Firms working with Colorado family with flaming water
Ryan Summerlin March 20, 2009
DENVER, Colorado ” A Fort Lupton-area family who can light their water on fire because of gas seeping into their house expect to get some help from two companies with natural gas wells in the area.
Amee Ellsworth said she met Friday with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc., which have natural gas wells within a half-mile radius of her home, about 30 miles northeast of Denver.
The companies have pledged to provide water for the family and are looking at possibly installing a water-treatment system. Both are working with the state to determine the source of the gas.
But Ellsworth said she her husband, Jesse, are frustrated after months of trying to figure out what is wrong with their water. Tests by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission showed there is natural gas in their water well and that it came from gas operations rather than a naturally occurring source.
Company and state officials just don’t know which gas well is responsible.
Ellsworth said she talked to the media this week because she wanted area residents to know what was going on and to be on the lookout. She said she received several calls after Denver TV stations aired startling video of flames shooting up in the couple’s sink after a lighter ignited the water.
The state oil and gas commission has heard from other people with concerns about their water and is looking into the complaints, acting director Dave Neslin said.
Ellsworth said she worries about an explosion in her house.
“We have explosive levels of methane in the shower. We shower with the light off and the fan off,” Ellsworth said.
A company has also detected high levels of methane at the water-well head and at a filter on the well, she added.
John Christiansen of Anadarko said the company has offered to find temporary housing for the Ellsworths.
“No. 1 is the safety and well-being of this family and others who might be affected as well,” Christiansen said.
Anadarko tested its wells a couple months ago and they were functioning properly, Christiansen said. Next week, the company will put up a rig on the site to take a closer look.
“We’re working hand in hand with Anadarko and the (state) commission to rectify the situation,” Noble Energy spokesman Stephen Flaherty said. “We are very concerned.”
The family first noticed problems with the water soon after moving into the house in August. Ellsworth said the washing machine made loud, slamming noises when the water was running.
“When you flushed the toilet, it sounded like the toilet was going to bust,” Ellsworth said.
Then the water started stinking. The Ellsworths stopped drinking their water. Jesse Ellsworth discovered that the water was flammable.
Ellsworth said that Anadarko and Noble, both based in Houston, Texas, initially told her that they couldn’t help. She said Noble “stepped up” after the state contacted the company.
Christiansen said Anadarko tested its wells after the first call about the Ellsworths.
“We think on a number of different levels, we need to be making sure the family’s safe,” Christiansen said.
Other Colorado landowners have had similar problems. In the 1980s, gas from old wells that were improperly drilled or sealed migrated into water wells in southwestern Colorado. One family reported that lemonade made with tap water caught fire when it was close to the stove.
The state halted coal bed methane drilling in late 2007 on River Ridge Ranch, a rural subdivision near Walsenburg in southern Colorado, after problems with methane venting from water wells and a small fire at a water well sparked by built-up methane. Around the same time, an explosion raised the roof on a shed over a water well near the subdivision.
The company, Petroglyph Energy of Boise, Idaho, has drilled monitoring wells and is developing a plan to prevent more seeps.