Antero has an idea for ‘settlement’ |

Antero has an idea for ‘settlement’

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

A gas drilling company faced with resistance to its operational plans, both from neighbors and the Garfield County government, has suggested a “settlement” to the dispute.

But the settlement idea is not sitting well with some of those who live in the proposed drilling zone.

Antero Resources sent a letter to the county attorney’s office earlier this month, urging the county to drop two formal interventions concerning Antero’s plans to intensify its drilling operations in the Silt Mesa/Peach Valley area.

The settlement letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post Independent, was addressed to deputy county attorney Cassie Coleman, who is handling the intervention matters. It is to be discussed at the Jan. 3 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.

The county has initiated formal intervention proceedings concerning two recent Antero requests to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for permits to drill wells at a density of one well per 10 acres, a density known as “10-acre spacing.”

The settlement proposal, according to its introductory paragraph, refers to the earliest of the county’s recent intervention actions.

The existing allowed density in the area in question is one well per 40 acres. According to the COGCC rules, the 10-acre density would translate into 16 well pads over a 640-acre “section.”

Area residents have reacted with alarm to the request, over concerns that increased heavy-truck traffic might overwhelm narrow country roads and lanes, as well as fears that the air quality could be compromised by the fumes associated with the gas drilling operations.

Residents also are worried that the higher-density drilling operations might increase the chance that subterranean aquifers, which provide domestic water to many of the homes in the area, could be contaminated by wells that typically get as deep as 8,000 to 10,000 feet.

The industry has long held that such fears are not justified, pointing out that there is no hard evidence to back up claims of water contamination, and that government rules exist to minimize the other impacts of drilling operations.

In the settlement offer, the company’s letter cited a 2006 Community Development Plan (CDP) negotiated among Antero and the communities of Rifle, Silt and New Castle.

“The intent of [the CDP] was to provide a framework for future drilling activity in the area of Silt Mesa,” the document explained, adding that it contains a “guideline for the mitigation of impacts associated with a 10-acre density development program.”

The settlement, which is outlined in a letter from Antero vice president Kevin Kilstrom, calls for Antero to limit its well pads to “a maximum of four pads” in the 640-acre section identified in the application, “unless additional pads are approved pursuant to consultation with the COGCC and Garfield County.”

The company also would “agree to a minimum setback … of no less than 500 feet” between a well head and an occupied structure – a distance that already is required under the COGCC’s regulations, according to Fiona Lloyd, a member of the Rifle/Silt Mesa/Peach Valley/New Castle (RSPN) community organization.

The company also requests that the county “agree to use the approach outlined in this letter … with respect to other applications for spacing and well density in the Silt Mesa area,” which apparently would cover the second of the county’s intervention actions.

The letter also details the company’s belief that a Jan. 13 hearing on the 10-acre spacing requests is the wrong venue for the issue being raised, and that the proper venue would be a later hearing on the actual applications for permits to drill.

At the end of the letter, Kilstrom gave the county until Dec. 22 to agree, or the offer was to expire.

Because the Board of County Commissioners was not able to meet to discuss the matter prior to its expiration, the date of expiration is now Jan. 3, the date of the county board’s first meeting of the new year.

The settlement offer has not been well received by members of the RSPN, Lloyd said.

She maintained that Antero has “flagrantly ignored” the provisions of the 2006 CDP, and that the rule for the hearings on permits to drill “does not allow for cumulative impacts … which is why we’re [protesting] about the 10-acre well spacing.”

In addition, a check of the COGCC website shows that one of the wells in the area, the Fenno Ranch A Pad, is mentioned as a model for “conditions of approval” for future wells.

But the Fenno pad, Lloyd said, is not subject to any extra mitigation requirements, and is not listed as being part of a CDP, though it is in the area Antero maintains is covered by the 2006 CDP.

As for Antero’s suggestion that the county drop its intervention, and go along with the proposed four wells in the 640-acre section, Lloyd scoffed, “Can I point out that if we withdraw the intervention, they’ll get the 10-acre spacing,” which would permit 16 well pads in the section.

Taken as a whole, Lloyd said, the settlement amounts to “offering to do something the rules already say they must do,” such as the 500-foot setback from occupied structures.

“That’s not much of an offer, is it?” she continued. “This isn’t an offer. This is an insult to the intelligence of the Board of County Commissioners.”

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