Impacted Resident Testimony

When Plugged Wells Fail

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Laurie A headshotWhen I moved to Colorado a few years back, I was unaware of the oil and gas issues that we would be facing in our master-planned, residential community known as Anthem located in Broomfield. It was the large-scale fracking that was proposed near my home that first captured my attention. However, that was just the tip of the iceberg as soon after I learned about the historical problems lurking underground. With great concern, I helped educate and organize residents in my community through grassroots efforts.

One issue of concern was the well integrity of existing plugged and abandoned oil and gas wells. Well integrity refers to the prevention of leaks or explosions at oil and gas wells. We were specifically concerned about the possibility of well to well interference. We raised concerns about an event similar to the incident which became known as the Berthoud “Bubble Up” where it is presumed that drilling about 3000 ft away caused a failure resulting in methane leaking and migrating into the soil. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change and is highly flammable. Residents had a concern that a similar event as the Berthoud “bubble up” could happen in Broomfield.This concern resulted in Broomfield initiating a soil testing program to sample the many plugged and abandoned wells in Broomfield.

One of the soil gas measurements taken showed elevated levels of methane in a new housing development and near our kids’ newly-built K-8 school.”

One of the soil gas measurements taken showed elevated levels of methane in a new housing development and near our kids’ newly-built K-8 school. After ruling out other possible leaks such as a break in a natural gas distribution line or other sources, it was determined that excavation of the area above the Davis 43-6 well would be necessary to determine the cause of the leak. This included removing a section of the newly paved Graham’s Peak Way. Homes had already been built just a few hundred feet away, and the closest occupied home was just 500 feet away. Building permits were halted and methane readings were taken in nearby basements.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) took the Davis 43-6 well into its abandoned well program since the original operator had gone bankrupt, and this well was prioritized for repairs above a backlog of hundreds of other orphaned wells. The repair consisted of drilling down about 2500 feet, repairing the well, and then replugging the well. Following these repairs, subsurface methane pockets remained and have not dissipated. This new housing development remains on hold while the COGCC determines the next steps to dissipate the methane. This is certainly not what I had envisioned when I moved into this community.

Although awareness has increased over the past couple of years, many residents continue to purchase homes without a full understanding of the location of old oil and gas wells, or that these wells can, and do, fail over time. Thankfully, Colorado is moving forward with increased protections focused on finding leaking existing wells and repairing them while ensuring new oil and gas development is kept a safe distance from homes and communities. It is important to remember that after the above ground infrastructure is removed, the underground wells remain forever.
Laurie A.
Colorado Field Organizer, Moms Clean Air Force
Broomfield, CO