Antero Resources, a gas drilling company struggling with Silt Mesa residents over drilling plans for the area, announced Monday that, for now, it is backing off on its plans for intensified drilling permits.
Still, at a meeting on Monday, the Garfield County commissioners for the second time declined to withdraw two formal, quasi-judicial interventions concerning Antero Resources' plan to obtain intensified drilling rights in the Silt Mesa area.
The commissioners voted 3-0 to wait a week before again considering Antero's request to drop the interventions, in order to see what comes from a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Coal Ridge High School.
"We need to do something, and pretty soon," declared Commissioner Mike Samson at Monday's commissioners' meeting.
Antero has requested state permits to increase downhole spacing to one well per 10 acres over roughly 1,000 acres of land in the vicinity of Silt Mesa and Peach Valley, an increase from the present one well per 40 acres. The company would use directional drilling to sink multiple wells from each well pad to reduce the surface disturbances of drilling.
Antero's requests, and Garfield County's intervention in those requests, currently are scheduled for a hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on April 4 and 5 in Denver.
The county's intervention came at the request of a contingent of Silt Mesa residents, who are worried that the intensified drilling might lead to contamination of air or water quality, among other objections.
At Monday's meeting, however, the company announced that it is willing to modify its application to the state and, at least for now, pull back on its plans.
Antero vice president Kevin Kilstrom, who has held meetings with community representatives at the direction of the county commissioners, said the agreement to step back from the 10-acre spacing request is part of a settlement proposal aimed at convincing the commissioners to end their intervention.
Kilstrom said Antero is still evaluating the data gathered from four test wells drilled in the area and that the company would not be able to begin full drilling activities for months, or perhaps a year. A fifth test well is still planned.
Other settlement concessions, as they are termed in a letter from Antero to the commissioners, include limiting the number of well pads to four per 160 acres, and what Kilstrom termed making "a real commitment" to a setback of 500 feet between a well head and any occupied buildings.
Silt Mesa resident Fiona Lloyd questioned Kilstrom about a contradiction between the company's offer to pull back from the 10-acre spacing, and what the COGCC approvals would allow.
She said the COGCC approvals could be interpreted to permit Antero to line up its well pads close to each other, in effect allowing very dense drilling patterns.
"The 10-acre well density is off the table," Kilstrom insisted, but he conceded, "I think Fiona's correct" in her interpretation.
So, he added, Antero will agree to "stipulate away from that," and to categorically agree to building only four well pads per quarter section.
Although the company would like Garfield County to simply withdraw its interventions, one Silt Mesa resident suggested the interventions should remain active as a way of keeping Antero talking with the residents.
"I think it should be held in abeyance for at least a year," Bob Elderkin told the commissioners, "just to keep it out there as a hammer to try to get everybody out there to work out an agreement."
Commissioner John Martin, in response, told Elderkin, "I think we're up against a time line. ... I think that there is a due-process issue there," meaning that Antero has the right to have the matter settled soon by the COGCC.
In the end, rather than make a decision either way, the commissioners voted unanimously to take the matter up again on Feb. 14.
The idea is for a decision to be made either that day or on Feb. 22, the commissioners' last meeting in February.