Packed House Still Waiting for Answers after Community Meeting for Methane Leak Under Anthem Highlands Road

With an opening pledge to be more engaging and communicative with Broomfield residents about oil and gas concerns, City and County of Broomfield (CCOB) Manager Jennifer Hoffman faced a packed City Council Chambers this evening at a meeting that was just called three days earlier.  Impacted Anthem Highland residents and Thunder Vista parents had a lot of questions about a methane leak CCOB discovered during routine soil gas testing in Anthem Highlands in June.  This evidence was found under the surface of Graham Peak Way where Davis 43-6 well is plugged and abandoned. 

Testing is continuing as the source of the methane has not yet been determined, while methane levels have significantly declined in subsequent testing.  Many resident questions focused on why the public was not informed about this safety risk sooner and why Extraction drilling operations are not being halted until the source is determined, a question based on the possibility of a frac hit as in the 2017 Extraction Berthoud accident. 

In readings from June to August, the methane level went from elevated to negligible.  CCOB said they will be publishing that data tomorrow.  Important results from recent testing are due within two weeks which should help determine the source of the methane.  Early results based on chemical composition do not indicate that the source is a leaking well.  The Public Utilities Commission is pressure testing XCEL lines within the week to rule out those as the source.  If the well is found to be leaking, the well would become part of the COGCC orphan well program, a notoriously underfunded program.  Based on this well’s priority in the long list of orphaned wells from bankrupt operators, it is estimated that from the date that this well rises to the top of the long list that it would take about 2 -3 weeks to dig up Graham Peak Way and other infrastructure in order to daylight the well and bring in a workover rig.         

The COGCC reviews all plugged and abandoned wells within 1500 feet of horizontal wellbores before a permit is issued for a wellbore.  Extraction’s wellbores are farther away from Davis 43-6 than that requirement, but residents pointed out that the Extraction wellbore frac hit at Berthoud which spilled about 300 gallons of Extraction drilling mud through an old well was more than 3,200 feet away.  Twelve wells have been drilled from the Livingston Pad so far, and those wells spider north from Livingston for a short distance before going south for more than 2 miles.  In response to questions if Extraction operations could be halted by CCOB while this investigation takes place and during other reported health problems near their pads, CCOB Manager Hoffman said that the combination of Charter Amendment 301 and SB19-181 did give CCOB more power but that they needed more data to penetrate the Operator Agreement.  She pointedly stated that Extraction is not currently in breach of contract.       

The panel of experts assembled to answer questions included:

 -COGCC Acting Envrionmental Manager John Axelson

– Jack Denham of ERO, soil gas testing contractor hired by CCOB

– Chief Jeff Bybee of North Metro Fire

– Joe Molloy, Chief of Pipeline Safety at Public Utilities Commission

– CCOB Special Initiatives Director Tami Yellico

– CCOB Assistant Director of Special Initiatives Laura Davis  

There are 83 plugged and abandoned wells in Broomfield.  CCOB’s soil gas testing of 48 of these wells by contractor ERO began in May 2019, with 28 of them being tested so far and 20 of them not yet accessible because private landowners have not yet given permission.  CCOB Manager Jennifer Hoffman said that CCOB has made two mail attempts to contact the private landowners but would be following up with phone calls shortly.  The remainder of the wells need to be soil gas tested by Extraction under the terms of the Operator Agreement.  There was a common standard protocol developed for all of this testing. 

Only Davis 43-6 has had methane readings high enough to warrant further testing.  When ERO discovered this, CCOB notified the COGCC, XCEL to do leak testing, North Metro to test a nearby vacant building, Adams 12 Schools about nearby Thunder Vista, and developers Richmond and Newland three weeks ago to tell them that CCOB would be temporarily holding building permits.  Angelica Wineland of Adams 12 Schools said that Thunder Vista has its own gas monitors.  A resident in the audience pointed out to Richmond representatives quietly sitting in the audience that their sales staff said they knew nothing last week when asked about the methane testing.  CCOB’s response to resident’s questions as to why it took CCOB so long to inform nearby residents and Thunder Vista parents was that they were following the testing protocol.

There was a question why housing development was allowed so close to a plugged and abandoned well. CCOB municipal code states that there only has to be a 50×100 foot easement for a workover rig and a 200 foot notification zone.  A representative of developer Newland stated that the well is on the plat.  A resident stated she is having a depth of soil dug up around her house to put in micropoles to fix a moving foundation, causing her to have nightmares about what methane gas may be dug up.  CCOB Manager Jennifer Hoffman asked her to leave her contact information.   

Some next steps that residents can expect from CCOB:

  • North Metro will bring its testing to nearby homes starting tomorrow.
  • CCOB will investigate reimbursement or bulk volume purchase of gas home monitors for impacted residents by Oct. 15.
  • COGCC will hold a learning lab on its GIS maps for Broomfield residents.  These show coal mines and wells.
  • COGCC will investigate nearby shallow faults.
  • Updated CCOB maps will be posted online showing the housing which has been constructed around the well over the past two years. 
  • There will be a Meet and Greet with CCOB inspectors on Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 5 pm.
  • Better IOT sensors and live reporting data will be ready by November to enhance the $1.7 million Air Monitoring Program for the Extraction site, for which Extraction is only contributing $20,000 per year.    
  • CCOB is trying to hire an epidemiologist and toxicologist to provide intermediate steps, given current public health symptoms near the pads. 
  • CCOB Health and Human Services is preparing flyers to be distributed to residents on currently reported symptoms of residents living near the pads and how to report them to the correct agencies. 

This meeting was originally sparked by a question at the September 24 Council Meeting from Council Member Castriotta to Director of Special Initiatives Tami Yellico about a brief statement in the monthly Oil and Gas report section titled “Broomfield Soil and Gas Testing Program” that “one of the wells is being monitored due to higher methane levels.”  The earliest vague reference in an Oil and Gas report was from the July 8 Oil and Gas Update which stated, “Of the 16 wells that have been tested, several of them showed very low levels of methane and, upon retest, no longer had methane emissions. Two of the 16 are being monitored and will be retested.”  The first specific reference to the Davis 43-6 well was from Aug 25-31, stating, “During the performance of soil gas testing on the plugged and abandoned wells, one well sample for the Davis 43-6 well included a high soil (subsurface) methane level. A map showing the location of the well can be viewed here. It is worth noting the surrounding three plugged and abandoned wells showed no elevated readings…”    

The City’s video link was posted on October 1

The City posted a spreadsheet that contains all testing results through 9/30/19 from Broomfield’s Soil and Gas Testing Program

The City posted the PDF that was used at the event