The Plug & Abandon Process

This article is reprinted from the Winter 2018 issue of Elife.

In a recent tweet for the Erie Protectors (follow us @ErieProtectors), I mentioned that there are 13,103 producing wells in Weld County alone. Another 8,386 are shut in. Another 4,377 have been plugged & abandoned. Another 1,143 are currently being drilled.

Well statistics from the COGCC Daily Activity Dashboard, taken on January 16, 2018.

The numbers are staggering, especially when we get weekly reminders in the news of explosions, fires, spills, and releases of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at these facilities during their various stages of production.

This month, I’d like to focus on the last stage of production – the plug & abandon operation. OSHA has a concise definition of the process :

A well is abandoned when it reaches the end of its useful life or is a dry hole.

  • The casing and other equipment is removed and salvaged.
  • Cement plugs are placed in the borehole to prevent migration of fluids between the different formations.
  • The surface is reclaimed.

By the industry’s own admission, “end-of-well operations are often more difficult than initial well construction.” Let this be a cautionary tale told in three parts.

The Vessels Minerals site is 25 yards from the Aspen Ridge Preparatory School playground.

Crestone Peak Resources began plug & abandon operations at the Vessels Minerals site just east of Aspen Ridge Preparatory School on September 12, 2017. The same day, an observant resident filed a complaint with the COGCC about “an odor that is permeating from the site that can be smelled in the school parking lots.” When the COGCC sent out an inspector the following day, he had this to report in a notice of alleged violation (NOAV):

COGCC Staff also observed […] children playing in the playground and watching the rig crew’s operation, and volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”) visibly drifting toward the children in the playground.”

While Crestone took corrective action the same day and installed emission control equipment, they had every intention of venting VOCs 25 yards from a playground for 8 weeks while they conducted business as usual. The community was only made aware of the NOAV when an Erie Protector found it online almost two months later.

Lessons learned? If you see it, report it. The rules & regulations are inadequate to protect us. The industry has complete disregard for the communities in which they operate.

The “Oil & Gas Site” designation on the Erie Highlands Concept Plan

Our second tale comes from an idyllic suburban development just east of Grandview in Erie. The concept plan for Erie Highlands includes three innocuous “oil & gas site” designations in what appear to be pocket parks and open space. Imagine the surprise of recent owners of near-million dollar properties when fourteen characters on a pretty picture turned into a work over rig less than 100 yards from their back doors, especially when realtors had told them the wells were already plugged.

The workover rig at the William H. Peltier #2 site, originally completed in 1986.

Lessons learned? Do your homework. Self-serving realtors and developers have no interest in providing more than the minimal state-mandated disclosures about nearby oil & gas developments. They will pretend property values are unaffected and will deny community meetings to inform residents of O&G operations. When you’re looking for a new home, visit the COGCC online map at and find out where historical, current, and future O&G development may impact you.

Saulcy 4-1 and surfacing liquid near well location.

Our final tale comes from Windsor, where in October 2017 “an old well that was capped in 1984 began spilling oil on Colorado 60 east of U.S. 287.” Operators in the region were quick to respond to the well that had been drilled by an unknown operator in the 1920s or 1930s, but “an estimated 5 gallons to 6 gallons every minute” were spilling from the well.

Lessons learned? Oil & gas is forever. This blight upon our neighborhoods, open spaces, and environment has far-reaching implications. Operators come and go, but their impacts will remain long after we forget their names.

How much water does fracking use, Part II

In Part I, we showed how Crestone Peak Resources had used 160,349,639 gallons of water to frack the 13 wells at the Waste Connections and Pratt sites. Sadly, it gets worse. Between the Morgan Hills, Woolley-Becky, and Woolley-Sosa sites, Crestone Peak Resources used 225,137,194 gallons of water to frack 22 wells.

So all together now:

Crestone Peak Resources has used three hundred eighty-five million, four hundred eighty-six thousand, eight hundred thirty-three gallons of water to drill 35 wells on five pads in Erie, Colorado.

How much water does fracking use?

Recently, we stumbled upon FracFocus, an additional resource linked from the COGCC complaint site. FracFocus allows the public to view “Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Product Component Information Disclosure” documents that include some summary information for each well, as well as a detailed chemical composition of the fluids injected at each well head. We ran the numbers for Waste Connections and Pratt, and came up with a single catastrophic statistic: 160,349,639 gallons of water.

Continue reading “How much water does fracking use?”

Erie town trustees tell angry residents they were unaware of venting near school, launch probe

With the support of neighbors from surrounding communities, Erie residents voiced their concerns about the volatile organic compounds released at the plug & abandon operations near Aspen Ridge Preparatory School and the Kiddie Academy of Erie.

Continue reading “Erie town trustees tell angry residents they were unaware of venting near school, launch probe”

Erie neighbors concerned about new gas pipeline close to homes

Once again, Jennifer Kovaleski from 7News is in Vista Ridge to talk about fracking. This time, it’s the raw natural gas gathering lines being installed within 100 ft of existing homes by Anadarko Petroleum. Once they start building units in the Red Tail Ranch development, homes will be even closer to this line.

Continue reading “Erie neighbors concerned about new gas pipeline close to homes”

Erie neighbors host demonstration in front of nearby fracking site

The Erie Protectors hosted a community photo shoot to replicate a photo taken by concerned community members in December 2014 to protest Crestone Peak Resources’ activities at the Waste Connections and Pratt sites just north of Vista Ridge in Erie, Colorado. We had a wonderful morning meeting like-minded neighbors opposed to oil & gas activities in our neighborhoods.

Continue reading “Erie neighbors host demonstration in front of nearby fracking site”