Authorities: 1.8 million gallons of water leaked at drilling site

BOB STEPHENS Updated: December 21, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 21, 2012

A water spill estimated at 1.8 million gallons occurred this week at the Hilcorp oil and gas exploration site in rural El Paso County east of Colorado Springs, officials revealed Friday afternoon.

Two above-ground freshwater storage tanks failed “late Sunday or early Monday,” said senior assistant county attorney Diana May.

The water, which was to be used as part of the hydraulic fracturing process, contained no chemicals or salt, said May and Hilcorp spokesman Justin Furnace.

“The water was from a local groundwater source that we purchased in the area,” said Furnace, who declined to name where the water was bought. Colorado law stipulates freshwater for exploration purposes must be purchased from commercial wells.

The well was capped at the time of the spill and the drilling rig was not on location.
May said the water broke through the “muscle walls” of the storage tanks. She’s aware of that happening another time in Weld County.

“When water runs, it leaves indentions on the ground like a heavy rain will,” May said. “That’s what happened here.”

Representatives from Hilcorp, El Paso County and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission were working to determine why the containers leaked. Hilcorp promptly reported the spill, May said, and county inspector Dave Cox was at the site Monday. State inspectors visited the site to ensure compliance with regulations.

“These water containers are commonly used throughout Colorado by both the agricultural and energy industries,” said John McKnight, Hilcorp’s operations manager for the Rockies, in a press release Friday. “It is unfortunate that this incident took place.

“However, we are working closely with state inspectors and county officials to address any issues that may arise due to this release of freshwater.”

A county press release on Friday said it was likely that Hilcorp will be issued a notice of violation by the state for the equipment failure.

Hilcorp Energy Company and Ultra Resources, which is drilling two wells in eastern El Paso County, are targeting the Niobrara Shale formation roughly a mile beneath the surface. It’s a layer of tight, chalky rock that requires a technique called hydraulic fracturing to unlock the oil trapped within.

Freshwater is used in the fracturing process, which Hilcorp planned to start soon, Furnace said. He didn’t know how much the water spill would delay the procedure.
Hilcorp Energy Co. is based in Houston.

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