From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 50 - December 13, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Residents protest new injection wells

by Alecia Warren

Local residents have raised troubled opposition to six injection wells Ultra Resources has proposed drilling less than half a mile away from the Wild Horse Ranches subdivision, located five miles south of Pinedale and along the New Fork River at a prime pronghorn migration corridor.

Fearing the underground disposals for production fluids might interfere with wildlife, lubricate a fault line or at the very least pack local roads with trucks hauling chemical waste, residents have requested an additional public hearing with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), which regulates permits for oil and gas disposal activities, to urge reconsideration of the location.

“It is a proposal that is bad for people, bad for water, bad for wildlife,” said Linda Baker, grassroots coordinator for the Upper Green River Valley Coalition (UGRVC), which has assisted locals near the proposed site in researching relevant environmental and geological information.

“There are many things that can be done with produced water, and injection is certainly appropriate. But this particular site is not a responsible decision on Ultra’s part.” Yet, as Ultra pointed out at a meeting with residents last month, injection wells have proven one of the safest and least intrusive answers to disposing the waste from drilling operations.

Not to mention that locating another injection well site isn’t so simple. The appeal of disposing production chemicals in injection wells derives from the wells’ impermeable location in underground reservoirs, or zones, which reduces the likelihood of exposure to ground water and wildlife.

But a well zone must be comprised of a rare combination of sand and rock with the necessary permeability and porosity that gas operators can pump fluids into on a daily basis.

The discovery of such an ideal well zone, even if it is adjacent to an 80-acre housingsubdivision, is a saving grace for Ultra, said WOGCC supervisor Don Likwartz.

“Operators have had difficulties finding zones that will accept water in the Anticline — they just don’t seem to exist,” Likwartz said. “It’s been an ongoing concern for three or four years. (Operators) have an increased water production and nowhere to put it.” One injection well has already been operating at the site beside Wild Horse Ranches since last summer. Ultra said it can minimize traffic and manage the wells more effectively by drilling the additional six at the same location. Local residents, however, argue that the wells will cancel out these benefits with potential environmental hazards.

“There’s all sorts of factors when you introduce an industrial operation of this kind — you’ve got air conditions to consider, dust, traffic,” said Charles Hall, who has lived about 100 yards from the Wild Horse subdivision for 30 years.

More importantly, he said, the proposed well site sits directly where pronghorn cross the New Fork River to migrate to their crucial winter range.

Although the only visible traces of injection wells themselves are the cement heads jutting out of the ground, the 5-acre pads for each well, as well as the dust, noise and fuel emissions from the estimated 30 truck trips a day necessary for injecting the wells, could hinder the pronghorn’s migration, No environmental group will monitor the status of wildlife once the wells are drilled, which the WOGCC doesn’t take into consideration when approving injection well operations, as animals and migration fall out of the commission’s jurisdiction.

But Tab McGinley, Ultra Resources land manager, assured that Ultra is already consulting with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (GFD) on necessary precautions. The operator will drill the first and final three wells at separate intervals scheduled around the peak use of the migration corridor, and will begin well pad reclamation immediately after drilling to reduce each pad to only two acres.

And after gaining approval from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Ultra plans to construct a Liquids Gathering System (LGS) that will pipe waste water directly from drill sites to the injection wells, and reduce truck traffic to only one trip per day. “We want to keep this as simple and environmentally friendly as possible,” McGinley said, adding that from what he’s observed, the single injection well currently operating at the site hasn’t interfered with pronghorn migration.

Yet the wells might cause more interference underground than above it, said Jim Barnhart, who lives across from the Wild Horse subdivision and within a half mile of the projected well site.

“I don’t have anything against injection wells, it’s a good science, but the location is an issue, there’s a known fault line through there,” Barnhart said, referring to the Pinedale Thrust Fault.

Fault lines are a known red flag for well injection sites, according to geologists that Barnhart and other residents have spoken to through the UGRVC.

Should injected production fluids lubricate the thrust fault, Barnhart said the geologists predicted, there’s a chance of resulting earthquakes.

Such induced seismic activity occurred in 1968, when the injection of production fluid near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal spurred a series of earthquakes and caused more than $1 million in damage to the north Denver area, according to the Colorado Geological Survey.

The fault could also fracture the rock in the disposal zone and potentially contaminate private water wells or other water resources in the watershed, Barnhart said.

According to a 1997 map from the Association of Petroleum Geologists and a 1971 technical report from a geologist with El Paso Natural Gas, both of which Wild Horse residents have given to Ultra and the WOGCC, the thrust fault does intersect with Ultra’s projected injection well site. But McGinley cited Ultra’s own seismic studies from 1999, showing that the Pinedale Thrust Fault stops thousands of feet below the well zone. Deposits above the fault also reveal that the fault hasn’t been active in about 40 million years.

“From a scientific standpoint, we don’t consider that a legitimate concern,” McGinley said. “We would not be doing this if we considered there was any risk associated with it.”

Leaks from injection wells have proven an extremely unlikely problem, he said, with cement surrounding the piping from 7,000 feet all the way to the surface. If the WOGCC grants Ultra approval to drill and inject the wells, the operator still needs permission from the Wyoming State Land Board to begin drilling.

Ideally, McGinley said, Ultra will construct the first three well pads this spring. “Unfortunately, the nature of our industry is that everybody wants and needs the natural gas, but no one wants it close to where they live,” he said.

But Wild Horse Ranches residents say there’s more to this issue than that. “We’re just really nervous, and they interpreted our reaction as ‘not in my back yard,’” said Rose Sanchez, an eight-year resident of Wild Horse Ranches who attended Ultra’s meeting with residents last month. “But our ‘back yard’ as they call it has so many things going against making this a site — a major antelope corridor, location right beside the river where accidental spilling could occur, and a fault line.

“I don’t think that other back yards have all these different things going for it.”

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