Drilling starts to worry wildlife official | VailDaily.com

Drilling starts to worry wildlife official

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentPlans to put 40 natural gas wells in the West Divide Creek area near Silt has raised concerned about potentially harming deer and elk.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado Plans for 40 natural gas wells south of Silt could harm deer and elk, a state wildlife official says. Dean Riggs, area wildlife manager in Grand Junction for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, says the species will suffer large-scale, widespread impacts as a result of energy development that is taking place at a level that no one could have dreamed of a few years ago.As the state agency that is tasked with protecting, preserving, enhancing and managing wildlife within the state we continue to be more disturbed by each (drilling) permit and lease sale that happens, Riggs wrote in a letter.His letter came in response to a letter by Lisa Bracken, a resident near where EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) is proceeding with a 40-well drilling plan in the West Divide Creek area.Bracken is chiefly concerned about the safety of the drilling, which is occurring where gas from an EnCana well contaminated surface water in 2004. But she also worries that drilling activities will damage winter range and calving grounds for elk.Riggs agreed with Brackens contention that it would be better for deer and elk to if drilling was kept out of some areas and concentrated in others. The animals need some areas of relative seclusion, Riggs said. The agencys recommended clustering drilling on the nearby Roan Plateau, in Rifle, and not letting companies move on to other drilling areas there until land is repaired. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management agreed to that approach in its decision to allow drilling on the Roan, located near Rifle.EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said the company always welcomes feedback from the Division of Wildlife, and could address any specific concerns Riggs might have. But he said Riggs wants all the drilling companies on the Western Slope to be involved is discussions about protecting animals. I think from our standpoint were not sure that thats really a practical way to do it or could practically be done, Hock said.A new state law requires the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to consider wildlife impacts in its regulation of the industry, Hock said.Our thought is lets let that process work its way through, and well see what we come up with, Hock said.Meanwhile, a consultant for EnCana has tested gas that Bracken had noticed bubbling up in a new beaver pond in the middle of West Divide Creek since drilling resumed near the 2004 seep area. That initial testing found no traces of cancer-causing benzene or three other volatile organic compounds associated with drilling. Hock said that while the tests results are not final, the initial findings indicate the gas is coming from sources such as decaying plant materials in the water.However, Bracken said she is convinced the source of the gas isnt biological. She said the bubbles arent emanating in a stagnant area where decaying materials can build up. She said that by Tuesday, the bubbling had become almost constant, which adds to her belief that they are from natural gas venting.

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