscoverable impact. While the COGCC and industry claim there have been no cases bearing direct evidence of groundwater contamination from hydraulic fracturing operations, rather, a carefully implemented and broad-brush federal approach has been instituted in order to totally insulate the industry from accountability in the way of exemption – or as I like to think of it, structured ignorance.
There should be no exemptions or exceptions for full and verifiable public disclosure.
Each compound introduced into the environment should be analyzed for 1) its potential for human health and environmental risk; 2) human /floral / fauna fate (pathways of exposure) should be determined and risk assessments conducted and made public; 3) this scrutiny should include the potential for chemical compositional alterations in the presence of other compounds underground; and, 4) injected fluids should be accompanied by a non-toxic tracer compound which can be sampled for in instances of suspected contamination. This tracer element should be relative to the gross chemical volume in order to avoid dilution bias.
Policy Agreement and Shared Jurisdiction
There should be agreement in policy between EPA, BLM , COGCC (and any other agency with jurisdiction) which should include a standard protocol for reporting, investigation, analysis and verification, as well as a clear hierarchy and process of oversight and accountability. There should also be avenues of shared jurisdiction benefiting the public and environmental protection. Currently, all matters remotely relative to oil and gas operations – even those impacts and instances which have been denied by the COGCC still must succumb to the COGCC’s near total jurisdiction, when it is clear they possess neither the political will, staff, budget or technical expertise to effectively manage such duties and responsibilities. This situation frustrates transparency and inappropriately grants unaccountable latitude to the agency while granting even further discretionary latitude to the Director.
Failure to Safeguard Human Health safety and the Environment
Anything less than complete disclosure based upon the above noted full and verifiable process of discovery demonstrates the COGCC’s preoccupation with the production of natural gas and oil and an incapacity and/or unwillingness to protect the public’s health safety and welfare through safeguarding the environmental integrity of more necessary, threatened and scarce natural resources of air, water, biologically vital soils as well as bio-diversity.
A failure to institute these common sense regulations leave the public extremely vulnerable under glaring deficiencies paired with known risks.
Such a failure should result in a temporary, statewide moratorium until such time as a thorough investigation into the West Divide Creek seeps and any other instances of known or suspected contamination occurring coincident with drilling and hydraulic fracturing practices can be fully, thoroughly and accurately investigated.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments relative to the COGCC’s rulemaking deliberations and decision making process.
Links to COGCC Draft Rules and hearing Proceedure
Other Relevant Links
A no-BS explanation of hydraulic fracturing and why it threatens groundwater
the admittedly sarcastic version
the technical and more quotable version
Compare the 2004 Seep with the 2008 Seep with video (scroll down to Video section)
Divide Creek Then - 2004 [Seep photos and information]
Divide Creek 'Now' - 2007 [Prior to the seep event of June 28, 2008]
Timeline of events [From January 2004 to present]
COGCC 2004 Divide Creek Seep Order (judgment) and Vital
Exhibit showing faulting. (in
particular, you may find paragraphs 10, 20, 30 and 73 of interest).
Dr. Geoffrey Thyne's (of Science Based
Solutions) presentation to Garfield County
Re: "Sumary of PI and PII Hydrogeologic Characterization Studies - Mamm Creek
Area, Garfield County, CO" This key
PowerPoint presentation and its companion conclusive report provide an outstanding perspective of the dynamics
at play between the hydrology and the geology of this area in particular as
it specifically relates to drilling operations and risks to water supplies.
Please look for these links at the following addresses:
Conclusions - http://garfield-county.com/Index.aspx?page=1149
Incomplete List of Hydraulic Fracturing Constituents (with MSDS sheets)
Garfield County Gas Wells and Pipelines
COGCC Quarterly Complaint Reports
Analysis of the West Divide
All contents of this site, unless
otherwise noted are copyrighted by Lisa Bracken, 2007-2011