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Community forum draws large crowd

by Bill Knowles
LA VETA- A group of over 100 attended a community forum discussing natural gas extraction in Western Huerfano County on Thursday, June 23 at the La Veta Community Center. Four speakers talked about the geography of the area around La Veta, possible results of hydraulic fracturing, the development of oil and gas fields, and the necessity of preserving the areas that are used by humans, fauna and flora, known as the commons.
­An estimated 1,500 rock dikes radiate from both the Spanish Peaks and extend to depths of 4,500 feet. The geological history of the area includes oceans, extensive glacial activity, and folds. The resulting strata under Huerfano County is fractured quite extensively, forming vertical line fractures according to geologist Dr. Larry Harris. “So with this fracturing of the strata, any way to determine how hydraulic fracturing by energy companies would work out is difficult to say,” Dr. Harris said.
Other presenters on the panel spoke about how well-sites are developed starting with seismic reflection data. Dawson Geophysical was in the county in 2009 conducting two-dimensional seismic reflection in Western Huerfano County for Shell Oil.
Dr. Heloise Lynn, who has worked for 36 years with the oil and gas industry as a geophysicist and interprets seismic reflection data, agrees with Dr. Harris, that the area around La Veta is filled with natural vertical line fractures. “If these vertical line fractures are open, they can work as flow conduits for either gas, “frack” fluid or drilling muds. What is unknown is the extent of the vertical line fractures.”
She continued, “We also use seismic reflection data to learn about in-situ horizontal stress fields. The in-situ horizontal stress field governs which fractures are open and which fractures are closed.” If a drilling operation knows what is down the bore hole and in the rock that surrounds it, the operation should be able to avoid unexpected surprises which could have deleterious consequences; consequences that are harmful in subtle and unexpected ways.
Shell Oil insists that the exploratory well they propose to drill west of La Veta will be too deep, around 14,500 feet, for their operation to contaminate ground water and area wells or cause surface damage. Known as Klikus 2-19, the proposed well is located on County Road 430. To access the site, trucks will have to cross Middle Creek and go over a cattle tunnel.
The Huerfano County Planning Commission put conditions on their recommendation for approval of the conditional use permit (CUP). The CUP calls for Shell to make improvements on the bridge, the cattle tunnel cross over, a culvert, and the road surface along County Road 430, a road that will be extensively used by heavy trucks.
Klikus 2-19, located about two miles west of La Veta, will start at the surface then run a vertical line to a depth of 2,000 feet. Then it will go into an easterly direction, about 11.25 degrees out of vertical, to a depth of 7,000 feet. It will then go back to vertical for the remainder of the distance.
Once the operation reaches the Pennsylvania Sandstone strata, Shell will probably hydro-fracture at the 14,500 foot depth to begin the gas flow which will flowback, driving anywhere from 20 percent to 70 percent of the water, sand and chemicals to the surface to be collected in a large lined evaporation pit. After some time in the pit, the liquids will be pumped into trucks and taken to an injection well for disposal. The solids will be taken to a certified land fill.
The five acre feet of water leased from Walsenburg will be gone from Huerfano County except that part of the water, sand, and chemicals which will stay in subsurface zones where it could migrate through vertical line fractures lacing the area.
Shell Oil does have three-dimensional seismic reflection technology that, if used, will allow them to find the fractures prior to any drilling or hydro-fracking. Using the 3-D testing would add an additional nine to eighteen months to the operation on top of the two to three months needed to drill.
If Shell Oil strikes gas, then they will want to do a short term flow test lasting 30 to 60 days. The gas is set on fire making an open flame at the well-head. This part of the operation is called flaring. The county is currently experiencing a drought and has a fire ban in place and the flaring could present a fire hazard.
La Veta Fire Department Lieutenant Paul Branson said they are currently working on a local emergency response plan (LERP). “The LVFPD board is going proactive with this. The plan will also include a hazardous materials aspect as well,” said Branson. “From what we understand, flaring is a clean flame with little or no particulate matter to it. And I also understand that the operators will pretty much have moonscaped the area around the well head which will reduce the fire risk.”
Some county residents want the proposed exploratory drilling at the Klikus 2-19 site stopped. Members of the Citizens for Huerfano County, an opposition group in La Veta, are asking for a moratorium on further drilling in the county. And if the moratorium request fails, then they will ask for certain conditions to be applied to the CUP.
Others, according to county officials, support the operations, seeing it as a gateway to economic growth in Huerfano County. One unofficial statement from a county official claims that two-thirds of the county is locked into a lease with Shell Oil. None of the lease holders have stepped forward to make public statements.
If Klikus 2-19 is productive, Shell Oil will start working to develop more of the gas field near La Veta. If it fails to produce, then Shell Oil will have to look at other options such as a test well near Gardner or an end to operations in the county.