Aug. 07–The potential water quality risk from future oil and gas fracking and drilling deep underneath Union Reservoir “is minimal,” Longmont’s city staff has reported to the City Council.
The staff is to review the research it did to reach that conclusion, and its plans to continue monitoring for possible problems that might stem from horizontal drilling underneath the water storage reservoir and recreation site east of Longmont, during a Tuesday night council study session.
In its memo to the council for Tuesday’s meeting, the staff noted its review of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing — the process of injecting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water to free up underground oil and gas deposits — and its impacts on the quality or quantity of drinking water in the United States.
The results of that national EPA study, which the federal agency released in December 2012, as applied to the oil and gas companies’s eventual plan for horizontal drilling under Union Reservoir, indicate that “the greatest impact” could be from surface spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals, the staff reported.
There would be no drilling from the surface or shores of Union Reservoir itself. The well heads would be off-site, from the surfaces of properties not owned by the city in Weld County.
“Given the large distances these wells are removed from Union Reservoir and the minimal groundwater flow toward Union Reservoir, the likelihood of a surface spill large enough to infiltrate into the groundwater that could impact Union Reservoir is extremely small,” the staff wrote the council.
The staff added, though, that however unlikely that might be, it is recommending that Longmont monitor the air, soil and groundwater in the immediate vicinity of the wells “to ensure no health or environmental impacts occur.”
Longmont’s water resources manager also interviewed “a significant number of northern Front Range water supply reservoir owners about oil and gas operations under their reservoirs.”
“In every case, the reservoir operators have reported that they have not experienced any water quality impact from operations under their reservoir,” the staff reported.
The results of Longmont’s survey of nearly 100 reservoir owners — with almost all of them having wells under or near them — was consistent with the EPA study’s findings “that oil and gas drilling and fracturing operations pose little risk to surface and ground waters,” the staff said.
However, Longmont’s staff is proposing to do further research and to implement a program to monitor the effects of oil and gas hydraulic fracturing operations locally.
That would be “a more robust and detailed investigation” and would include limnologists who study inland waters, geologists, and environmental engineers and scientists. It would document groundwater movement, groundwater quality and soil quality and gather information about geological formations, fractures, faults and terrain in a defined area around Union Reservoir.
The staff wrote the council that it plans to start water quality monitoring efforts before any oil and gas operations begin north of Union Reservoir. That could entail additional water quality sampling in the reservoir itself along with sampling on the Oligarchy Ditch that fills the reservoir, in addition to sampling from the reservoir’s drainage basin.
That effort will probably require hiring additional temporary city employees or paying for a contractor’s services. Funding needs will be determined, and if the staff is unable to cover those additional expenses from the current 2018 city budgets, the council will get a request for an additional appropriation.
Tuesday’s study session review of the potential impacts of horizontal drilling underneath the reservoir is something of a continuation of the impacts of oil-and-gas exploration and production from deposits underneath Longmont and underneath city-owned properties outside the city limits.
City Council members voted 6-1 on May 22 to give final approval to an agreement with TOP Operating and Cub Creek Energy that officials said would end drilling from the surfaces of properties within Longmont’s city limits as well as from the surfaces of any city-owned properties east of Longmont.
A week earlier, during a May 15 forum on the agreement, Longmont Public Works and Natural Resources General Manager Dale Rademacher said one of Cub Creek’s potential pad sites is a mile away from Union Reservoir and another is abut 1,000 feet away from the reservoir.
Dissenting from the May 22 majority vote for the agreement was Councilwoman Joan Peck, who said she did not want any hydraulic fracturing to free up oil and gas deposits underneath Union Reservoir, even if that fracking and the drilling to follow was done directionally and horizontally from private properties a distance away from the reservoir.
Peck had suggested in another meeting, on May 8, that Union Reservoir’s swim beach be closed to people and animals when fracking under the reservoir begins, but she has not brought that up in the months since for a formal council vote.
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