Fracking Fine for PDC Energy

Monday, June 24, 2013 @ 01:06 PM gHale

A company whose oil well north of Windsor, CO, sprayed out 84,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing flowback water in February volunteered to pay a larger fine.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) could have fined PDC Energy around $9,000, but company officials said it was the “appropriate thing to do” to go beyond that. So they will pay a $35,000 fine instead.

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A mechanical failure led to the fluid spraying from one of PDC’s well sites north of Windsor in February. Soil and groundwater testing indicated little to no contamination.

In entering into an administrative order by consent, PDC Energy also agreed to arrange for classes in Weld County on how emergency workers can respond to oil and gas well situations.

Commission director Matt Lepore said at a commission meeting Monday the company’s response is exemplary.

“This points out that our statutory authority is outdated, and that’s not a surprise to anyone — including the operators,” Lepore said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses water, sand and trace amounts of chemicals to crack underground rock formations and allow oil and gas reserves to flow to the well. The fluid released in the PDC incident ended up captured by a berm and didn’t leave the wellpad.

“But nonetheless, you had an event that resulted in a very large amount of produced water escaping from the well and that’s not the standard that we accept,” Lepore said he told the company. “We’re trying to set very high standards for operators and we’re going to propose a penalty that exceeds our statutory authority.”

PDC agreed to pay a $35,000 fine and also promised the commission it would arrange and pay for three training classes in Weld County, titled “Effective Strategies & Tactics for Municipal Responders.”

“We believe that PDC personnel handled this incident safely and professionally and that the regulators recognize this effort,” Adell Heneghan, PDC’s vice president for environment, health and safety, in a statement.

“PDC Energy understands that the community expects and deserves accountability from oil and gas operators in regard to the enforcement of environmental regulations. In this case, we decided that providing additional training for local first responders and paying a fine was the appropriate thing to do,” Heneghan said.

Colorado’s laws governing fines on oil and gas companies have not seen an update since 1955.

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