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Resident calls for casing support

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 15th, 2013


Residents are fighting for environmentally safe oil and gas regulations.


Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — Fearing the oil and gas industry will make its way to Del Norte and begin damaging the environment, resident Tom Wolter asked the Valley’s elected officials on Monday to stand behind the recently released Rio Grande County Hydrogeology Study.

During the San Luis Valley County Commissioners Association (SLVCCA) regular meeting, Wolter presented a draft letter addressed to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Director Matt Lepore to require “protection against contamination of surface water and near-surface ground water within the immediate watershed” and for “petroleum exploration or production from wells to be cased and grouted (cemented) from the base of the Conejos Formation back up to ground surface.”

“I think it would have an impact,” Wolters said about having the letter represent the six Valley counties. “It is not just a county issue, but it is also at the state level.”

The SLVCCA did not pass a motion to unanimously support the letter since some of the Valley commissioners had not read the report and because it fell under new business.

Wolter directly spoke out against COGCC Regional Engineer Mark Weems’ decision to approve shorter casings for the pending First Liberty and Dan A. Hughes Company exploration wells proposed in Rio Grande County.

“Mr. Weems doesn’t respect our water,” Wolter said. “He has the casement too shallow for our geography.”

Wolter argued Weems intends to enforce minimum casing depth, around 1,200-feet, disregarding the much higher depth recommendations to keep resources from seeping into the natural water system.

A specific report objective was to present information to improve the understanding of the existing ground water and related geologic formations near the proposed exploration sites, and to utilize this information in developing and presenting oil and gas well drilling and casing recommendations that would provide reasonable protection of the usable ground water in the aquifers.

The hydrogeology report stated, “the conductor casing should be extended to adequate depths and cement grouted to protect shallow aquifers. The exact depth will depend on local aquifer conditions, which as yet have not been well characterized.”

According to the COGCC rule 317, “In areas where pressure and formations are unknown, sufficient surface casing shall be run to reach a depth below all known or reasonably estimated utilizable domestic fresh water levels and to prevent blowouts or uncontrolled flows, and shall be of sufficient size to permit the use of an intermediate string or strings of casings.”

Last year, the county requested the report in response to recent oil and gas interest in the Del Norte area. The Rio Grande Roundtable assisted the county with $100,000 to make the report possible because oil and gas drilling can have an effect on water systems.

In summary, the report found the Conejos Formation aquifer highly heterogeneous and anisotropic, which is highly variable in its water-bearing characteristics and directions of ground water movement. The deposits that make up the Conejos Formation vary widely in their water storage and transmitting capacity. In some areas, the Conejos Formation consists of hard, but highly fractured, lava flows and related rocks; and in other areas it is composed of layered but variable sedimentary deposits of sandstone, siltstone, and other rocks originally derived from volcanic deposits.

In addition, the report found faulting, fracturing and igneous intrusions associated with young volcanic activity have created potential pathways for ground water movement between shallow depth zones within the Conejos aquifer, such as the zone generally less than 1,500 feet deep from which most water wells draw their water, and deeper formations.

“Now that the study is complete, the COGCC should adopt the new San Luis Valley casing requirements recommended and, as Mr. Weems has suggested, continue to work closely with local experts, county commissioners and the public to establish appropriate safeguards for future petroleum exploration and production,” Wolter wrote.

The Rio Grande County Commissioners will hold a public hearing regarding First Liberty Energy’s pending application tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. in Del Norte at the courthouse annex.

Hard copies of the hydrogeology report are available at the Rio Grande County offices for $30, C.D. copies are $10 and it is also available online free of cost at www.riograndecounty.org under Land Use.












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