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Tractor trailers are seen hauling dirt from piles near a well site off County Road 20 1/2 on June 22, 2020. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
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Contaminated soil discovered at the site of a still-producing oil well northwest of Longmont’s Union Reservoir has been removed after the well’s owner, TOP Operating, found and reported the contamination after discovering in May that a water tank there had been leaking, city officials said last week.

Jane Turner, an environmental engineer who serves as Longmont city staff’s technical expert on air quality and oil and gas, said in a Wednesday email that “we have been informed by TOP Operating that all contaminated soil has been removed.”

Turner said TOP Operating Company’s contractors have begun back-filling the excavated area with clean soil and that once that back-filling is completed, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will require the installation of groundwater monitoring wells between the Stamp Well and Union Reservoir.

The city will continue to work with Terracon, an environmental consulting company, to provide oversight for Longmont of all that required monitoring, Turner said in the email to the Times-Call.

In previous emails and interviews, Turner summarized the information the city has on the remediation.

She said in a June 23 email that — based on her understanding of city staff’s conversations with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, environmental consultants and TOP Operating — TOP notified the state regulatory commission on May 14 of a release of fluids at the Stamp #31-2C Well.

Longmont Public Works and Natural Resources Department spokesperson Becky Schol said Friday that the produced water tank stores water that comes up the bore of a producing well along with the condensate, the oil product itself.

Oil and water are separated by production equipment. The oil goes to the storage tank, which was not leaking at Stamp, Schol said in a Friday email. The water then gets hauled off for treatment and disposal.

“Well operators reportedly noticed stained soils next to the produced water tank at the site, and a crack in the fiberglass tank was identified as the source,” Turner, who was not available for comment Friday, said in her June email.

In accordance with state regulations, TOP filed a “Form 19 Spill/Release Report” and a “Form 27 Initial Site Investigation and Remediation Work Plan” with the COGCC, Turner said, and Longmont also was notified.

Turner said under the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s direction, and working with Eagle Environmental Consulting, “a site investigation was undertaken to identify the extent of the leaking tank’s impacts.”

Turner said that ongoing investigation “resulted in extensive excavation and removal of contaminated soil from the site.”

She said that while it is the state agency’s jurisdiction to enforce oil and gas regulations, Longmont staff “have visited the site regularly during the remediation to monitor activities.”

The city also contracted with Terracon Environmental Consulting to provide third-party verification that clean-up standards are being met, Turner said.

She said COGCC requirements “mandate that testing and removal of contaminated soils will continue until no further evidence of contamination is detected above regulatory limits.”

Turner said in June that Longmont “is motivated to ensure that activities at the Stamp Well are in compliance with regulations, and that all contamination at the Stamp Well site is fully remediated. Accordingly, the city will continue to monitor the activities at the site and provide support for protection of the environment and the health of Longmont’s residents.”

It was unclear as of Friday how the soil was contaminated, how much of that contamination was attributable to the leaky water tank or to other sources at the well facility, how long it had been going on, and how much contaminated soil TOP has had to remove and replace.

“We don’t have reports at this time that note the amount of soil removed,” Schol said Friday.

As of late June, Turner said Longmont had received no additional information regarding additional sources of contamination.

Peter Heller, a Lakewood-based TOP Operating landman, told the Times-Call last month that it had to submit questions to his company’s press office’s email address, which has not responded to several Times-Call emails asking for information about the Stamp Well situation, including one on Friday.

TOP’s latest report to the state regulatory commission with data detailing the extent of soil and groundwater impacts at the site, which was due July 3, was not immediately available from the commission staff on Friday afternoon, but Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesperson Megan Castle said it probably would be available for public review next week.

In a June 29 email to Castle, which Castle shared with the Times-Call, John E. Axelson, an environmental supervisor in the agency, said that based on spill report and remediation information, TOP discovered a crack in the 100-barrel fiberglass partially buried produced water tank at the well battery.

The Stamp 31-2C Well is still listed as producing and would be the well producing to the battery, he said.

Axelson said that based on information a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservtion Commission inspector gathered during her inspection on May 19, TOP had the well shut in and removed the partially buried tank, so there was no ongoing release from the tank at that point in May.

“They had performed some excavation surrounding the tank and exposed what appeared to be hydrocarbon stained soil,” Axelson wrote Castle.

“It appears that reporting was done correctly and by rule they must determine the lateral and vertical extent of soil contamination as well as the extent of impacts to groundwater. They will excavate the contaminated dirt and set monitoring wells in an array around the battery to determine the extent of groundwater impacts. If there is groundwater contamination they will have to develop a plan to remediate it. All impacted dirt will need to be properly disposed and we will request documentation of the disposal,” Axelson said in that late June email to Castle.

The Stamp Well — which is occasionally reactivated to produce oil but not natural gas — is on city-owned property, and it eventually will be plugged and abandoned as part of an agreement Longmont City Council approved in May 2018 that officials said will end oil and gas drilling from the surfaces of properties within the city, as well as on city-owned properties east of Longmont.

Staff told Council earlier this year that under that agreement, TOP Operating can continue, for the time being, to occasionally draw oil from the Stamp Well in order to maintain that company’s lease of the mineral rights underneath the surface. Schol said Friday that the well was originally drilled in 1983.

Under that agreement, city staff told people attending a May 2018 Council forum, TOP Operating will eventually plug and abandon eight active wells, relinquish 11 future drilling sites, abandon 80 potential well permits, amend their lease holdings to include a no-surface-disturbance provision, and never again drill from within Longmont’s city limits.

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