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Opinion: Karen Dike--Air Monitoring at Union Reservoir

I was dismayed when I was sent an article, published on Saturday April 25th, in the Boulder Daily Camera and Longmont Times Call.
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This content was originally published by the Longmont Observer and is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

I was dismayed when I was sent an article, published on Saturday April 25th, in the Boulder Daily Camera and Longmont Times Call.  The article retracted an earlier story regarding the air monitoring station at Union Reservoir.  The retraction article stated it was pulled because factually incorrect statements were made.The earlier article “Air quality improves as the Front Range self-quarantines from coronavirus, highlighting the impacts of oil and gas operations” has been removed from newspaper archives of both papers. 

It is difficult to write about the technical subject of fracking without using industry jargon.  This jargon, used by the COGCC (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Committee) COGA (Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry group) and the fossil fuel industry seems at times to be used to obscure meanings of reports. We have to assume that since the reporter used the term fracking instead of active well, the COGCC and COGA are saying the report is inaccurate. While we, the public, think of fracking wells as any well we see that isn’t an old style pump jack. The industry says fracking is only the period when fracking (fracturing the shale rocks) is occurring. 

This comment is from the earlier article: “In fact, about 1 p.m. March 26, Detlev Helmig, an air quality specialist , hired by Longmont to analyze emissions from oil and gas operations near the city, saw the highest levels of methane he has ever seen.” The  April 25th retraction by the papers, quote COGCC and COGA, as stating that no wells are operating in that area, therefore the pollution didn’t occur. In fact, the Stamp well, which is on the NW corner of Union Reservoir was mentioned, and was listed as shut in and not producing.  This is an incorrect statement, based on information on the COGCC website.

I don’t know if it is failure to investigate, if the editors of the papers simply relied on the word of the powerful people from COGCC and COGA, or simply sloppy work, but here is the truth. If you go to the COGCC website you can see that the Stamp well is still producing. I was surprised to see this as I knew that the pipeline from that well was no longer operational. What I found out from the City of Longmont, is that the Stamp well is separating the oil out and it is stored on site, then removed by truck. The gases are being flared. Flaring is known to produce increased amounts of air pollution. Under Colorado law, flaring all the gas produced is also considered waste of a nonrenewable resource.

The Scout Card on the COGCC website lists on varying months, PR (producing) TA (temporarily abandoned) and SI (shut in).  The last report for this well is in January 2020.  In January the well produced 24 barrels (1008 gallons) of oil and 14,000 Cubic Feet of gases that were flared. This well was also stimulated (acid, stimulation fluid and water are pumped in at high pressure to improve production) in December 2019.  On the December Scout Card, the well is listed as both TA and PR. Since gas is being produced and flared in January, we can assume that pollution is coming from that well even if COGA and COGCC say the Stamp well can’t be a source of pollution.  As the Scout Card indicates that the Stamp well is PR (producing), reports for February are delinquent as the production is required to be turned in within 45 days of the end of the month. 

But what happened to cause the high level of methane seen on March 26th mentioned in the article that was pulled as retracted?  I can only surmise that this is part of a "work over" process. A friend happened to take a picture of a work over rig at the Stamp site on March 30th. (attached) When the city was contacted that day, they confirmed that this was a work over rig. “The term work over is used to refer to any kind of oil well intervention involving invasive techniques, such as wireline, coiled tubing or snubbing. More specifically, a work over refers to the expensive process of pulling and replacing completion or production hardware in order to extend the life of the well.” (Wikipedia)

Concerns about the Stamp well were taken to a city council member, Tim Waters, who asked for an explanation about the well. Dale Radamacher said the well is producing only about 2 to 20 barrels of oil a month.  As we know, the actual amount in January was 24 barrels.  The City of Longmont needs to continue to investigate what is going on with this well.  Many people use the Union Reservoir area for recreation including, hiking, fishing, and boating. The city is expanding a trail to the reservoir including going under Weld County Road 1, for improved access.  Prior to that project, the city needs to talk with Dr Helmig and health care experts, about the pollution level and set guidelines for times when access to the reservoir should be denied to people recreating. 

Another concern, the Stamp well had issues with site and ground water contamination in the past.  There was supposed to be a remediation of the pollution found at the site in January, 2011.  This is not shown on the COGCC website.  This is from the TERRACON report to the city:  “4.2 Recommendations: Terracon recommends the Client contact the operator for the Serafini and Stamp #2 wells to pursue remedial activities of the petroleum-impacted soil and groundwater above regulatory standards observed near the well heads of the two locations.”  Was this completed and has additional testing been completed? Longmont hired Dr Helmig so we would be aware of pollution from oil and gas activities.  We cannot allow our concerns to be minimized by the Daily Camera and Times Call.  We are entitled to clean air.

Karen Dike