From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 26 - September 18, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Untested Water Wells Trigger ‘Explosive’ Alarm

by Joy Ufford

Six industrial water wells in the Pinedale Anticline are emitting dangerous levels of potentially flammable gas or vapor, preventing the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) from sampling and testing their contents.

The six wells, each of which are more than a mile from any drinking waterwells, have not been tested in the SCCD’s annual Groundwater Monitoring Project targeting every water well within a mile of existing or proposed Anticline development.

“There’s a handful of wells that set off the lower-explosive limit (LEL) alarm on our gas meter,” said SCCD water quality specialist Heather Cole on Tuesday. The six wells do not have pumps installed in them to get water samples to test for chemicals and pollutants so SCCD must use a “bailer” to get samples from a waterbearing zone about 600 feet deep, she explained.

The plastic bailer is 84 inches tall and an inch and a half around. It can be dropped to the necessary depth and take in water from the targeted zone without allowing other water in as the bailer is brought back up, Cole said.

“We use a stainless-steel cable to send it down,” she said. “It becomes potentially unsafe if that LEL alarm goes off.”

Thus, concerns are that a spark might cause an explosion if the gas or vapor levels are too high.

Although well caps were removed to “air them out” the danger levels have not decreased according to the gas meter, she said.

Two of the six wells in question will have pumps installed this week and SCCD will then take samples. The other four wells’ owners will receive reports from SCCD stating their water could not be sampled and the Bureau of Land Management will require them to test the wells themselves. “The company is responsible for reporting to the BLM,” Cole said. As far as she knows, she said, operators comply and test the wells.

The first year of the Groundwater Monitoring Program, the gas meter wasn’t available so samples were taken from almost every water well as required using a less sensitive method than the meter, she said. “Under the old method we didn’t get ‘detects,’” Cole added. “The significant one is the Antelope 116 – that well in the past did have over the standards (allowed) levels of hydrocarbons.”

It isn’t clear what gas or vapor is setting off the alarm and there is little or no smell associated with the six wells, she said. What, if anything, is contaminating the water remains to be seen; test results from the two with pumps installed should be completed within a month, she said. “We’ll see,” was all she said.

BTEX concerns

At the Pinedale Anticline Working Group’s water quality task group meeting last week, members discussed the situation and some expressed concern that the untested wells might contain BTEX (benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene).

Trace amounts of hydrocarbons were found, for the first time since testing began, in a livestock water well bordering the Anticline but were not at a dangerous level. The source isn’t yet determined but assumed to be oil and gas activities. However, the discovery has heightened concerns of potential pollution in Sublette County’s drinking water.

“As far as the wells with the elevated levels of gas in them, the BLM will require the Operators to sample the wells, as part of the existing ROD. I am confident that some solution will be worked out. Sowe will wait and see how the sample results turn out,” said Mark Thiesse, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality regional groundwater supervisor and the task group’s secretary.

Thiesse also participates in the task group as an ad hoc “consultant and offer(s) advice but (I) do take the lead on certain issues.”

“I think the BLM will make (testing) happen quickly, so I am not planning any action for now,” he added of a potential DEQ follow-up.

Member Michael Kramer also attended the task group meeting and heard the SCCD’s report.

“To jump to the conclusion that there was BTEX contamination is scientifically untrue (although you can’t assume anything until a method can be adopted to clear the well of gas fumes and actually test the water),” said Kramer.

In an email Sept. 11, Kramer clarified comments at the PAWG meeting.

“As of this point in time, there is absolutely no contamination of human drinking water that poses a health risk to the population,” he wrote.

“However if well number AMI132 is causing a plume of contaminated water with levels of BTEX in the thousands and other wells occur with similar problems nearer domestic drinking water wells, this current ‘Safe Drinking Water’ situation could drastically change!

“I therefore regret not making a motion that our Task Group make a motion to the PAWG that the characterization of the aquifers in the (Pinedale Anticline) and that a clearly defined mitigation procedure when a well exceeds standards be defined as a priority.”

Both AMI 187 (Antelope 1-16, owned by JED Oil) and AMI 132 (Riverside 15-12, owned by Ultra) among numerous others, were retested in the last year after showing detectable levels of hydrocarbons, according to the SCCD’s 2008 surface and groundwater report.

The report also shows Ultra’s AMI-132 (to which Kramer referred) tested on July 23, 2008, with a benzene level of 7,600 milligrams per liter (mg/L), a toluene level of 34,000mg/L, ethylene level of 1,600mg/L and xylene levels of 17,000mg/L.

The 2008 Surface and Groundwater Report and other PAWG information can be seen at:

PAWG meeting, field trip

The BLM Pinedale Field Office invites the public to attend the Pinedale Anticline Working Group (PAWG )meeting at 1p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 25, at the BLM Office at 1625 W. Pine Street in Pinedale.

The meeting will include discussions on the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (Anticline) Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), any modifications task groups want to make to their monitoring recommendations and adaptive management implementation. Public comment will be taken during the meeting.

The annual PAWG field tour will be Friday, Sept. 26 at 8:30 a.m. starting at the Pinedale Field Office. Tour stops will include water gathering facilities, industrial water wells, air quality monitoring stations and more. The tour is open to the public but space is limited. To be included, please register by Monday, Sept. 22, to guarantee seating.

The final PAWG meeting in 2008 is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 23. For more information on the PAWG or to register for the tour, please contact Dave Crowley at 307- 367-5323 or email

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