The Back Story
The photo above is from video of the March 09, 2004 kick which occurred while drilling the Arbaney well. The kick shook one neighbor's home askew of its foundation and nearly knocked my mother to her knees as she stood at the kitchen sink in our home approximately a mile away.
Neighbor's interviewed noted the rattling of walls, cracking of sheetrock and knocking of dishes off the wall. After the jolt, one neighbor complained about her dishwasher door not shutting and another neighbor complained that the doors in his home would no longer shut properly. Another neighbor noted that the hillock between this well location and our home settled so that he could see another neighbor's entire home where - prior to the kick - he could only see the rooftop.
Remarkably, a phone call to the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado revealed no seismic activity for that day.
The COGCC field inspector, unaware that we possessed this footage denied the event noting that it would have been impossible. Nonetheless, I filed a report which I sent to the COGCC some time later when the report had mysteriously disappeared.
Again and again, this event was repeatedly down-played, though we believe its significance likely played a part in the 2004 Divide Creek seep which occurred in association with the Schwartz well.
View a clip of the full video on You Tube:
News stories from the Post Independent:
04/15/2004 EnCana reveals plan to deal with gas seeps
04/09/2004 Gas found bubbling up in Divide Creek
This region is a former “moratorium” area created as the result of a massive and toxic leak into West Divide Creek which occurred (and continues to occur despite re-cementing) in early 2004. To my knowledge, the West Divide Creek case, is the only known case in the U.S. where hydraulic fracturing was technically and officially implicated by a state regulatory agency in a continuing natural gas seep impacting groundwater. During what was an improperly rushed and hushed 'investigation', the leak was nonetheless found by the state of Colorado to have been caused by an improperly completed well [the "Schwartz" 215B] which was located approximately a quarter mile from our home.
The seep resulted in an estimated (and conservatively acknowledged) 115 million cubic feet of natural gas saturating the sub and surface environment and led to the largest fine issued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Colorado's history. That leakage estimate is years old, and since the seep continues, it's hard to say how much more natural gas has been released - no one's talking.
The "Schwartz" well, which was the focus of that investigation, was temporarily shut down after the moratorium was lifted when this website began tracking developments in September, 2007 and the commencement of approximately 77 new wells got immediately underway - 9 of which are now located on the Schwartz pad.
Can industry be blamed for proceeding with 80 wells in this over-pressurized anticline - uniquely prone to geologic disturbance? Hardly. Industry operates to turn a profit - and, without moral discretion, can be expected to stop at nothing within allowable bounds to achieve it. Allowable bounds. This is what we must consider. To what limits should industry be allowed to pollute, endanger and destroy for the benefit of profit?
Though America benefits from the new economy of catastrophe and environmental degradation, how readily can we recover precious lost resources of air, water, land and a functioning food chain... all of which are necessary to healthy, bio-diverse populations and sustainable contiguous habitat. Simply because we can do something, doesn't mean we should. But today we grapple with and hope to survive what is allowed and literally imperils the very web of life itself..
We were promised in 2003 that nothing could go wrong. Promised by EnCana and the COGCC that stipulations regulating drilling operations would protect the people. But in 2004, a massive seep occurred and continues.
We were then promised it would never happen again.
In 2008, another seep emerged after drilling the Schwartz pad and commencing upon ten more wells on a new pad [the Price pad] nearby. That seep went ignored by the COGCC, as they, again bungled what amounted to a cursory inquiry, then flat refused to investigate - for another two and half years, meanwhile allowing fifteen new wells to be drilled adjacent to the main 2008 seep site. They even discredited my reporting of the event in a "Gasland Correction Document" posted to the COGCC website.
Finally, in late 2009 and only when hydrocarbons began showing up in a neighbor's water well on either side of us, did the COGCC begin looking into engineering records and conduct some environmental sampling - still however, refusing to acknowledge the surface impacts we observed and recorded in 2008 - including dead and paralyzed wildlife in an area of West Divide Creek where we obtain our drinking water. We've asked EnCana to resume providing potable water for our residence as they did for a brief while in 2004, but so far they have refused.
In September of 2010, the flammable gas which was still bubbling into West Divide Creek was finally sampled. And what did the COGCC finally discover? Another seep, complete with methane, propane, butanes, pentanes, and ethane... exactly where I said it had emerged and implored the COGCC to investigate so many years earlier. I've again asked EnCana to resume providing water. So far, no resposne. EnCana is also holding to their interpretation that the natural gas and its associated compounds are biogenic; that is, "swamp gas". All of this despite the COGCC emphatically noting in 2004, the presence of these compounds are related to deep production or thermogenic gas.
In the midst of the COGCC's latest inquiry into the situation, and as the 2004 and 2008 seeps continue unexplained, the COGCC, in January 2011, decided to permit EnCana to drill into the 2004 seep geology with ten new wells adjacent to and beneath that location. In March 2011 the COGCC also allowed EnCana to begin a new pad adjacent to the neighbor's property with a now-contaminated water well.
Again... all of the activity has been allowed with new stipulations... the same stipulations based on false assumptions derived from bungled, incomplete and insufficient investigation.
In any credible investigation, once a crime is committed, an area is cordoned off and protected form interference until cause can be determined. In the case of West Divide Creek, drilling, fracturing and what passes as 'state oversight' is allowed to continue under the most heavily suspect, corruptible circumstances. In its latest, truly egregious judgment, the COGCC has once again assumed and transferred untenable and reasonably anticipated risks to us, our neighbors and the environment of West Divide Creek.
Last year, I was elated to learn the EPA was finally conducting a long-awaited study into hydraulic fracturing. I have personally campaigned for nearly a decade for such a study. I asked the EPA to consider this area as a field study site; but later learned West Divide Creek was excluded as an area of interest, despite it meeting every criteria.
While this is deeply disappointing, it is not surprising... to 'know', after all, is to become 'accountable'. If this industry and its regulatory agents have taught me anything, it is that in order to forestall accountability, one must first veil, skew, compartmentalize, minimize or otherwise misdirect the truth. Indeed, prudence in the permitting process has failed the people, once again and will predictably continue.
This website is my version of a reality show that would simply be too hot for many networks to handle. Hardly anyone will take on this powerful industry, let alone reign it in. Because of it's unfathomable influence, it is probably one of the most corruptible and corrosive elements infiltrating the regulatory environment. We are without resources, but we are not - yet, anyway - without voice. Here, as events have unfolded, is where you can track the nitty gritty for yourself. We may be unable to curtail this industry's devastation, but we do hope to expose it.
We've been coping with the dirty business, excesses and extreme impacts of natural gas exploration and production in our ‘back-yard’ since 2003 when we first got the proverbial ‘knock on the door’ from an EnCana land man.
Since that time we’ve personally experienced repeated trespass; destruction of our private property; plumes of toxic black smoke settling over our home and valley; the release of benzene and other carcinogens into Divide Creek; the spewing of toxic agents into the air from a condensate tank with a failed ‘pop’ valve; earth-shaking tremors of a ‘kick’ experienced from underbalanced drilling operations; and a satellite herd of elk driven to panic by pipeline activities which occurred during their winter migration and use of our area as primary winter range and calving grounds. All of this with (at the time) 2 wells in the vicinity.
Incredibly, we don’t have a well on our property. These are effects we’ve directly experienced living as far as a mile away.
We lost a family member to pancreatic cancer in February, 2006. My father died two years after consuming water (for one month) from West Divide Creek at the height of the 2004 seep. Of course he didn't know about the benzene expressing upstream at the time he drank it, and as a former recon Marine and avid outdoorsman, he always boiled water from the creek before consuming it. But who would have ever thought such an event would occur - especially when drilling operations were a half-mile downstream, and we'd been repeatedly assured nothing could go wrong? Or that EnCana would fail to correct cementing before fracing... or fail to notify authorities... or that authorities would fail to notify us... or that the Division of Wildlife, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, or the EPA would take a step back and allow the COGCC to command total jurisdictional authority? Who knew at the time they even possessed total jurisdictional authority?
He just drank it, unsuspecting of that kind of contamination... like any of us might, believing that along with our own common sense, if not moral than regulatory accountability will protect what should be protected.
EnCana calls where I live "the gaspatch". I call it America... and still believe in what it was and can become again. I also call it "home" and, by God, just as my father before me, I will defend it to my last breath.
We do not know if his death was related to the events above. We know there is no family history of cancer and his physician was baffled as to cause. There are no studies to show toxicological and epidemiological effects on people from long term cumulative exposure to noxious chemicals at low levels. Although recent studies have found links between oil production (Ecuador and Canada) and higher rates of cancers. We hope Blackcloud's fatal cancer was not related because we consider our remaining family members squarely in the line of fire. How much fire? We don’t know.
Both EnCana and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission refuse to disclose the fracing chemicals EnCana used during operations at that time or since. Despite production gas now surfacing up and down West Divide Creek, where we draw our water, the COGCC and EnCana insist the water is fine, yet, we are not allowed to know our risks because of vehement non-disclosure of chemical contaminants. Even if we could afford expensive and on-going water quality analysis, third party sampling would not even know what to test for.
We installed an expensive filtration system designed to eliminate hydrocarbons, but rising total dissolved solids and salts typically associated with drilling operations have overwhelmed the system. Unfortunately, paying to have water hauled in to our rural location is financially prohibitive. The COGCC refuses to install a ground water monitor at the site of the 2008 seep, so I'm currently working on putting in one of our own and finding someone to sample it... but, that's a $20,000 plus price tag.
Breathing toxins in the air has also become routine now that we are surrounded by 60 operational wells. Unless we can afford to install a $60,000 air quality monitoring device which we can place near our home, the odds are likely we won’t ever know. Baseline air quality studies and on-going monitoring is inconsistent and often completely unavailable. Chalk another one up for industry.
Years ago, drillers were allowed to drill 1 well per 640 acres (that’s 1 well per square mile). Then it was 1 well every 360 acres. Industry lobbied for 1 well every 40 acres, then 20, then 10. By the end of EnCana's twelve-year reign, there will be 80 wells within a mile radius. I've been told that within a Federal Unit, an operator can drill as many as one well per 3 acres. This website is dedicated to tracking the progress of these wells – and any catastrophic events which may arise from these intense activities.
Because of what I believe are poorly regulated environmental controls - like appropriate standards for lung-eroding ozone and carcinogenic benzene present in condensate tanks stored nearby or which pumps into the creek from the 2004 catastrophe, I consider ourselves as imperiled as the wildlife that live here, for we share a critical habitat with them. I consider the news of 80 wells drilled within a mile of my home a death sentence. I obviously hope industry and environmental regulators prove me wrong. But, of course, we won’t know until it’s too late.
Industry touts voluntarily reduced emissions, in the range of 80%, but even with 90% reduction in emissions, we are still exposed to a potential of (10% x 40 wells) 400% emissions. Are we so well informed as to the safety of these emissions that we can now breath freely and easily? Have any studies - even surveys been conducted as to the health effects of these VOC emissions? No. Not here. In fact, though raw gas and condensate are known to contain various cancer-causing agents, such as Benzene and Toluene, the EPA has established no thresholds for human exposure - short term or cumulative. I wonder if being shot with 10 bullets is any less fatal than being shot with 100? Chalk another one up for industry.
As of February, 2009 we learned from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that EnCana is openly venting [not even flaring (burning)] 7-9 natural gas wells into the air around our home. They do this to keep well pressures at 150 psi, and theoretically avoid the accumulation of what has been deemed excess pressure on the geologic formation. No one knows if 150 psi is actually a safe level of pressure. EnCana does not have to disclose the volume of gas they vent. Williams Energy, however, captures millions of dollars worth of the same type of excess gas. Meanwhile, does the county, the state, the EPA monitor the volume of toxins emitting from these well pads? Not here.
Natural gas has been successfully marketed as the new 'clean energy'. While it burns cleaner than coal as an end product, how dirty is the development? And what impacts does it have on the people and the environment in proximity of its recovery? Natural gas is not clean, nor is it green. As I write this, tons of methane - a greenhouse gas twenty-six times more destructive than carbon dioxide is vented into the atmosphere nearby. Tons of it. Meanwhile, industry lobbies congress to put in place policies like the NatGas Act to make America even more dependent on this dangerous, dirty, devastating resource - the new oil... all the while, quietly snapping up vulnerable water rights and lobbying for greater water use and waste disposal exemptions.
This site is here to draw attention to rural Americans: people who are as much a part of the landscape as are the rivers, the mountains and sky. But because of our relatively small numbers, as compared to our neighbors in the cities (and concentrated voting blocks), we are often forgotten.
Those of us who have been in the fray of intense development for nearly a decade recognize that all of us as collective stakeholders have begun moving in the direction of better managed resource extraction. Hopefully, this site will be viewed by those in the spotlight (ourselves included) as an opportunity to better identify vulnerabilities in the protections of human health and the environment, resource management and industry practice. It is an invitation to all concerned to put their best foot forward. It represents an opportunity for this industry as well as those who purport to regulate it to evolve.
As webmaster of this site, I am dedicated to journalistic integrity, so don’t look for one-sided bad-mouthing of the oil and gas industry nor our government here. What you will find is the good the bad and the ugly as it avails itself. If we screw up – you’ll read about it here. If EnCana screws up – you’ll learn about it here. If our state regulators screw up, you’ll hear about it here. If something is done right and all goes smoothly – you’ll find out about that here also.
We're by no means anti-industry. I grew up in rural Oklahoma and big-city Texas, and my grandpa hauled water by wagon for the oil industry to survive the great depression. I support a strong economy and the folks who make their living with the industry. I'm a registered Independent, and consider myself pro-common sense and decency. I take a position - any position - based on three simple criteria: 1) Is it right or is it wrong? 2) Does it make common sense? 3) Is it fair?
What we are is anti-stupidity, and there's a lot of room for improvement in the way the extractive industry is allowed to operate.
This site is about the truth – the facts. And, of course, where appropriate, editorial opinion. The opinions expressed throughout this website are mine and mine alone - and what isn't fact is simply my opinion.
We live in a National Energy Sacrifice Zone,
established during the Carter Administration. How big is this zone? It
encompasses much of the intermountain west. Of course we didn't know that
when we moved here twenty years ago. It's not exactly something widely
Workers at these well sites benefit from OSHA standards. As nearby citizens, we do not. We have no respirators, no indicators nor knowledge of immediate, even life-threatening dangers in the near vicinity. Yet, we are subjected to those same dangers - twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. A rig can be erected and a well developed 150 feet from the front door.
In this energy sacrifice zone, we feel as though we, too, are being sacrificed.
Only time will tell to what degree, but I hope there are many eyes turned toward this site, because this is where the record begins.
Welcome to our continued journey through hell.
A little more about the 2008 seep
On June 28, 2008 a new seep was discovered in Divide Creek. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission continues to hedge the situation through a preservation of structured ignorance despite suspected threats to ground water that we drink.... despite a massive well blow-out in 2004 that continues to this day. EnCana Oil and Gas, USA, the energy production giant found to be responsible for the 2004 blow-out, stands to reap over 6 billion in estimated profits - and the state of Colorado, its fair share - if their drilling and the highly controversial fracing methods that enable it go unquestioned.
We continue to advocate for a proper investigation. On August 28th, 2008, we discovered a partially paralyzed frog in the waters of an impact area (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPHlg9L1ycM). The COGCC not only refused to look at it, but after initiating a confrontation, later walked away from our hard-won sampling effort. Two days later we discovered three new impact areas - two on our property and another that ran nearly the full length of an adjacent property. After calls to neighbors we've learned that a once-pristine aquifer is now showing anomalies, and dead patches of vegetation and other areas of gas expression in local water sources indicate expansive and severe impacts - extending to some of our neighbors over a mile away. By mid-summer the wildlife, even the ants (just as they had in 2004) left the area.
Recent research indicates this area may have been geologically mischaracterized in order to enable coal bed methane development while protecting it from the kind of public scrutiny that erupted in association with hydraulic fracturing in Alabama [1995 McMillian / EPA] long before the technology was transported here.
Finally, two and half years after this seep emerged, a soil gas survey was conducted which revealed production gas including ethane, propane, pentanes and butanes expressing into the area of the 2008 seep. The COGCC still refuses to install a ground water monitor so we may learn the extent of contamination. They refuse to disclose EnCana's fracing ingredients which may have also surfaced. We draw our drinking water from this area, but EnCana refuses to provide drinking water.
A new COGCC investigation from 2010 has fallen conspicuously silent upon a third-party engineering review of existing well construction. Inquiries into the status of the investigation are ignored. The health department, the EPA are silent and do not respond to requests for information. This region was even barred from the EPA's new hydraulic fracturing study... as if the technique cannot stand up to genuine scrutiny in the face of overwhelming evidence of impact.
This level of complacently when human health and environmental integrity is so gravely at stake and subject to constant degradation is truly astonishing. Recently, the COGCC decided to permit EnCana to drill directly into the 2004 seep hydro-geology, despite the 2004 continuing without adequate investigation, explanation or any indication of abatement.
So, we await the inevitable - a worsening crises of environmental contamination one will look back on and see that it could have been averted.
As the reckless and indifferent tactics broadly employed to
aggressively advance natural gas extraction across the US and the world
proliferate from California to New York, devastation visited to West Divide
Creek and other regions will not proceed under a veil of secrecy.
Main links within this site
Fracked Frank's Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracing / Fracking) Primer
Divide Creek Seep 2008 - An Astonishing chronology of total regulatory failure and a silenced investigation
Updates Only a year after the 2004 blowout and the resulting moratorium was lifted, EnCana proceeds to drill 80 new wells within a mile of my home. By August 2011, all but 20 are in... and so is a new seep...
Mean Energy - Sure, industry brings a few jobs to impacted regions, but they bring a heck of a lot else. See what can happen to individuals, the environment, communities and economic diversity when the boom hits.
Site Map (the sitemap is strongly recommended since this site has been added to like a poorly planned remodel... which is what -- under the pressure of adaptation -- it has become)
You And What Army? How to Neutralize Conflict and Negotiate Justice For the Totally Outgunned, Inwardly Timid, Burnt Out or Socially Defunct A David and Goliath how-to guide for the rest of us.
All contents of this site, unless
otherwise noted are copyrighted by Lisa Bracken, 2007-2008. All rights are