IGNACIO – Daryl Adams takes a box of matches, walks over to the faucet in his Ignacio home and puts the flame to the stream of tap water, not knowing if, at any moment, the water will catch fire.
It doesn’t catch, which is only a momentary relief. The reason why he’s even taking a flame to his tap water for the morbid experiment has Adams concerned about his safety and health.
Over the summer, testing on Adams’ well water found that levels of methane drastically spiked, so much so that he was warned the methane could escape from the water and be potentially explosive in certain areas of his home.
Adams, whose house on County Road 314 is surrounded by at least eight wells within a 300-foot radius, has strong suspicions that oil and gas drilling has contaminated his groundwater.
“I’ve lived here 33 years, and I’ve never griped too much about the oil wells,” Adams said. “But this is very concerning. They told me it’s at explosive levels and you should consider getting out.”
BP American Production Co., which has several gas wells in the vicinity, said a third-party analysis of the sampling found that the gas in Adams’ water is not associated with the company’s operations.
BP’s third-party consultant said, “The cause for this increase is unknown but may be linked to changes in the property of regional and local groundwater circulation.”
According to BP’s spokesman Brett Clanton, BP first started collecting water samples from Adams’ water well in response to the drilling of a nearby oil and gas well.
The company took both pre- and post-drilling sampling: one in 2004 before the well was drilled and another in 2005 after it was completed. Subsequent samples were taken on four other occasions in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2014.
Over the past 13 years, methane has always appeared in Adams’ water at varied levels of about 2 milligrams per liter to 15 mg/L, according to a report from BP’s third-party consultant obtained by The Durango Herald.
On June 8, another sample was taken from Adams’ well before proposed work to a production well in the area. That testing showed methane levels jumped to 25 mg/L, nearly double the prior highest concentration.
Anthony Gorody, with BP’s third-party consultant Universal Geoscience Consulting Inc., on July 18 wrote to BP that “this change warrants the attention of the (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.)”
However, BP’s consultant determined that there wasn’t any link between the gas composition found in BP’s wells and that found in Adams’ well water, leaving Adams with few options.
COGCC can require an oil and gas operator to mitigate issues that arise as a result of drilling, but only if a direct connection can be drawn. In Adams’ case, the COGCC is relying on BP’s third-party conclusions.
Todd Hartman, spokesman for COGCC, said the agency conducted an engineering review of production wells in the vicinity of Adams’ domestic water well and found three wells that warrant further investigation.
“We are working with operators on this and will continue our in-house review,” Hartman said.
La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said she requested the COGCC expedite the remediation of Adams’ well.
“This situation is urgent as he has explosive levels of methane in his well,” she said.
Across La Plata County, residents regularly deal with methane in their well water.
Butch Knowlton, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, said different parts of the county have much higher levels of methane than others. Although the issue isn’t new, it is a cause for concern when levels sporadically jump.
“It’s difficult to say this is a problem and this is why it’s happening,” he said.
Indeed, it is difficult to determine conclusively what causes spikes in gas. And even when levels of methane do increase, it’s not always linked to oil and gas activities.
In many cases, methane can be trapped deep in underground formations and released through drilling or tapping into underground workings.
Methane is relatively easy to treat, said Chris Eckhardt, owner of Animas Well Drilling and H20 The Water Store. Eckhardt said he regularly installs methane mitigation systems for homeowners, however the cost can run anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000.
“It is something that can be taken care of,” he said. “But not everyone has that money lying around.”