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A family's water well was contaminated after hydraulic fracturing near their home

By Laura Amos

My husband Larry, our daughter Lauren and I live south of Silt in the heart of what we call Encana's Industrial Wasteland.

We were among the first in our area to have natural gas drilling on our property.We are among the unfortunate who do not own the mineral rights under our property.

No protection

The “Good Faith Negotiations” required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission addressed none of our concerns.

Encana sent to our home a nice old gentleman who sat at our kitchen table and told us more or less,

I feel for you, but you own the surface, we own the minerals, and we're coming in to drill. Here's the Surface Use Agreement, you can sign it, but you don't have to. If you sign it you get a check for $3000. If you don't sign you get no financial reimbursement for any damages that may occur.

We hesitated to sign for a couple of weeks until we learned that what he was telling us was accurate – the law provided us no protection, no mediation, and no real power to negotiate.

Contaminated drinking water

In May 2001 while fracturing four wells on our neighbors' property (less than 1000' from our house on what's known as the G33 pad), the gas well operator “blew up” our water well. Fracturing created or opened a hydrogeological connection between our water well and the gas well, sending the cap of our water well flying and blowing our water into the air like a geyser at Yellowstone.

Immediately our water turned gray, had a horrible smell, and bubbled like 7-Up.

Water production dropped drastically from 15 gallons per minute to nothing or near nothing.

Tests of our water showed 14 milligrams (mg) per liter of methane. That's almost as much methane that water will hold at our elevation. But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) claimed that the methane was “transient” in nature. We were assured that methane is safe, that in fact our bodies produce it naturally, and that there are no known health effects.

We were warned, however, to make sure there were no closets or pockets in our home where the gas could build up and explode. They tested the water in our well a couple more times that summer, ending in August 2001.

Health problems

In the spring of 2003 I became very ill. I spent months in doctors' offices and hospitals. I was eventually diagnosed with Primary Hyper Aldosteronism, a very rare condition of a tumor in my adrenal gland. None of my doctors had any idea of how I could have acquired such a rare disease.The tumor and my adrenal gland had to be removed. As a result, I am concerned that my immune system is now compromised, as well as the other endocrine related systems that are linked with the adrenal glands.

For more than two years my husband and I felt more or less abandoned by the COGCC. We resolved nothing. In January 2004 I had had enough and decided to become better informed and make others aware of my predicament. I started my 1st letter-writing campaign. The gas commission came back, tested again, and again found 14 mg of methane per liter in our water. They determined that it was Williams Fork Formation gas, a Notice of Alleged Violation was issued to Encana, but no fine was administered by the COGCC.

An explanation: 2-BE

In August 2004 I came across a memo written to the US Forest Service and BLM Regional offices in Delta County, describing the health hazard posed by a chemical used in fluids that are injected underground to enhance the release of methane.

Dr. Theo Colborn of Paonia, Colorado submitted the memo in response to decisions that were being made in Delta County by the government officials to allow gas exploration and development on the Grand Mesa. Colborn is the President of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc (TEDX) and for over 10 years directed the World Wildlife Fund's Wildlife and Contaminants Program. She has been honored worldwide for her focus on the effects of synthetic chemicals on human and wildlife health.

The focus of Colborn's memo was on a chemical called 2-BE, used in fracturing fluids.

I took the following information from Colborn's report:

  • 2-BE is a highly soluble, colorless liquid with a very faint, ether like odor.
  • At the concentration to be used in Delta county 2-BE might not be detectable through odor or taste.
  • 2-BE has a low volatility, vaporizes slowly when mixed with water and remains well dissolved throughout the water column.
  • It mobilizes in soil and can easily leach into groundwater.
  • It could remain entrapped underground for years.
  • It is readily absorbed by the skin and can easily be inhaled as it off-gasses in the home.

Colborn cited the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Profile that listed the following effects of 2-BE:

  • kidney damage,
  • kidney failure,
  • toxicity to the spleen, the bones in the spinal column and bone marrow,
  • liver cancer,
  • anemia,
  • female fertility reduction,
  • embryo mortality,
  • and the biggie that got my attention – elevated numbers of combined malignant and non-malignant tumors of the adrenal gland.

Of course that sent up a huge red flag! I have had no peace of mind ever since.

Remember that from August 2001 until January 2004 no testing was done on our water. Our daughter was only 6 months old when fracturing blew up our water well. I bathed her in that water every day. I also continued breast-feeding her for 18 more months until she was 2 years old – during the time the tumor was developing in my adrenal gland. If there was a chemical in my body causing my tumor, she was exposed to it as well. She was in contact with the chemical through every possible exposure pathway.

Encana uses 2-BE, and creates one mad mother

After reading Colborn's memo, I tried to find out if Encana used 2-BE in fracturing.

Encana's spokesman, Walt Lowrey, assured several of our neighbors, and my husband and me that 2-BE was NOT used. In addition, Lowrey told many reporters in western Colorado, Denver and the Associated Press that 2-BE was not used on the pad, or anywhere in this area.

However, on January 31, 2005, I learned that the industry had not been telling the truth to all of us.

In June 2001, five weeks after the operator and the COGCC knew that there was a connection between the gas well and my water well, they proceeded to fracture wells on the G33 pad again. It was reportedly an experimental fracture, a new idea to fracture into the Wasatch formation, the same formation that our water comes from. They fractured 2000 feet below the surface, and they DID use 2-BE. Encana is now delivering us alternative water for use in our home, but we are concerned that our well water may never be safe again.

I am ONE MAD MOTHER who intends to continue to challenge the system that allows average citizens to be ignored and trampled on, without consideration for their health, their children's health, and life-long investments. I am ONE MAD MOTHER who believes it is the role of government to protect the average citizen.

COGCC fails

I believe that I should have the support and concern of the COGCC, but that is far from the case. Instead, it is obvious that the COGCC is continuing to be more concerned with corporate interests. In fact, the director of the COGCC told a CBS News Bureau Chief in Washington D.C. that I am crazy, and that my exposure to 2-BE may have come from Windex!

Surface owners need some protection and some power in dealing with huge corporations who care only about profit. I am not the only person who believes her health has been compromised because of gas development in Garfield County. There are many others out there who feel that they have been violated. Giving surface owners some legal rights to protect themselves and their property is critical in order to prevent more situations like mine.

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