Will the COGCC approve a fracking site the size of five Walmarts?

Published on: September 14th, 2019

*Updates include information on the number of inactive wells in 2015, and statements by the COGCC and CGRS

Tuesday Night, September 12th, 2019 I attended the Erie Oil & Gas Fair.  I had low expectations going in.  Those expectations were met. 

 

Right now there is an onslaught of advertising paid for by the Oil & Gas industry to tell us how wonderful fracking is. However, from our experience we have learned that the information we get from the industry is often misleading, key information is omitted, and sometimes is just wrong. 

 

The number of active oil and gas wells in Colorado almost doubled from 22,228 in 2000 to 43,354 in 2010. *Map of all of the oil and gas wells in Colorado through June 29, 2015. At that time there were 52,235 active wells, 49,919 inactive wells, and 5,551 permit locations, for a total of 107,705 wells. Colorado Geological Survey

Today we have over 60,000 active wells, plus another 20,000+ that are inactive but are open for future drilling, with several thousand more applying. Drilling applications have risen (and been approved) by 70% each year since 2016 in Colorado. 

 

We could face hosting one of the worst sites in the state if the Erie Acme Pad gets approved by the COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission). New director Jeff Robbins’ allegiance to the community’s Health and Safety and implementation of SB-181 will be tested with this application. 

*To date, the COCGG has never not approved an application. Some have been rejected for improper completion, but to date, no application has ever been turned down. 181 is supposed to change that by changing the language from ‘foster development’ to ‘health and safety’.

 

The Acme site got approved right before SB-181 passed, but the city was being told by Crestone, that if Erie did not approve it and the Operator Agreement, they would bypass the city and get it approved by the state. 

 

For those not aware of the Acme Pad, it is considered the worst site in the state after the Battlement Mesa/Ursa site on the Western Slope, based on proximity to homes and potential impact to nearby residents. The spacing unit for Acme is 36 wells within 500 feet of homes, 100 feet from the airport runway and a few hundred feet from Highway 7—a major thoroughfare for residents and business. This is a MASSIVE site and should concern anyone who lives near it. Erie Thriving, a local group concerned with health and safety has a lawsuit against this project. 

 

The surface

disturbance area

is 550 x 1000 feet.

Roughly equal to

five average-sized Walmarts. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met with the following people at their respective tables at the Erie Oil & Gas Fair

  • Jeff Webb, Assistant Fire Chief, Mountain View Fire Station
  • Tara Webster Environmental Health Coordinator, and Sean Hackett, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment
  • Three representatives from CGRS, “an environmental-consulting company, providing industry- and regulatory-compliance expertise and services to owners and operators in the upstream and downstream petroleum industry”, but only Randy Kenyon gave me his card
  • Mark Morton and Mike Leonard, COGCC representatives
  • A couple of town officials, as well as the legal consultant to Erie regarding Oil & Gas regulations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I asked a lot of questions and recorded the answers. Here is my summary from this event:

  • The Erie administrator present was not involved in the Acme Pad and was brand new, so “couldn’t really answer” any questions on Acme. We did spend quite a bit of time talking about regulations and the pipes being laid up Road 10-1/2 for the Wooley-Sosa site, and which 2,500 homes will eventually be built. Most of the Erie staff there representing seemed ill informed to answer O&G questions, except the outside legal counsel. 

 

  • The Colorado Department of Health was by far the most disappointing. They told me they don’t have “values” for blood because they don’t test blood. They test air, but citizens can petition to have their blood tested. All blood testing is self reported data as the Colorado Department of Public Health (CDHE) does not collect that information. I was told the air samples are what they test for, and their studies show the data at or below their ‘health guideline values.’ The Health Guideline Values are not regulatory limits, but are based on values derived from toxicology studies and do not look at the B-Tags (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and o-xylene) in blood streams. B-Tags are the chemical compounds often found in blood tests of those living or working around fracking. The CDHE was overseen by Larry Wolk for many years, who has publicly opposed marijuana and supported Oil & Gas. He is currently employed by Wonderful Foods — who owns POM, who uses water produced from frack sites for their crops. 
  • They told me that the effects people report are often short term and “go away” because the emissions are intermittent. The official statement said to me Thursday night, “if the CDHE saw a health risk, they would work to reduce that risk, and at this time based on the data they have, they do not see a risk around fracking”.

 

Much of the state now has an “F” rating for air and the data the state is using to demonstrate safety, is outdated.

It is important to note: The tests the Department of Health are using are based on data collected from 2008-2016. However, from 2016-2019, we have seen significant increase in the number of active wells with no current data available. 

 

  • The COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Committee) told me that the Acme Pad is up in the air for approval. They stated that 181 would resolve most of the community’s concerns. However, after speaking with activist groups around the state, we found that they do not feel 181 does enough to protect residents. I was told that they do work to oversee accidents/spills on a regular basis. 

 

  • The environmental consulting group CGRS told me that they were consultants for governments, some water boards, and when I asked, confirmed they also consult for the industry. They did not have much to offer in the way of risks to the public, most likely because they are on the payroll for many Oil and Gas companies. It is concerning that cities are employing environmental consultants that are employed by the industry itself. I was told they also help manage mistakes through their services and there are fines involved when these happen. I asked if this happened often, which was responded with a shrug. Fines do not do much for the actual damage caused to the environment, so it is concerning to hear governing bodies appear as if this is all it takes to address the issue. 

 

  • Mountain View Fire Department told me that they have had a couple of accidents/spills a year reported in Erie and have given me the national contact to access all reports statewide.  Statewide we have 12 spills a week. 

 

  • I enjoyed talking with the legal counsel but was told that the overall legal view is that harder regulations will be the answer, because a ban would lose in court. This is where the second part of the debate comes in. There are many people who believe a ban can hold up. In 2016 the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the bans passed by Fort Collins, Longmont and Lafayette, however, that was prior to 181 passing. 

 

In short, Erie currently has 149 active wells within the city. Out of Erie’s $106,000,000 budget, fracking generates approximately $800,000 a year. Not much money for the extreme dangers connected to the activity.  

 

We have had three explosions in the area in the last couple years, of which one was deadly, and over 12 spills a week in the state. The IPCC warns we are down to 10 years to get it together.  

 

Overall, the message I walked away with is that this group of experts was there to tell us that fracking is safe, with a small few telling me that O&G essentially has a gun to Erie’s head and there is little they can do even though they wished they could do more.

 

No one really addressed the Climate Crisis and fracking’s impact on it.

 

To learn more about SB-181 the new regulatory bill passed this year, read The Blue Puddle. https://yellowscene.com/2019/02/27/the-blue-puddle-colorados-legislators-v-oil-and-gas/

 

If you would like to contact the COGCC regarding Acme Pad or any other regulatory issue around fracking: 

dnr.ogcc@state.co.us

(303) 894-2100

The next commissioner hearing is Sept 25th. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2019
(9:00 AM – 5:00 PM)
Commission Hearing
Margaret W. Carpenter Recreation Center
11151 Colorado Blvd
Thornton, CO 80233

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