Routt County could retain groundwater quality expert

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Oil & gas issues in Routt County

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners could decide Tuesday to retain the same consulting hydrologist whose analysis in March largely confirmed the EPA’s finding that fracking fluids were the culprits in domestic water well contamination near Pavillion, Wyo.

Tom Myers is the recommended choice of county staff to advise Routt County on how to craft the language for conditions of approval that would be used going forward to decide if groundwater monitoring wells are necessary at specific new oils wells here, and if so, how to make them effective.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said she was impressed with the width and breadth of Myers academic credentials as well as his work as a hydrologist working in the natural resources extraction field.

“His May 14 letter and his two published pieces gave us a really good sense of his expertise and what he plans on doing,” Mitsch Bush said. “I think he’ll be a very good match for what we need.”

The intent is for Myers to do his work before June 26, when county officials once again take up Quicksilver Resources’ application for a permit to drill the new Camilletti well on private land north of Milner. The commissioners voted a month ago, with the applicants’ understanding, to table the permit application in order to allow them to convene a panel of scientific experts on air and water quality monitoring as well as officials of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division and independent experts.

Myers’ fee would be almost $13,000 if he travels to Routt County, but the commissioners indicated Monday that they would minimize travel expenses.

Different well, geology

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft report on March 3 that concluded it was possible the source of groundwater pollution in Fremont County, on the west side of the Wind River Range in Wyoming, was attributable to fracking operations at natural gas wells. In groundwater samples from two test wells it found benzene and 10 other compounds in fracking fluid.

Industry spokespeople, including those from Encana, which operates the wells in question, shot back that the water testing done by the EPA wasn’t properly executed.

There is no direct correlation between the circumstances at the Pavillion gas well and the proposed oil well here — the wells are different and the geology varies between the two locations.

Myers was retained by several environmental organizations to analyze the EPA’s methodology at Pavillion. Although he made numerous recommendations that the federal agency do more to confirm its evidence, he ultimately concluded: “It is clear that hydraulic fracturing has caused pollution of the Wind River Formation and aquifer.”

In a related matter, the county had no success attracting proposals from prospective consultants in the area of air quality monitoring.

The committee sent out 10 requests for qualifications for air quality consultants and of the 10, nine confirmed receipt but did not make a submittal.

The commissioners asked their staff to narrow the scope of work for the air quality expert and immediately send out more requests to additional individuals.

Myers, who received a Ph.D. in hydrology from the University of Nevada, Reno, has written numerous reports including one in 2005 on the potential effects of coal bed methane on water levels, wells and springs in the Powder River Basin of Montana, and in 2009 on monitoring ground water quality near unconventional methane gas development projects.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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