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Petroglyph plans open old wounds

by Bill Knowles
DENVER- In an application filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on April 28, Petroglyph laid out its plans to decommission coal bed methane operations in Huerfano County. The hearing to consider the application was held in Elbert County, Colorado on Monday, June 27, and took about an hour. The hearing was recorded by COGCC staff and a copy of the recording was used in part for this report.
A revised draft of Petroglyph’s application was used during the hearing. One of the major revisions to the draft application examined inventory and assessment of water deliveries to homes. And it was the language of the revised draft that brought out old feelings with some of the people attending the hearing.
Ben and Melanie Bounds from La Veta Pines Ranch were at the hearing. Melanie spoke about the testing of their private well for venting of gas for about 12 months as required by COGCC order 1C-6. “But there’s nothing in here about the testing of water level or quality.”
A test on the Bounds’ well water in May of 2011 showed concentrations of methane gas at 12 parts per million (ppm), far above the 1.1 ppm considered safe. Explosive concentrations of gas can build up in small enclosed areas such as a well house. “We are having water hauled to our home so we aren’t bringing the dissolved methane into our home. If they are released from this order, I assume they are released from the obligation to haul water to us.”
COGCC staff considered the content of the revised draft requiring Petroglyph to test methane coming into a home in order to determine what further actions may be taken. Some members of the COGCC board voiced concern about the possibility of the revised draft releasing Petroglyph from responsibility to provide treatment systems or water delivery.
Commissioner Joshua Ebel asked the Bounds if they felt comfortable with the language of the revised draft. “Does it reassure you that your interests are being looked after here?”
“I have mixed emotions on that one,” Melanie Bounds said. “… I’m not an attorney. But the way this is worded [concerns me],” especially regarding ing the assessment of the current condition. “Our water cistern right now has a vent stack on it and inside of it, to try to dissolve or get the dissolved methane out… there’s an orange Home Depot bucket turned upside down as makeshift. There’s a sprinkler head on top of that which sprinkles onto lava rocks. When Petroglyph comes out to do its assessment, if it works what happens then? I mean we’re talking about a plastic Home Depot bucket. I don’t think that’s right. I think we need to have a system that’s professionally engineered, designed, so we don’t have to worry any more.”
Director David Neslin remarked, “The staff does believe that the draft language does address the Bounds’ concerns. The idea expressed in the new application draft is that an inventory of the 11 affected properties to assess the quality of the water being delivered to the home including any treatment [will be completed by Petroglyph]. Tests will be run to determine if anything else needs be done. COGCC will retain jurisdiction over the testing and monitoring, including any response to any dangers to public health or welfare.”
However other staff members voiced concern that there isn’t a continuing binding obligation on Petroglyph, with one COGCC staff member saying, “I’m concerned by the way it’s been drafted. I see an obligation for an inventory but nothing much beyond that. I think we need some clarity if that inventory were to show impacts.”
Laura Smith from Huerfano County agreed with dissenting staff saying that even though she and her husband have a different situation then the Bounds, it only shows that each particular water well is case specific. “We currently do not have water at full capacity. We had full capacity four years ago until we had 85 percent methane gas in our water. Over the course of time Petroglyph has owned up to the issue and delivered water. It’s been a battle not having water on our place.”
“My case is, if they are allowed to walk away from home owners such as ourselves, then the onus comes to us. Right now there is no methane gas in our water, but… we have no water. We can run it for 45 minutes and that’s what we get. I am asking for consideration that they don’t walk away from us. That they remediate, that they put our water situation back to how it was 4 years ago. They should just not be able to show you power point presentations of everything they’re doing and walk away from us.”
Vice-Chairman Michael Dowling commented,
“Because the Bounds and Ms. Smith did not see the language of this order until moments ago and the fact that even some commissioners are suggesting there may be improvements possible in the clarity of the language here, I think it [would] not be inappropriate to continue this matter to the next hearing and give an opportunity to make sure the clarity of the language is in accord with what I think is the general agreement of intention among the parties.”
The COGCC had to stop the Petroglyph hearing because of time. They decided to continue the hearing at the next regular meeting in July.