Bruce Bertram monitors oil, gas development

By Annette Brand


Bruce Bertram monitors oil, gas development | Commissioners,

Bruce Bertram

Often a person will serve quietly in a critical role, protecting public property and residents' interests, with little awareness of that role.

Such a situation exists with Bruce Bertram's service as local government designee (LGD). Bertram was appointed in June 2002 to the newly established office by the Delta County Board of County Commissioners.

It was a tumultuous time for Delta County and other counties as the oil and gas industry discovered its desired product lay in large quantities under Colorado soil.

Prior to 2002 Delta County had only sporadic, unproductive oil and gas activity.

Early in 2002 an oil and gas company presented to Delta County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) an application for permit to drill that started with five to six exploration wells on a large block of leases it had acquired. The plan also included a pipeline gathering system and additional wells on federal lands.

The county had specific development regulations covering new business and industrial activity in the county but it had no specific oil and gas regulations. While the BOCC proceeded processing the company's application under the county's then-current specific development regulations, the commissioners visited other counties to educate themselves, hosted public hearings, commissioned water studies and kept track of the suits and countersuits filed by interested parties.

The commissioners realized that if oil and gas activity was headed to Delta County, the county needed to be in communication with the state regulatory agency, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

In its appointment of Bruce Bertram as local government designee, the BOCC chose someone who had knowledge of COGCC and 23 years of oil and gas experience. Bertram provided the expertise for on-site inspection of oil and gas operations and was equipped to assure compliance with local regulations and COGCC regulations.

Bertram represents Delta County to the COGCC and is the local contact through which COGCC communicates with the county.

"For the first three or four months I was acting like an interpreter of oil and gas language for the BOCC and the public in public meetings," Bertram said.

"There are completely different definitions for some words. For example, 'dry hole' is not a hole without water in oil and gas parlance. The hole may be full of water and contain some hydrocarbons, but if the hole is incapable of producing economic oil or gas, it is considered dry."

The specific operating agreements the county has with the oil and gas companies guarantee Bertram access to the operations at any time.

"During those busier oil and gas activity years, I inspected a lot of on-the-ground oil and gas drilling and production operations. There were rules in place to cover most of the issues in operations that required continuous monitoring, with enforcement if needed," Bertram said.

The COGCC did not have enough inspectors, but Bertram's experience helped solve that problem for Delta County.

"I watched what the company was doing on the ground," Bertram said.

"I looked at the location to determine whether it was clean and functional. Were there spills, or dangerous situations?

"This includes general oil and gas operations in the county, pipelines that are placed in the county, the large volume of wastewater facilities -- whether evaporative or injection."

As LGD he was listened to when he brought situations to the attention of the COGCC inspector, who would get someone out to the site to check out the concern as soon as possible.

"That situation didn't happen often, but there were some instances," Bertram said.

"The oil and gas operators we have had in Delta County have been very compliant."

Bradenhead testing of the integrity of casing and cementing in downhole operations was not part of the COGCC's earlier regulations. Delta County was successful in having that requirement put in all drilling applications in Delta County.

Bertram explained that if there is a flaw and the casing leaks, the entire operation can be compromised. Bradenhead fixtures on the wellhead provide a means to test the downhole integrity of casings.

Bertram said, "Implementation of the fracking procedure and horizontal drilling caused alarm on many fronts. I gave PowerPoint presentations to various groups throughout the area, helping people understand the processes."

Bertram was on site for all drilling and fracking operations in Delta County, including some in the western part of Gunnison County within the Muddy area drainage of the North Fork River.

He states, "The different BOCCs have never wavered in protecting the public, and with no fanfare."

Delta County has always given great attention to the handling of chemicals in their concentrated form, used in any drilling operation, particularly their safe transport through towns and over rough roads to their intended location.

"In 2002 when BOCC decided to have the government designee do inspections, they put in the regulations two sets of responsibilities -- ensure the operations on the ground are being carried out correctly through adequate inspections, and the public's interests and concerns are being addressed."

Bertram reflects on changes over the past 10 years.

"There has been such a change in technology in the past 10 years. Keeping up with the changes is interesting and challenging. Automation, with increased use of computers, has enhanced the current state of physical well drilling and communication. Real-time operations information can be transmitted from the site to a home or company office. People sitting at their desks in Denver can monitor what is going on in the field in Delta County.

"Computers can detect when something may go wrong and can shut down the operation as readily or faster than operators.

"Human intelligence working with computer intelligence and quickness makes a remarkable combination," Bertram says.

He also noted that anyone building a new subdivision or buying property should scrutinize the history of the land to determine ownership of water, irrigation and oil and gas rights to prevent any potential ownership conflict.

"Such conflicts of ownership between surface and subsurface rights are now at the forefront in many communities," Bertram cautioned.