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Presco hearing draws a crowd

by Susan Simons

WALSENBURG- Around 200 persons attended the March 24 Joint Public Hearing on proposed coal bed methane production in Twin Lakes Ranch.  One person spoke in support of methane extraction in the county, arguing that it would benefit the economy.  Nineteen persons raised questions and concerns about the impact.

    Richard Ellis, spokes -person for the applicant, Presco, Inc., spoke first and last.  He clarified the drilling process and the conditions required by new Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulations.  Presco intends to drill one well to test the coal beds for methane level. If the initial well proves out, they will drill four additional wells under this permit which will produce for a period ranging from six months to a year to confirm commercial value.

    COGCC will require such conditions as the following: “baseline monitoring and analysis of water samples within a seven-square mile area surrounding the five-well, 160 acre pilot”; and gas screening with a “combustible gas detector on all domestic and stock wells within a 14-square mile area of the pilot project.”

    Ellis emphasized that this was a “reduced-scale coal bed pilot,” limited in scope from what is usual.  He stated that the conditions in place should lead to early detection of any problems and that the county should grant a conditional use permit for this limited project in order to evaluate the company.

    The gathering of concerned citizens represented the diversity and vitality of Huerfano County. There were landowners, representatives of property owners associations and water districts, retired geologists and petroleum engineers, newcomers and old-timers.  All were well-spoken.  In general, they asked the Planning Commission and County Commissioners to proceed with “extreme caution,” to be leaders in this statewide issue, and to enact a moratorium on drilling until county land use regulations could be put into place.

    Speakers generally opposed the pilot project and stated concerns based on the history of the industry in other Colorado counties and here in River Ridge Ranch. Of first concern was water. Many spoke about water in southeast Colorado as a limited and precious resource and of domestic wells as a property right. Speakers were concerned that water tables are being drawn down and resources depleted by the billions of gallons of water used to extract methane from coal beds. Also, the process may use toxic chemicals to fracture coal seams. Water may be contaminated with these chemicals and with levels of methane gas. The water drawn from the coal beds will be left in open pits to evaporate or percolate. There may be overflow, damage to wildlife, and toxic salts left behind.

    One speaker called for assurances  of landowners’ rights such as the following: independent, third-party monitoring of water wells and all evaporation pits lined, fenced, and covered. A homeowner from River Ridge spoke about his well catching fire because of high concentrations of methane; a homeowner from Silver Spurs spoke about drilling two wells, both of which have gone dry since coal bed methane drilling near his property.

    Another speaker predicted that water rights vs. mineral rights would be the legal issue of the future in the west. A water attorney spoke of a pending court case in Colorado in which courts are considering whether water produced by coal bed methane drilling is a “beneficial use” and should therefore be regulated by Colorado water law.

    Several retired geologists with years in the petroleum industry spoke of the unique geology of the area. Similar dikes are found in only one other location in the world- in Tibet. The dikes are both horizontal and vertical and estimated to reach depths of 1000 feet.  One speaker said his studies of the area suggest that there is faulting all along the dikes. This faulting, along with related natural fissures and fractures, may help to explain the problems at River Ridge where coal bed methane drilling has been associated with wells going dry and with wells contaminated with methane.  He also stated that one of the proposed pilot wells, the Briggs well, is located right on top of a dike.

    Presco did not respond to the citizens′ questions raised at the hearing. County Commissioner Roger Cain has scheduled a meeting with interested local geologists for Thursday, Mar. 27 at 10:30 am at the Commissioners’ meeting room in the county courthouse.  A Presco representative will attend.

Bertha Trujillo

  Bertha Trujillo, 97, from Gardner, Colo., entered her eternal home on Feb. 12, 2024. She was born in Gardner, Colo., on Sept. 30, 1926,

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