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EPA visits southern Colorado, preps for study

by Bill Knowles
WALSENBURG- The Environmental Protection Agency visited two counties in Southern Colorado during the past week, holding meetings with residents of both Huerfano County and Las Animas County whose wells have been impacted after fracking operations conducted by energy companies.
The EPA selected the two counties as a case study location for their national hydraulic fracturing study. The area of study is the Raton Basin, and the EPA will be analyzing the effects stemming from coal bed methane operations.
Three scientists working with the EPA talked about the nature and parameters of the study, fielded questions and accepted signed “Consent to Access Property” documents from property owners living in the two counties.
Robert Puls will lead the study and has been working on establishing the criteria for the study during the past year and a half. Dr. Rick Wilkin will collect water samples as well as track and monitor them through the analysis process. Both Puls and Wilkin come from the Ada, Oklahoma EPA office. Greg Oberley,has an office in Denver is also with the EPA and is the contact person for the study.
The scientists will begin collection of water samples in October. After the accumulation of data, a preliminary report will be issued to congress sometime in 2012. A final report will be given to congress in 2014.
Seven sites have been selected across the nation. The case studies will form the spine of the study which will present a case immersed in data. “We have raised the bar on what defines an impact. We will look at very minute amounts of chemicals found in the samples. It is those chemicals that are used in the fracking blends whose presence is found in the water that constitutes an impact,” Dr. Wilkin said. They will also be looking for inorganic compounds, organic compounds and dissolved compounds in the water samples.
They will be testing for glycols and alcohols, which are also used in fracking fluids.
Around 25 people attended the Las Animas County meeting with about as many attending the Huerfano County meeting.
Las Animas County residents have been dealing with a single energy company for many years, and nearly 3,500 wells have been drilled in the county. Each well is fracked several times before it is closed down.
There have been major complaints against Pioneer Resources because private wells have showed contamination after fracking operations close to those wells. Tracy Dahl and Gopa Ross have been seeking to have the EPA conduct studies in the Raton Basin for several years. Dahl lives at North Fork, and Ross moved from North Fork Ranch to La Veta earlier this year. Both are still active in environmental issues arising from the actions of energy companies.
Some Huerfano County residents living at the River Ridge Ranch subdivision and at the La Veta Pines Estates, have been impacted by Petroglyph’s operation in Huerfano county. Several wells in the area have shown increased methane gas concentrations in the water. A well house exploded in 2007 bringing the issue to national attention.
Petroglyph has since decided to cease coal bed methane operations in the county and is still negotiating with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission concerning how to shut down the operations and become exempt from responsibilities after operations have ceased in Huerfano County.
The EPA study is the first of its kind. Information about the effects of hydro-fracking from this study will influence future laws congress may pass and regulations the EPA will enforce in order to make fracking safer for energy workers and for local residents exposed to the operations.
“We are trying to detect what doesn’t belong, that’s what constitutes impact. And in the end this will be controversial.” Puls said.