By Dennis Webb Friday, The Daily Sentinel – January 1, 2016
When falling prices caused natural gas development to start dropping off in places like western Colorado after peaking in 2008, in some cases it ended up in companies doing little or no drilling on well pads they’d already built.
How to ensure such pads are reclaimed through reseeding and other measures is part of a stepped-up focus by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It comes as COGCC Commissioner Richard Alward, a Grand Junction ecologist and consultant whose work includes oil and gas reclamation, continues to call for an update of the agency’s reclamation rules.
A new report by commission staff finds that of some 98,000 wells under the agency’s jurisdiction, about 45,000 are eligible for final reclamation, and 58 percent of those have passed final reclamation inspection. That leaves 18,685 locations that the agency plans to focus on inspecting, including about 12,000 sites with wells that either were dry from the start, or produced before being plugged. The nearly 6,800 remaining sites are what the commission calls abandoned locations — sites where companies planned to drill wells but never drilled them.
“The number of Wells eligible for final reclamation that have not yet passed a final reclamation inspection has increased substantially since 2009,” the commission says in its new report.
It cites a number of factors, such as an increase in requests by surface owners to waive reclamation requirements that may conflict with their desired uses for the land, and more requests by companies to abandon locations they no longer plan to use. Addressing these requests is time-consuming, and staff have to prioritize them with other inspections, such as ones based on citizen complaints, the report notes. But it has added four full-time reclamation inspectors to address the backlog since 2014.
In a recent presentation to commission members, Margaret Ash, manager of the agency’s field inspection unit, said the new report shows the agency’s current reclamation rules “are relatively rigorous and comprehensive” when compared to rules in five nearby states and the federal Bureau of Land Management’s rules.
“We have sufficient detail to lead to successful reclamation and we have the staffing I think to oversee a fairly rigorous program,” she said.