970-382-6686 P.O. Box 3833 | Durango, CO 81302


The Energy Council is a nonprofit trade organization that promotes safe and responsible oil and natural gas development in La Plata County. Individual and company members work to build community relations, increase public understanding, and address public issues relative to the industry. Contact us today to learn more.

About Natural Gas:

Natural gas is one of the most powerful and versatile energy sources. More than half of the homes in the United States are heated with natural gas. A large percentage of Americans also use natural gas to cook their food and heat their water. Most people don’t know that natural gas is a raw material used to produce petrochemicals, plastics, paints, power industrial furnaces for manufacturing a wide variety of other products. In the last decade natural gas has become the fuel of choice for the new generation of electric power plants.

Fast Facts

The three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—accounted for most of the nation’s energy production in 2016:

  • Natural gas—33%
  • Petroleum (crude oil and natural gas plant liquids)—28%
  • Coal—17%
  • Renewable energy—12%
  • Nuclear electric power—10%
  • More than one-half of the homes in the United States use natural gas as their primary heating fuel.
  • More than 62 million homes use natural gas to fuel stoves, furnaces, water heaters, clothes dryers and other household appliances.
  • Natural gas is an essential raw material for many common products, such as plastics, fertilizers, paints, antifreeze, dyes, photographic film, medicines and explosives.
  • Natural gas is composed of four hydrogen atoms and one carbon atom (CH4 or methane). Colorless and odorless in its natural state, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel.
  • Natural gas provides approximately 39 percent of our electric power. Gas turbine and steam generating plants use natural gas. A combined-cycle system is the most efficient.
  • Propane, a popular fuel for backyard barbecue grills, is a byproduct of natural gas and in many rural areas in southern Colorado it is their primary heating fuel.
  • La Plata County produces the most natural gas in the State of Colorado, with the least amount of wells.
  • Colorado ranks 5th in the nation for natural gas production.

About Carbon Dioxide/CO2:

In Dolores and Montezuma Counties, it is a different basin and for the most part a completely different product is produced.  The Paradox Basin is located Southwestern Colorado and has traditionally produced conventional oil and gas production. The Ute Dome and Barker Dome in Montezuma and Dolores Counties has produced natural gas and substantial carbon dioxide/CO2.  The primary reservoirs for oil and natural gas production are in the Pennsylvanian Desert Creek and Ismay Formations, however, several years ago, exploration was attempted in the Gothic Shale.

The McElmo Dome Unit, one of the largest deposits of nearly pure carbon dioxide/ CO2 is the miracle molecule, used for refrigeration, fire extinguishers, safe food transportation and carbonation of drinks.  Montezuma and Dolores County operators are number one in CO2 production in the entire State of Colorado and the largest transporter of CO2 in North America.   The CO2 extracted from the McElmo Dome Unit is compressed and transported across New Mexico, Texas and Utah have provided secondary recovery for oil wells that can no longer efficiently recover the oil in place.

Production Overview:

The San Juan Basin is approximately 270 miles wide, north to south; its five counties together contain over four million acres of land; it contains three climatic zones — mountains, deserts and mesas. The Basin covers over 6,700 square miles and is the second largest natural gas reserve in the United States.

Archuleta and La Plata County, are two of the counties within the San Juan Basin with primary production of natural gas in three different geological formations, the Fruitland Coal, Mesa Verde, and Dakota.  Depths in the middle of basin are between 2,500 (Fruitland coal) to 7,800 (Dakota).   Because the San Juan Basin is so rich in natural gas deposits, production in the Fruitland Coal and Mesa Verde formations in both Archuleta and La Plata Counties will be active for many decades to come. In May of 2007 there were 2,788 active wells in La Plata County. In May of 2012 there were 3,335 active wells.  In May of 2017 there were 3,319 active wells.  Some wells are being plugged and abandoned.  Active well counts vary by county.  In December 2017 there were 55,059 active wells in the Stata of Colorado, with the majority of the wells (34,000) in Weld and Garfield Counties.  Also in December of 2017 there are 36,981 Plugged and Abandoned wells.

CountyActive Well Count as of December 2017% of the State’s Total Active Wells Plugged and Abandoned Wells % of the State’s Total Plugged and Abandoned Wells
La Plata 3,3406.07%6071.64%
Montezuma 1650.30%7592.05%

In 2002, United States Geological Survey estimated a mean of 50.6 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas in the San Juan Basin. In general, natural gas development in La Plata County and Archuleta County will continue for several decades. As new technologies evolve, development in other formations like the Mancos Shale will begin.

Conventional vs. Coalbed Gas Wells:

There are two types of natural gas wells in La Plata County and Archuleta County, conventional and coalbed. Conventional gas wells are typically deeper (3,500 – 10,000 feet) and extract gas and oil from sandstone formations such as the Mesa Verde, Mancos Shale and Dakota. Coalbed gas wells generally range from 1,000 to 4,000 feet deep and extract gas from coal-bearing formations. The Fruitland formation is Archuleta and La Plata County’s methane-rich coalbed formation.

Conventional wells initially produce large volumes of gas and very little water. Over time gas production declines and water increases. Coalbed wells are just the opposite, producing large quantities of water and low gas quantities at the beginning and, later, the water production declines and gas production increases.

Pump jacks at well sites are used to pump water and sometimes oil — not gas. On a conventional gas well a pump jack is not necessary at the beginning, but may be added later to remove the increasing amounts of water. On a coalbed well, a pump jack is typically needed during the first few years and can be removed as the amount of water declines.

Conventional and coalbed methane gas wells are significantly deeper than domestic water wells. Natural gas wells are separated from the surrounding surface formations by “casings” discussed below. Geologic studies show that beds of nearly impermeable shale separate deep and shallow aquifers and retard vertical water movement.

Well Duration

All wells vary in the duration of natural gas production. Depending on a number of factors, wells can produce from a few years to 40 or 50 years. As advances in natural gas production continue, well duration may change based on how technology affects recovery.

During the productive life of a well operators are responsible for various types of maintenance associated with the well as stipulated in the lease or other legal documents and/or required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). These address issues such as weed control, safety, fencing associated with the well site, pipelines and roads. Wells are also required to be pressure tested so that potential leaks can be avoided. COGCC requires environmental protections during and after production and conduct thousands of inspection on wells sites and associated facilities every year.

Well Life Cycle


In today’s natural gas, oil or CO2 industries, the first step in the life cycle of a well begins with government regulations. Each formation currently accessible to natural gas extraction is spaced by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). This means that the COGCC has determined how many wells per section will adequately drain the resource (A section consists of 640 acres). The Fruitland formation in both La Plata County and Archuleta is generally spaced at one well per 160 acres, with certain areas of the county spaced at 80 acres. The Pictured Cliffs and Mesa Verde formations in La Plata County are spaced at one well per 320 acres and the Dakota formation is spaced at 640 acres. In the Red Mesa field, oil wells in the Dakota formation are spaced at approximately one well per 40 acres. For more information about specific spacing in formations in a certain location, you can review Orders for counties on the COGCC website.

The diagram above shows how a 640-acre section is divided for 160-acre spacing. To assure correlative rights, an operator must produce gas from the “drilling window” thousands of feet below the surface. At the surface, the drilling window is a starting point from which operators seek to locate a well site.

The potential producer must acquire the right to develop the natural gas reserve. Typically, a natural gas operating company (operator) acquires a lease for mineral rights by entering into a contractual agreement with the mineral owner. The mineral owner receives royalties from any production that may result.

In some cases, a small-percentage mineral owner may object to granting a lease, thereby stopping natural gas development in a spaced area. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has rules that enable development to move forward though a process known as “forced pooling.” A forced-pooled mineral owner also receives royalties.

The operator or producer can sever the formations and assign certain formations to another operator to develop.

Siting and Consultation

The next step is geologic and seismic studies to locate the best possible underground source of natural gas, either in sandstone or coal formations. After the studies are completed, companies typically select an optimal site. Then well location and right-of-way easements for road access are negotiated with the surface owners. During this phase companies work closely with surface owners to locate the well site within the regulated spacing window. Operators strive to minimize the surface use and are using existing roads and infrastructure where possible and feasible. A window determines the underground area within a spaced unit where a well may be drilled and is specified by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Sometimes a gas well may be located outside the window when special circumstances arise such as above ground geography or a special landowner request — typically agriculture-related.

The COGCC requires operators to ask for a consultation with other agencies and with the surface owner for well locations, access roads, wildlife and interim reclamation. Operators typically negotiate a surface agreement regarding the “reasonable use” of the surface during drilling, production and reclamation of the well site. In practice, companies generally pay surface owners for limited land use despite the fact that the law permits reasonable access and use without compensation. If a surface agreement cannot be successfully negotiated, COGCC rules allow companies to post a surface bond with the state. A bond is intended to protect surface owners from “unreasonable crop losses or land damage from the use of the premises” — not for perceived economic loss associated with mineral owner access.


Drilling a gas well is a highly orchestrated event usually done by drilling contractors. Drilling contractors are rigorously trained to work efficiently and safely. Drilling rigs and crews are expensive and brought on the site for immediate action. Because of the safety, technical concerns and expense, drilling rigs operate 24 hours a day until the drilling is completed. For example, if drilling is stopped, the drilled hole can cave in and potentially cause multiple safety and environmental problems. Once drilling is completed, the rig and crew move to another location.

Anywhere from one to three acres are needed for the drilling pad; however, pads can be much larger if directional drilling is employed for the shale formations. The well pad is prepared for a variety of heavy equipment needed during the drilling operation. After drilling is completed and interim reclamation is complete, the well pad is reduced to between 1/2 and 1-1/2 acres.

The drilling process requires the power of multiple diesel engines. Actual drilling time can be anywhere from 3 to 10 days — more for directionally drilled or deeper zone wells. State noise regulations allow for short-term construction noise within prescribed safety limits. Sound diminishes with distance, but precautions are taken for workers in close proximity to sound sources. Nearby residents are notified in advance of drilling activity.

Typically, well drilling to casing goes like this — a 12-1/4″ diameter hole is drilled to a minimum of 200 feet and to maximum depth 50 feet below the deepest registered domestic water well in the area. Depth to groundwater is determined by using depth recordings from nearby well permit applications on file with the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Surface casing is put into this hole. Surface casing is 1/2″ thick steel pipe with an outside diameter of 8-5/8″. Cement is poured between the hole, and the steel casing and is approximately 2″ thick all the way up to the surface. Cement is allowed to dry, then the 7-7/8″ production hole is drilled 200 feet below the target formation also known as the completion zone. Production casing is then put into the hole. Production casing is 3/8″ steel pipe with an outside diameter of 5-1/2″. Again, cement is poured between the hole the steel casing measuring about 1″ thick all the way up to the surface.

Cement seals off formations to prevent fluids from migrating. For example, cement protects fresh water in one formation from methane gas in another. Cement also protects the steel casing from the corrosive effects of other formation fluids. Casings are checked for integrity before the well construction process continues. In some deeper natural gas wells, intermediate casing is needed because some formations are encountered that contain abnormal pressures and/or conditions.

In the completion zone, the production casing is perforated so that natural gas or other products can flow into the production tubing. Production tubing is set in place after the completion process and is 1/4″ steel tubing with an outside diameter of 2-7/8″ running from the bottom of the hole to the surface.

At the bottom of the hole, 40 feet of cement is poured with a plastic plug on top to complete the sealed well bore.

In comparison domestic water wells are required to be cased with only 0.188″ steel pipe, or 0.2″ plastic pipe, or 3″ cement, with a minimum 4-1/2″ outside diameter.

Gas wells are separated from the surrounding surface formations by 4-1/8″ of steel pipe and cement that make up a well’s casing. Casing is designed, among other things, to isolate gas wells from any nearby domestic water wells. This diagram is not to scale and has been dramatically shortened.


Completion not only refers to the target formation, “the completion zone,” but is also a term used to describe well construction activity after the drilling and casing is finished. To complete a well, the permeability of the completion zone must be enhanced so that gas can flow out of the sandstone or coalbed in which it is trapped. To enhance permeability hydraulic fracture stimulation (commonly referred to as “fracing” — pronounced frak-ing) may be conducted.

Fracing is done by pumping a mixture of sand and water down to the base of the well and back out again. The gritty water permeates the underground formation enabling the gas to flow from the cracks and holes created. Fracing is generally done once but may be repeated several times before gas flows are sufficient. Fracing uses the power of multiple diesel engines and can take from 30 minutes to several hours. It should also be noted that fracing is not performed on CO2 wells and may not be needed on certain horizontally drilled wells.

Interim Reclamation

After a well is drilled, all areas which were disturbed by the drilling operations, and which are not needed for production operations, are to be reclaimed as close to their original condition as possible.

The interim reclamation is required by several Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Rules. Operators revegetate the landscape, re-contour, soil till, reseed, and conduct weed and soil erosion prevention. Sometimes interim restoration and revegetation is negotiated in the surface agreement with the landowner.


After completion, pipeline construction connects the well to the natural gas, oil or CO2 transportation system. The product is transported through a system of pipelines to a processing plant. It goes through a series of separation and purification procedures to make it ready for consumer use. There are several plants in southern Colorado depending on the products and constituencies. (See Processing section for more information). Along with natural gas, water also is produced from a well.

Water is separated from the gas at the well site. Water is transported off the well site in one of two ways, by pipeline or by truck. A pipeline system transports the produced water to an injection well. Injection wells are drilled into deep formations, often below 10,000 feet. The EPA has regulations for injection wells, which are overseen by the COGCC. These regulations are specifically designed to prevent contamination of underground sources of drinking water.


Natural gas, oil and CO2 is transported in pipelines. The amount of gas, oil or CO2 that can be transported in a pipeline depends upon how much the products are compressed. The more the gas or other product is compressed, the greater the volume of gas or other products that can be transported through the pipeline. Uncompressed gas or other product is displaced by compressed products or gas, essentially stopping the flow of uncompressed gas or other products to the processing plant.

Compression can either take place right at the well site as it enters the pipelines system, or it can be transported by pipeline to a compression facility, where it is compressed and then transported to a processing plant. On-site compression is done with small electric or gas-powered compressors. A compression facility contains large electric or gas-powered compressors and is surrounded by a sound absorbing structure. The type of compression used by companies depends upon economic factors and well location concerns — if a well is too remote, it is more difficult to tie the well into a compression facility. Some companies try to cluster well sites so that a centrally located compression facility can serve the needs of many wells, thus reducing the noise associated with compression.


During the life of a well, it may need additional work to improve performance; this is called a workover. Other workover activities will result in temporary rig activity on the well pad.


Recompletion is a way of reusing an existing well to gather more natural gas or other products from either the same formation or different formations. Recompletion means changing or adding completion zones (target formations) through one of the following ways: 1) Recompletion to the same zone but to the side of the original hole, 2) Recompletion to a different zone or 3) Recompletion to multiple zones from one well. Recompletions require rig activity that lasts for several days.

Temporary Shut-in

Sometimes the price of natural gas or other products is so low that the cost to produce and process it is higher than the production revenue and creates an economic situation where a well is temporarily shut-in. The well may later be put back into production. This temporary shut-in is regulated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for safety and reporting purposes.

Plugging and Abandonment

After all the recoverable natural gas, oil or CO2 has been drained at a well site, the well is plugged and abandoned. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) has rules that specify how the well is plugged, soil reclaimed and other environmental and safety protections.

Some wells were plugged and abandoned prior to the COGCC’s rules. The state has a special fund supported by natural gas severance taxes for the plugging and abandonment of “orphaned” wells in the state. An orphaned well is a well for which an owner or operator cannot be found or is unwilling or unable to plug and abandon the well. In these instances, required bond and fund money paid by industry is used by the COGCC to plug an orphaned well.

Processing Plants

Safety and environmental protection are top priorities at local processing plants. Safety training, regular safety meetings, emergency drills, coordination with local fire departments and emergency personnel are all part of normal operations. Plants must also meet strict federal safety and environmental standards and comply with state and local regulations.

At these plants, raw gas, oil or CO2 is processed to remove undesirable components such as water and separated into distinct products such as methane, ethane, butane, propane and others. One plant in La Plata County supplies the majority of propane used in a 150-mile radius.

The processed natural gas, oil or CO2 travels through other pipelines to commercial markets around the United States.

Regulatory Body for oil, gas and CO2

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulates the oil, CO2 and gas drilling and production industry in Colorado. Depending on the location of the minerals, other regulatory bodies regulate surface and downhole development such as the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and local governments. Primarily in Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma and Dolores Counties it is the COGCC.

The mission of the COGCC is to promote the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources. Responsible development balances efficient exploration and production of oil and gas with the prevention of waste, protection of mineral owner’s rights, and protection of public health, safety and welfare, and the environment including wildlife.

The COGCC issues permits for the drilling and operation of oil and gas wells, and enforces rules and regulations for the spacing of wells, well bore construction, and well site reclamation. Rules are also enforced for the abandonment of wells and for the treatment and disposal of oil and gas exploration and production waste. COGCC rules implement the statutory charge to prevent significant environmental impacts to air, water, soil, or biological resources caused by oil and gas operations.

To read the COGCC Rules or to review the index or Rules or any specific series of Rules please visit:

COGCC Rules (Note: this will take you to an external page.)

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission board is made up of Commissioners appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Monthly public hearings are held in Denver and twice a year outside of Denver in locations with oil and gas activity around the state. Commissioner requirements are set by statute in the Oil and Gas Conservation Act.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is staffed with field inspectors, engineers, and environmental protection specialists who are responsible for reviewing permit applications and other technical information, and for inspecting oil and gas wells for compliance with COGCC regulations. These staff members also respond to complaints about oil and gas well sites by surface owners and local governments. In addition to the main Denver office, the COGCC inspectors and field engineers are located throughout the state including Durango.

Contacting the staff by area or department on the COGCC –

COGCC Staff Maps (Note: this will take you to an external page.)

Southern Ute Department of Energy

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Department of Energy oversees the development of tribal energy resources on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. There is more information about the responsible development of these assets at: Southern Ute Department of Energy (Note: this will take you to an external page.)

Hydraulic Fracturing

There are often questions about oil, or natural gas development and the purpose of hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing is a technology used to stimulate the flow of oil and gas from new and existing oil and gas wells by pumping water, sand and small amounts of chemicals under pressure into geological formations that would otherwise not be able to produce the oil and or gas they contain. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracing” as it is commonly known is a proven safe procedure that has been used millions of times in the last 60 years across the country, including Archuleta, Montezuma, Dolores and La Plata Counties.

For specific information regarding chemicals used and water used on individual natural gas or oil wells by county use the following link: Frac Focus. (Note this will take you to an external page.)

Many rigorous studies have been conducted by respected respected authorities, and they have all concluded that hydraulic fracturing is safe.

Water Use in Oil, Natural Gas and CO2 Production

Water is used in the drilling and completion phases of natural gas exploration and production. During drilling, water is used to cool the drill bit and provide a mechanism to bring drill cuttings to the surface. Water is also used for hydraulic fracturing. Operators can procure water supplies from various sources but must adhere to state water law when obtaining and using water.

FracFocus is the hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website, used in Colorado, where you can search for information about the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells and water used in hydraulic fracturing. CO2 production does not require hydraulic fracturing and technology development has limited the need to hydraulic fracture certain coalbed methane wells in Archuleta or La Plata County.

According to FracFocus, the data by county for the average water used for a typical hydraulic fracturing operation per well, although this amount can vary.

Putting the use into perspective in the State of Colorado:

  • In Colorado, hydraulic fracturing accounts for about 1/10 of 1% of Colorado’s annual water use.
  • The amount of water used for hydraulic fracturing in Colorado is roughly comparable to the amount of water used in Colorado for snowmaking.
  • During the summer months, an average golf course uses 100,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water per week to maintain the turf grass.

Water Well Testing

In April of 2000 field wide spacing was approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).   Special considerations in the Order 112-156 and 112-157 provide for water well testing.  The water well testing criteria is specific as to the location of coalbed methane wells. The Order requires testing of water wells near the new or proposed coalbed methane wells before they are drilled and after completion operations, which include hydraulic fracturing.Additional tests are also performed at three-year intervals. This robust database contains over 3,500 individual data sets from over 1,300 water wells. Among other things, the constituents analyzed identify whether hydraulic fracturing of nearby coalbed methane wells would have impacted underground sources of drinking water. If no significant changes from the baseline have been identified after the third test (the six-year test), no further testing shall be required. Additional “post completion” test(s) may be required if changes in water quality are identified during follow-up testing. The Director may require further water well sampling at any time in response to complaints from water well owners.Copies of all test results described above shall be provided to the COGCC, La Plata County or Archuleta County and the landowner where the water quality testing well is located within three (3) months of collecting the samples used for the test. See COGCC Rules 609 for more information on the State water well testing programs.

Water Right Applications

Pursuant to Colorado water law and a recent ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court concerning water production from coalbed methane natural gas wells, many operators filed water right applications with the Division 7 Water Court in Durango, CO to confirm the right to produce water from existing and proposed wells in the San Juan Basin and operators have applied for and received water well permits for coalbed methane natural gas wells, and have also obtained approval of Substitute Water Supply Plans (described below).Plans for Augmentation and Substitute Water Supply PlansA plan for augmentation is a water court-approved plan that allows an out-of-priority diversion of water (such as well pumping), while ensuring that a replacement water supply is provided to the stream system in the times, location and amounts necessary to prevent injury to vested senior water rights. Replacement water supplies may include leased or purchased reservoir storage, direct flow water rights, nontributary ground water, or other sources such as transbasin water supplies and recharge projects. Replacement water must be of sufficient quality and quantity to meet the requirements for which the senior water right normally been used. Plans for augmentation are generally permanent in duration.Substitute Water Supply Plans (SWSP’s) are temporary plans, similar to augmentation plans, that are approved administratively by the State Engineer. SWSP’s are approved for periods of not more than one year, and must be renewed annually. Often, a water user will obtain approval of a SWSP while an application for approval of a permanent augmentation plan is pending in Water Court.In the San Juan Basin, operators have filed applications in the Division 7 Water Court for approval of plans for augmentation to replace out-of-priority depletions associated with coalbed methane wells that withdraw tributary ground water. These operators have also obtained approval of SWSPs to provide for replacement of depletions while the water court applications are pending.

Air Quality

In October 2004 Public Law 108–336 in the 108th Congress was passed that provided for the implementation of air quality programs developed in accordance with an Intergovernmental Agreement between the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the State of Colorado concerning Air Quality Control on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, and for other purposes. The purpose of the Public Law is to provide for the implementation and enforcement of air quality control programs under the Clean Air Act.Residents can access real time information on air quality conditions within the Reservation, with a color rating system to help people understand when air quality can be harmful to their health.Tribe Real Time Air Quality Monitoring (Note: this will take you to an external page.)Further, the lands North of the Ute Line or north of U.S. Highway 160 is regulated by the State of Colorado Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)Residents can access real time information using this website with a color rating system.State Real Time Air Quality Monitoring (Note: this will take you to an external page.)Methane StudyIn August of 2016 a study was released on methane emissions in the Four Corners region by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The study was narrow in scope and Energy Council members expected a more comprehensive analysis.NASA initiated its study after satellite images captured from 2003-2009 visually depicted the region with methane levels about 50 parts per billion (ppb), or 3 percent, above common background levels of approximately 1,800 ppb. NASA’s study estimated methane levels from well sites in New Mexico and Colorado. Certain operational events, such as scheduled maintenance downtime, are temporary and can skew results. For example, one gas plant was measured five times, with one outlier measurement that occurred during a scheduled maintenance event. In other cases, emissions were found on a tank, but without an operational understanding of the equipment purposes. Some tanks are designed to vent natural gas, for safety purposes, for example.It has been known by the states and tribes in the Four Corners that natural methane seeps occur throughout the area from the Fruitland Formation outcrop. Also, the topography of the area traps air and causes methane to build up over time, whether from human or natural sources.Oil and natural gas production has taken place in the Four Corners’ San Juan Basin since the 1940s. In the northwestern New Mexico portion, there are nearly 20,000 active natural gas wells and just under 2,000 oil wells. About 140 operators produced 646 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas in 2015. In the southwestern Colorado portion, there are approximately 3,400 active wells, about two-thirds of which are coalbed methane (CBM) and one-third conventional natural gas wells. About 34 operators produced 337 Bcf of natural gas in 2015.Other studies underway concluded in September 2017 that satellite images captured from 2003-2009 are representative of emissions gathered in the April 2015 airplane measurements and also those reported to the EPA by industry. Interestingly gas production does not correlate with the leakage found, since gas production from both coalbed methane and conventional natural gas wells have declined. The other conclusions:

  • The majority of the emissions are coming from New Mexico. It should be recognized that most pumping engines used in New Mexico are run on natural gas, while most pumping engines used in Colorado are electrified.
  • The airplane real time measurements did not go south of Bloomfield, NM where oil production is extracted.
  • Four Corners is not the only “hot spot” in the nation.
  • Methane is a naturally occurring element in the air we breathe, and does not represent a direct health risk in the Four Corners region.

There is a built-in economic incentive for producers to minimize emissions and capture as much methane as possible, since it’s the very product they sell.Coal OutcropMethane enter the atmosphere through natural seeps and crevices when the surface of the Fruitland Coal formation is exposed to the surface of the earth. Outcrops occur around the San Juan Basin. Think of it as a bowl with the edges on the surface of the earth and the bowl being where production of natural gas or oil occurs. These are not fugitive emissions, and differ from production equipment or man-made conditions.The COGCC contracted with the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS) to create a geologic map along 23 miles of Fruitland Formation outcrop to depict detailed exposures of coal east of the La Plata/Archuleta County lines. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission established the 3M (Mapping, Monitoring, and Modeling) Project in April of 2000 to develop a more comprehensive understanding of outcrop seepage. In 2007, the COGCC expanded this to include a fourth M – Mitigation.An example of the emissions from monitoring seven seepage areas North of the Ute Line is as follows as directed by the COGCC:

The natural seeps along the Southern Ute Indian Reservation is approximately 18 miles and extend from the Colorado/New Mexico state line north to the Ute line. For now, this is proprietary data but it can be assumed that there are large volumes of natural gas emitted from this contiguous formation.

Contact Information

The Energy Council
P.O. Box 3833
Durango, CO 81302

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