Accidents in the Gas Fields

Clean water is a gift from God, a gift for the common good. Without clean water there cannot be physical, emotional, or spiritual health. So clean water is a spiritual and ethical concern. The level of our concern reflects the level of our spiritual awareness and commitment.

– Catholic nun protesting pollution of the Rio Grande River by Los Alamos National Labs.

We know that every day there are accidents in the field. Just look at the (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation) Commissions’ reports.

– Peggy Utesch, Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance, re: EnCana’s gas drilling near Silt, Colorado


On February 12, 2008, at the public meeting held by the Baca National Wildlife Refuge on the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA), William Berg, oil geologist and main author of the EA, challenged me to prove that Lexam’s proposed drilling of three 14,000′ gas test wells would contaminate the priceless aquifer in the San Luis Valley. Of course, it is impossible to prove a future occurrence. However, an examination of the incredibly long history of accidents associated with the gas industry in Colorado alone, indicates that the chances of an accident and contamination of the groundwater are 100%.

A Long Record of Accidents, Fatalities, Exploded Buildings, etc.

(Note: Although mining began in Colorado in the mid-1800’s, there was no organized reporting of mine fatalities until the death of 59 miners at the Crested Butte Mine in 1884.) Most of the incidents below between 1884 and 1965 are recorded in:

1/24/1884: 59 miners killed at the Crested Butte Mine, Gunnison, Co., Colorado, from explosion of gas and dust.

11/13/1885: 10 miners killed due to gas explosion and fire at Bull-Domino Mine, Custer Co., Colorado.

2/18/1896, 49 miners killed due to explosion of gas and dust in Vulcan mine, Garfield County, Colorado.

1896- 5 miners killed by a gas explosion in coal mine near Walsenberg, Colorado.

9/3/1897- 12 miners killed by gas explosion in Sunshine Mine, Garfield County, Colorado,

2/19/1906- 14 miners killed by gas explosion in Maitland Mine, Herfano County, Colorado.

4/22/1906- 19 miners killed by gas explosion in Cuarto Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

1/23/1907- 24 miners killed by gas explosion in Primero Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

7/6/1909, 9 miners killed by gas explosion in Toller Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado.

1/31/1910- 75 miners killed by gas explosion in Primero Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado.

6/18/1912- 12 miners killed by gas explosion in Hastings Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

12/16/1913- 37 miners killed by gas explosion in Vulcan Mine, Garfield County, Colorado

4/27/1917- 121 miners killed by gas explosion in Hastings Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

3/31/1919- 13 miners killed by gas explosion in Empire Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

8/18/1919- 18 miners killed by gas explosion in Oakdale Mine, Herfano County, Colorado

3/24/1922- 17 miners killed by gas explosion in Sporis No. 2 Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

5/5/1923- 10 miners killed by gas explosion in Southwestern Mine, Las Animas County, Colorado

6/1932- methane gas explosion caused landslides and rockfalls near Durango

1/20/1936: 8 miners died when methane gas exploded in the Monarch No. 2 Coal Mine near Louisville, Colorado.

1/27/1942- 34 miners killed by gas explosion in Wadge Mine

5/5/1957- A woman was killed by a gas explosion

12/28/1965- 9 miners killed by gas explosion in Dutch Creek Mine, Pitkin County, Colorado

4/27/1970- 121 coal miners killed in a methane gas explosion.

Mid-1990’s – Amoco bought six homes near Bayfield that had been infiltrated by methane gas.

2005, Charles Yoakum’s trailer exploded because methane gas from abandoned wells leaked into his house. He spent six months in a local hospital recovering.

2/25/2005- A double-wide trailer exploded in Bondad, Colorado. An abandoned well, drilled in the 1920’s or 30’s and located about 250 from the home, is thought to have caused the gas leak that caused the house explosion. A 70-year old man in the home was severely burned.

5/5/2005- A methane gas explosion occurred at a building housing an ice cream factory in Walsenberg

7/12/2005: A gas leak occurred at EnCana’s Hamilton Creek facility in the west end of San Miguel County, Colorado. The leak caused a cloud of gas to form above ground. The COGCC did not issue any fines.

7/12/2005: A tanker truck rolled over on the Dry Hollow Road south of Silt, spilling hazardous-materials of an oil byproduct form gas drilling that took several days to clean up. Fumes filled the air and a yellow substance formed puddles along the Dry Hollow Road. The spill caused a 7-hour closure of the road covering a half-mile radius. The truck was carrying 189 barrels of condensates (a crude oil byproduct of natural-gas drilling) and produced water. Local residents were not notified of the accident by Encana.

7/21/2005: A Hydrovac truck, carrying unidentified substances from natural-gas drilling sites south of Silt, Colorado, turned over and spilled its contents.

11/22/2005: A natural gas well fire occurred southeast of Rifle, Colorado at a fracturing pit at a Bill Barrett Corp. well off County Road 315. The cloud of smoke from the fire was visible as far away as Silt.

11/23/2005: Hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas, has contaminated wells south of Redmesa in La Plata County, Colorado.

2/8/2006- A truck hauling 6,750 gallons of highly saline water produced from EnCana natural gas wells in Hunter Mesa turned over, spilling its contents into Mamm Creek. (Glenwood Spring Pst Independent, 2/8/2006).

2/26/2006: Natural-gas compressor station ignited, sending thick, black smoke into the air in southwest Weld County, near Fort Lupton, Colorado (Denver Post, 2/27/2006). About 50 people were evacuated from their homes.

5/10/2006- Fire burns at natural gas condensate tank and pit operated by EnCana south of Rifle. (Grand Junction Daily Sentinel).

June, 2007, a gas explosion blew the roof of a water well house near Walsenburg, CO. Of 37 water wells tested in a 14-mile radius, 11 contained significant amounts of methane. Only now has the COGCC mandated that the operator, Petroglyph Energy, must drill a monitoring well to collect data that should show where the methane is entering the aquifer. Next phase of the COGCC plan is to remove water from the aquifer and then return it to the aquifer. Currently, Petroglyph Energy has installed home methane monitors to 10 landowners in the area and is supplying water to seven of those whose water has been severely contaminated. Individual property owners in the River Ridge Ranch area are now in the process of suing Petroglyph Energy. (

11/28/2007: A cooling tower of a natural gas processing plant, as well as an office trailer, two warehouses, a control center, and a break room were completely destroyed by a gas explosion at Williams Ignacio plant near Durango in La Plata County, Colorado. Homes within a half mile radius were evacuated. (

12/10/2007: A tremendous gas explosion occureed SE of Purdy Mesa, Mesa County, Colorado due to Aspen Well Operating Company’s gas well drilling operations. Extremely loud gas venting emissions preceded and followed the explosion. The emissions, which occurred over a period of weeks, were accompanied by foul smell of oil and hydrogen sulfide.

In all, 89 people died working in the energy fields of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexcio, Montana, North Dakota, and Utah between 2000 and 2006 (

Does Gas Drilling Pollute and Waste Aquifers? YES

In the late 80’s in Durango, Colorado, children started lighting lemonade on fire. At local houses, tap water came out looking like milk fizzing with Alka-Seltzer. The cause was gas seeps caused by drilling into coal-beds for methane gas. Since then, a booming gas and oil industry has caused an exodus of people and wildlife from the affected areas. Gwen Lachelt, director of San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, stated: “This really is considered a national sacrifice area by lots of industry, because it’s rural, unpopulated and rich in resources.” The problem, then, as now, is that during the Depression era, the federal government split the property rights above the ground from mineral rights below the ground and seniority was given to owners of the mineral rights.

Residents near Durango, Colorado filed a class-action lawsuit on Feb. 11, 1993 against four oil companies (Amoco, Meridian, Southland Royalty Company and Phillips Petroleum) for reckless and deliberate disregard for the safety of local residents. The suit says the four oil companies ignored their tests, which showed that methane from their deep wells was polluting shallow aquifers.

Attorney Ed McCord says that Amoco diagrams show how drilling in coalbeds can allow methane to escape to the surface or into the groundwater. “County officials and many local residents suspect that the pumping may have changed underground water pressure across large areas, freeing gas to migrate through natural cracks and fissures and residential water wells. They also point to a 1989 internal BLM memo warning that while new coalbed gas wells me be sound, the drilling activity may be causing new leaks in the estimated 15,000 old and abandoned wells scattered across the basin.”

The Powder River Basin of Wyoming contains an estimated 7.8 to 1.3 trillion tons of coal and trillions of cubic feet of methane gas in the cracks and pores of the coalbeds. As of 2000, there were 7000 new methane gas wells in the basin. The gas industry wants to drill some 45,000 wells on federal, state and private land in the next 10 years. But, Tim Westby of High Country News notes “to get the gas, underground aquifers above the coal bed must be dewatered. At peak drilling, the BLM estimates that 66 million gallons of water per day could be pumped to the surface.”

Independent petroleum geologist Walter Mershat, of Casper, Wyoming calls this prospect of 15,000 wells “one of the biggest natural environmental disasters to hit Wyoming…. There’s a shortage of freshwater around the world, but here we are in drought-ridden Wyoming, throwing billions of gallons of water away just so the governor doesn’t have to think of another way to make money. (Although) We don’t have any idea what the hell’s happening underground…..once an underground reservoir (of water) is damaged, that’s it. Mother Nature can’t heal itself.”

Kenny Claybaugh, who ranches near Sheridan, Wyoming, is several miles from the nearest gas well. Even so, hisranch was floodedby a 45-well operation owned by Houston based, CMS. Republican state Senator Joshn Schiffer, witnessed he devastation at the Claybaugh Ranch and stated: There were three miles of river bottom with dead critters floating on it. What happens to rangeland with continual flooding- it sours. It’s a disastrous kind of thing, a mammoth problem.” (

Rebecca Claar, resident of the Red Rock subdivision outside of Gillette, stated: “I’ve lived in Wyoming for 40 years, and my husband is a native. I can’t believe we have such a ruthless industry in our midst that doesn’t give a damn about the water. There’s a lot the governor can do, but we won’t.”

Does Gas Drilling Affect Water Levels? YES

The Colorado Department of Natural Resrouces (CNR) and its contractor, S.S. Papadopulos and Associates, presented a draft of their report: “Coalbed Methane Stream Depletion Assessment Study-Raton Basin, Colorado. The Colorado side of the Raton Basin contains about 1,994 CBM wells, over half the total 3,909 CBM wells in the state.

Average annual rate of production of CBM gas in the Colorado portion of the Raton Basin is about 85 billion cubic feet/year. About 16,000 acre feet of groundwater is extracted annually in the same area. The study’s executive summary states: “there are concerns that the removal of water from aquifers that may be tributary to the surface stream system could be resulting in stream depletions that could impact water rights holders, the State of Colorado, and downstream users not in Colorado.” Tracy Dahl of North Fork Ranch states, “The industry doesn’t own the 560 billion hallons it’s pumping out (from the Colorado part of the Raton Basin) each year. The study concludes there are goingto be impacts to the water that the state owns. There’s also the potential for litigation from downstream states for the depleted water supply. Randy Woock, of the Raton Range, states: “The water taken from the coalbed is often injected back into the ground at a deep level, but can also be dissolved in evaporation pits. The frequently low quality of the water is an environmental concern, and landowners at the meeting voiced concern about it mixing with the tributary waters in the basin that are utilized by humans, crops, and livestock.”