Hilcorp Energy Co. expects to begin fracking operations at a site in eastern El Paso County early next week.

Houston-based Hilcorp began drilling an exploratory well called Myers in late November. On Friday, the energy company notified the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that it would begin fracking next week.

“We intend to begin fracturing the well on Monday,” wrote Justin Furnace, corporate manager of external affairs for Hilcorp, in an e-mail to The Gazette. “Whether or not we start our operation on Monday, or sometime later in the week, will depend on a number of factors that could cause a delay, such as weather.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial process used to retrieve petroleum products. It forces a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well under high pressure to unlock oil and gas deposits trapped in tight rock formations.

Houston-based Hilcorp and a second energy company active locally, Ultra Resources, are targeting the Niobrara shale formation roughly a mile beneath the surface. Ultra Resources, also based in Houston, was the first to drill in the county and has three wells that are also east of Colorado Springs.

Hilcorp’s Myers well is northwest of Highway 94 and Peyton Highway. It has a second well about five miles south of the first. Hilcorp has not begun drilling there, said Diana May, the county’s liaison to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Ultra has completed exploratory drilling at its three El Paso County wells, May said; only one was fracked. Ultra has permits to drill a fourth well near Curtis Road and Highway 94, but isn’t expected to drill there until it receives the results of samples taken from the first three wells, May said.

Hilcorp’s planned start of fracking comes less than three weeks after a Dec. 21 freshwater spill at the Myers site. The spill involved two holding tanks with a total of 75,000 barrels, or about 3.15 million gallons, of fresh water. The lost water was expected to be mixed with sand and chemicals for use in the fracking process. The cause of the spill is still under investigation.

Fracking has been a source of debate in Colorado Springs and other communities in the state. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is set next week to consider proposed new regulations that would, among other things, make the state the only one to require sampling of water wells near drilling sites both before and after drilling to show whether drinking water aquifers have been tainted.

El Paso County commissioners reached an agreement with the commission last fall over regulations for water testing. The Colorado Springs City Council, meanwhile, has delayed a final decision on regulations governing fracking within the city limits until at least February.

Ultra Resources, which owns more than 18,000 acres of the Banning Lewis Ranch on the east side of the Springs, already has two state-issued permits for drilling wells within the city limits but has been awaiting final council action.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.