State finds issue at Extraction drill site near Erie, notifies health dept. for 'air quality matter'

COGCC says issue is resolved

WELD COUNTY, Colo. — Candice Spicer says what she saw coming from Extraction's Coyote Trail drill site near Erie on Friday made her stop and document it with her cell phone.

"I saw a lot of black smoke, which we know is not good so I decided to take a quick little video of it," Spicer explained.

The same day, Erie Town Trustee and known activist Christiaan van Woudenberg said he watched as Earthworks, a non-profit environmental group, captured infrared video at the same site. It shows a plume of black smoke wafting from the well pad Friday morning.

"People noticed from up to a mile away a visible plume of smoke," said van Woudenberg. "We're very much concerned about protecting the air quality that we and our children breathe."

It happened at an Extraction Oil and Gas drill site near Arapahoe Road (state Route 7), just outside Erie, a thousand feet from homes in the Vista Ridge neighborhood.

Van Woudenberg said what the video uncovered prompted him to call state regulators with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

"What we saw qualitatively was greater than any other site I had seen in my time with Earthworks," he said.

In response, COGCC sent Denver7 the following statement:

"The operator, Extraction, was doing some maintenance work on a location in preparation to bring some newly drilled wells into production. This video from Earthworks was shot during that time (late morning Friday).

Our inspector did visit the site that day, and did note an issue with an emission control device and notified the operator. He also notified CDPHE, as it's an air quality matter.

At this time, COGCC believes the venting is no longer occurring; an inspector will likely stop by the location again to take some additional footage and verify.

Contextually, it should be noted, that these venting episodes do happen occasionally when operators are adjusting equipment in preparation for new wells to begin production. The rules do allow some leeway for venting during maintenance/equipment adjustment activities.

In this case, we believe the nearest residence is more than 1,000 feet away."

For Spicer, she said that's the whole problem and believes the state has a responsibility to make sure her kids are safe.

"It is a huge health and safety concern. I have two young girls," she said. "It shouldn't be me as a nearby homeowner or bystander going to the grocery store catching that. I think it should be our state."

Denver7 reached out to Extraction Oil and Gas as soon as it received a copy of the video. Brian Cain, a spokesperson for the company, said Earthworks' video is misleading:

As is often the case when dealing with extremist groups, this one seems to be misrepresenting the facts. We believe the infrared footage in question shows a heat signature from combustors working as designed. These are not VOCs or other emissions as is alleged by these groups. It is our understanding that this site has been inspected by the relevant regulators and that there was no issuance of any violation. 

Additionally, as this facility is in its startup phase, our onsite technicians are constantly watching and adjusting the facility to optimize its equipment. Our trained infrared camera technicians inspected this site fours separate times earlier in the week and the site was and remains in compliance.  

This discrepancy shows the importance of properly trained infrared inspection technicians who are knowledgeable of the processes and regulations in oil and gas.

"We are disappointed Extraction's response failed to address community concerns about the pollution documented coming from their Coyote Trails site for at least several hours on Friday, August 24. COGCC explained there was a pollution episode on site, and Extraction stated that they are permitted to vent. Yet Extraction denied any volatile organic compound pollution. This simply doesn't make sense, and doesn't provide the information and transparency that residents and Earthworks seek," said Nathalie Eddy with Earthworks in an email to Denver7 following Extraction's statement.

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