A quite terrible update on pollution from stripper wells in Colorado (and what you can do about it)

In August last year, we shared video evidence of pollution occurring at oil and gas facilities in CO that produce only minimal amounts of oil and gas. Industry and regulators in Colorado call these operations “stripper wells.” At that time, we had only just begun to focus some of our field investigations into stripper and inactive well sites. What we have discovered since is that the more we investigated these facilities, the more pollution we seemed to find.

“the more we investigated these facilities, the more pollution we seemed to find.”

Since August 2021, we have conducted 105 investigations of oil and gas facilities in Colorado’s Front Range, northwestern Colorado, the North Fork Valley, and the Four Corners region in and around Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. These investigations resulted in us filing 27 complaints with the Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) based on our optical gas imaging (OGI) evidence of pollution. Those complaints contain documentation of pollution due to suspected leaks, malfunctions, negligence, and/or intentional violation of air pollution regulations. 

Seventeen (17) of our recent complaints were filed on oil and gas facilities that were either producing at minimal levels or were inactive. More specifically, our recent complaints regarding stripper and inactive wells  account for 13 of the 16 complaints we filed on pollution from storage tanks. 

Permitted to Pollute

Unfortunately, a number of these polluting tanks are allowed uncontrolled emissions and are not subject to regulatory enforcement. This is due in part to the low production levels of several of the facilities. In Colorado, oil & gas operators are allowed to pollute up to a certain amount without meeting a legal threshold to apply for an air permit. Operators are entrusted to calculate their own pollution estimates, and these estimates are not required to be based on direct measurements of emissions. It is what it seems to be: another potential loophole for chronic polluting oil and gas operators. 

Here are some examples of what uncontrolled emissions from tanks that are purportedly polluting below pollution thresholds look like:

K.P Kauffman Musick-McClintock Tank Battery in Weld County

 

Seeley Oil Company Cutthroat Battery in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument

Eight (8) of these 17 complaints were from facilities where we had filed complaints in the past and upon subsequent investigation found either the same pollution ongoing or new issues on the site. We highlighted some of these chronic polluters in our recent blog on chronic pollution. 

The Robert Bayless Dry Creek Federal 1-14 facility in Routt County is another one of these facilities and a prime example of just how polluting this industry is and how difficult it is to actually mitigate that pollution. 

This site had been ordered to cease production after we filmed a venting tank on the facility in June 2021 and filed a complaint with APCD and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). In November, we revisited the site while it was inactive. We did not observe any tank emissions, however, we did discover a significant leak from the wellhead even though the well was not producing.

Robert Bayless Dry Creek Federal 1-14 in Routt County 

So, to summarize

We’re finding that even wells with low production levels are a significant source of chronic pollution. We are also finding that wells even when shutdown and inactive continue to pose a harm to our health and climate.

What does all of this mean for Coloradans and our environment?  It is further damning proof of the pandora’s box of pollution Colorado lets open each and every time it grants a permit. It means Colorado must demand industry do a much better job of cleaning up their mess.

What can you do about it? 

Later this month, the COGCC begins the rulemaking process to revise Colorado’s bonding requirements for oil and gas facilities. The Commissioners must adopt rules that incentivize oil and gas operators to properly plug and abandon wells that are no longer productive. Sign up to speak here to tell our state government that the longer that poorly maintained, stripper wells are allowed to operate in Colorado the greater the harm to our health and climate will be. 

 

Contact Andrew Klooster with any more questions about getting your voice heard.