COGCC official talks baseline testing in NW Colorado

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Quotable

“We like to have baseline testing done in areas that are new to exploration and development. That part of the Niobrara is right in the midst of the exploration play and we have made (baseline) testing a requirement for most of the companies working there.”

— Thom Kerr, interim director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state’s oversight agency for the energy industry, does not require companies to perform groundwater testing as part of its rules.

However, the COGCC has been known to make energy companies perform baseline testing of groundwater reserves under certain circumstances.

Thom Kerr, interim director of the COGCC, was in northwest Colorado Tuesday night and fielded questions on the subject from Routt County officials.

Although groundwater testing is currently done on a voluntary basis by the energy industry, Kerr said the COGCC will mandate baseline testing of water wells, groundwater aquifers and springs as a condition of drilling permit approval.

The circumstances under which baseline testing must occur varies, Kerr said. Sometimes the COGCC requires groundwater testing based on the recommendations of local government officials, as was the case in the Raton Field of southeastern Colorado, the Piceance Basin near Rifle and the San Juan Basin outside of Durango.

“In the San Juan Basin we wanted to do testing because they are working shallow coal seams, which are very close to the ground water aquifers,” Kerr said.

Moffat County oil and natural gas activity of late has been focused on the Niobrara Formation, which is located 8,000 to 12,000 feet below the surface and far from water wells and groundwater supplies.

But Kerr said energy companies in the area are required to perform baseline testing as a condition for drilling permit approval.

“We like to have baseline testing done in areas that are new to exploration and development,” Kerr said. “That part of the Niobrara is right in the midst of the exploration play, and we have made (baseline) testing a requirement for most of the companies working there.”

So far, the big players in Moffat County are Shell Oil Company, Quicksilver Resources and Gulfport Energy.

Although representatives from the three companies could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Kerr said he is confident Shell, Quicksilver and Gulfport are adhering to baseline testing as required.

“It is my understanding that those companies have completed some wells and are currently conducting baseline testing,” Kerr said. “If we put it as a condition for permit approval, I’m sure they did it.”

Baseline testing is simply choosing water wells near a proposed drill site and checking for the presence of certain chemicals and natural gas.

Chemical presence may occur naturally along with natural gas, but companies are required to return to water well test sites a year after drilling is complete to see if chemical or natural gas levels have changed.

In some instances, companies may be required to return to test water wells again three and six years after drilling is complete.

Baseline testing can cost anywhere from $350 to $1,200, Kerr said. The energy operator usually absorbs the cost.

Before departing Routt County Tuesday night, Kerr was asked if there was any room in the COGCC’s $4 million budget to assist Routt County with a study of water well and ground water quality.

Kerr said a study wasn’t necessary.

To date, 299 oil and natural gas wells have been drilled in Routt County, and 1,560 in Moffat County.

In all cases, operators are required to run electric logs from the base of a well all the way to the surface to measure the conductivity of rock seams — which identify the different types of rocks — and to map the gaps in the rock seams — which is a good indicator of where ground water reserves may be located.

“In that sense, a lot of work has already been done,” Kerr said. “Electric logs can be a really good source of information.”

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