by Bill Knowles
RIVER RIDGE RANCH- The third time in front of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) wasn’t the charm that residents of River Ridge Ranch were hoping for. The residents will be seeing new cisterns rather then seeing Petroglyph fined for impacts to private wells that were possibly caused by their coalbed methane exploration operations near the subdivision.
The new order, 1C-8 calls for the installation of cisterns that reduce the amount of dissolved methane in well water to 5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for the four of the 14 River Ridge Ranch property owners who have filed complaints with the COGCC.
At the Sept. 19, 2011 hearing, the COGCC issued order 1C-8 and resent the previous orders starting with 1C-4, the original cease and desist order it issued to Petroglyph in October 2007.
On April 28, 2011, Petroglyph told the COGCC that instead of seeking approval to start Phase III of their mitigation plan, the company had decided to terminate its CBM operations in the Northern Raton Basin. Petroglyph then filed an application for an order to establish a process for the termination of their operations in Huerfano County, resulting in order 1C-6.
The new order, 1C-8, authorizes Petroglyph to stop its CBM operations after plugging and abandoning its 52 CBM wells. The order also provides for Petroglyph to be relieved of any further obligations under the mitigation plan and Order No. 1C-6. It also provides for installation, maintenance, monitoring, assessment and reporting activities and allows for the continuing jurisdiction of the Commission.
Order 1C-8 calls for wellhead or vent gas composition monitoring of the wells or vents quarterly for 12 months. Water levels must also be monitored once every three months for 12 months following cessation of Phase II of the wells. Also called for is gas flux monitoring of Seep 64 and Seep 644 once within 8-12 months following the termination of Phase II along with a water quality follow-up of one well. The landowners must give permission for these process.
Petroglyph will continue to provide hauled water to the Angely, Bounds, Smith and Houghtling properties until their methane treatment systems are installed and properly functioning.
These systems are to be designed to reduce the content of dissolved methane to 5 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of water or less. Petroglyph will also test the methane treatment systems for one year on a quarterly basis and report the status of the systems to the COGCC.
Melanie Bounds and her husband Ben Bounds testified at the Sept. 19 hearing. Melanie told the COGCC that after a week of talking with Petroglyph, they had agreed to disagree. “Our first concern is what is a safe level of dissolved methane in water that enters a residence?”
Documents, now with Bounds and received by Petroglyph from LT Environmental (LTE), show that “methane in water wells becomes a problem when it is allowed to build up in confined spaces. High concentrations of methane oxygen become displaced. Also, when exposed to a spark can explode.”
Quoting from the LTE documents, Bounds said after extensive water testing in Southwest Colorado over the past 10 years, the study shows that many believe methane concentrations below one milligram per liter (mg/L) are considered harmless.
“There is also a document on the COGCC website regarding a water well impacted in Las Animas County, in the Raton Basin, where methane concentration was detected at 5.1 mg/L. The concentrations detected constituted a violation of Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) regulation 41 requiring ground water to be free from pollutants that are in concentrations shown to be a danger to public health, safety or welfare.
“After an extensive study the COGCC has determined that dissolved methane at a concentration of 1.1 mg/L could theoretically allow methane to accumulate to an explosive level in confined spaces.”
Testing of the well water at the Bounds’ residence shows that it contained 12 mg/L of dissolved methane during a May 2011 analysis of their well, exceeding the Department of Interior action level of 10 mg/L. It also exceeds the COGCC threshold of 7 mg/L, according to LTE’s study.
“We understand the COGCC currently doesn’t have a definitive safe concentration number for dissolved methane in water, so, [we refer to] the LT Environmental study which stated COGCC’s threshold of 7 mg/L is misinformation and should not be considered.” By the end of the hearing, Ben Bounds was pressuring the COGCC for a definitive number of dissolved methane in water. The COGCC staff then recommended a 5 mg/L benchmark number be used.
The number presented confusion concerning how it would be applied and the Southeast Environmental Protection Specialist for the COGCC, Peter Gintautas, was asked to join the fray. “We generally collect 40 milliliter samples of water. The simplest recommendation is that if any of them is over five, then investigation or maintainence needs to be done,” Gintautas said. The commission passed the recommendation on a 9-0 vote. The commission also approved, on a 9-0 vote, to allow Petroglyph to terminate its operations in Huerfano County.
With Petroglyph moving out of the county, some residents of River Ridge Ranch have voiced concerns that other energy companies may move in and cause more problems. Bob Martin, a property owner at River Ridge Ranch said during the hearing that the Colorado dream has turned into a nightmare. “My concern is, is Petroglyph going to sell their mineral rights to Shell Oil? And are we going to be back here five to ten years from now going through this same process? What assurance do we have as homeowners that we aren’t going to get stiffed by another company that is exploring underground and affecting the water we pull out of the ground — that we consume?”
The Bounds are putting their house on the market and caution any potential buyer to assume a number which has been proven safe instead of a number which has the potential for explosion.