Washington County Wants More Gas Insurance

May 13, 2009

A company drilling for natural gas near Bickleton, Wash., lacks adequate insurance against groundwater contamination, Klickitat County officials say.

County planners say Delta Petroleum of Denver has not shown proof of $20 million in insurance for the well, one of 49 conditions in a county permit.

Brian Macke, the company’s regulatory compliance manager, says Delta has access to $98 million in insurance for accidental pollution at any of its wells nationwide, and he maintained that requiring $20 million insurance for a single is well unusual.

Drillers safeguard against contamination by inserting metal casings that extends below the aquifer and surrounding them with concrete, Macke said.

The gas well is the first in the southcentral Washington county, and officials want to avoid contamination of the groundwater. Their concern was heightened in September when the company switched from water-based mud to oil-based mud, which is pumped into the well and used to carry cuttings to the surface.

“That was our biggest concern,” County Commissioner Dave Sauter told the Yakima Herald-Republic. “Oil-based mud is essentially diesel.”

The state Department of Natural Resources says the company met the requirements for a state permit, including posting a $1.2 million blanket bond against all its wells in the state. That bond ensures the company will plug and abandon wells properly once they’re done but does not deal with groundwater.

The state permit also has no insurance requirements about groundwater, and the county has the right to impose its own requirements, said Dave Norman, state oil and gas supervisor.

Delta is permitted to drill more than 15,000 feet deep in Bickleton. The company said it is close to finishing the well and plans to obtain a permit for another one nearby.

Last summer, a flash fire at the exploratory well in Bickleton sent four workers to the hospital with injuries. The men worked for companies contracted by Delta to aid in drilling.

Delta is partnering with Canadian company Husky Energy in the exploratory drilling. The two companies hold 844,000 acres of lease holdings in the Columbia Basin.

They have five drilled but inactive wells in Washington. Three are still open, including two in Grant County and one in Yakima County.

Topics Washington Energy Oil Gas

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