Citing concerns about everything from air pollution to road impacts and potential harm to wildlife and water, Pitkin County is urging vigilant monitoring if drilling takes place in the Thompson Divide area within its borders.
The county submitted comments Friday to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in response to SG Interests' recent permit application to drill a new gas well in Thompson Divide, in an area west of Carbondale where the prospect of new drilling has triggered a heated local campaign to extinguish gas leases and prohibit future gas and oil development.
The permit application is one of two the Houston-based company filed last month; the other was for a well in Garfield County, near the Pitkin County line. More are anticipated. The county, in its comments, contends that eventual SG development in the 28,824-acre Lake Ridge Unit in Thompson Divide could number roughly 180 well pads and, with four wells per pad, 720 wells. It draws that conclusion based on SG's plans for a different unit, containing about 146 proposed wells on 36 pads in a 19,645-acre area.
"Assuming a very conservative estimate of 600 truck trips per well, the traffic impacts alone from this apparent development scenario would have a transformative impact on the Thompson Divide and affected communities," the county's comment letter reads.
The county has asked that the state commission require a visit to the site of the first proposed well, between North and Middle Thompson creeks west of Highway 133, once the snow has melted, and accept additional comments after the visit, before making any decision.
The remoteness of the site is of concern on various fronts, the county noted. Emergency response to accidents, for example, might be too late to prevent mishaps from seriously contaminating vulnerable surface waters.
"In remote areas like the Thompson Divide, it can be very difficult to have assurances that permit conditions are in fact being implemented faithfully, and that resources are not damaged," the letter states.
The county describes the importance of Thompson Divide to the area watershed and makes a number of recommendations related to analyzing the potential for groundwater contamination. It also lists conditions it wants the state to require related to groundwater protection, including long-term monitoring.
"Thompson Creek, including North, Middle, and South branches, is a pristine watershed with usable groundwater, good stream health, and the most favorable conditions for aquatic life in the broader area," the letter says.
The county also called for long-term air/ozone monitoring and a plan to curtail development as necessary to protect air quality.
"The importance of maintaining good visibility in Pitkin County cannot be overstated. People do not travel long distances to come here and view mountains shrouded in haze," the letter states. "They come here for the crisp, breathtaking views for which Colorado is famous."
The letter also addresses the county's concerns about potential impacts on wildlife, noting that Colorado Parks and Wildlife described Thompson Divide as the "elk factory" of the area.
The county said it shares the concerns raised by other jurisdictions, namely Glenwood Springs and Garfield County, regarding the route SG would use to access the wells, including Four Mile Road past Sunlight Mountain Resort.
"Until the access issue is resolved, it will not be possible to accurately understand other impacts flowing from SG's proposals on water, wildlife and other values," the letter states. "This only emphasizes the need to first have a site visit after the snow melts to address access and other resource issues."
The county comments were due with the state commission on Friday, but county commissioners will host a community meeting regarding Thompson Divide on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Carbondale Town Hall. The meeting is a chance to bring all sides on the drilling issue together to educate, and hear from, the public, according to the county.