Citizen group crafts oil and gas plan
What could be a landmark plan for natural-gas development between Rifle and New Castle is taking shape this summer.The Rifle/Silt/New Castle Community Development Project began this spring when residents of those areas realized it was only a matter of time until drill rigs loomed over their neighborhoods.”I’m not aware of any other communities that have done this,” said co-organizer Peggy Utesch, of New Castle. “We’re flying by the seat of our pants with this.”To create a plan for gas development that communities and industry could live with, the planners began talking with Antero Resources, which has bought leases in the area.”We’re looking for a real positive way to work with industry to get our needs met and get their needs met,” Utesch said.The idea of the plan is to enlist industry cooperation in working with neighborhoods and communities, not just individual land and mineral owners.”Typically industry will go in and say they want to put a (well) pad on (one) property and not go to anyone else. We’re encouraging industry to talk to everyone in a general area, to get neighbors working together so they can negotiate what’s best for the neighborhood,” she said.Now, with a draft plan in hand, the group hopes to finalize its agreement with Antero this summer. The next step will be to take the plan public.”We’ve got a pretty good draft document,” that the group hopes to present to a meeting of area residents on Aug. 26, she said. At that point, with agreement on the concepts outlined in the plan from Antero, they will hold a series of public meetings for further refinement.Central to the plan is clustered development that would concentrate drilling on pads spaced from 640 to 160 acres apart. Clustering would minimize construction of roads, pipelines and other accouterments of drilling and thereby lessen impacts.”We just want them to use as large a space as possible,” Utesch said. “We know it’s technically possible to drill a well on one square mile (640 acres). I think the thing we need to recognize, the bottom line is, we want industry to work with neighborhoods.”But the plan also recognizes that different people or even neighborhoods may prefer closer well spacing.For its part, Antero has agreed in principal with much of the plan.”I’ve worked with them continually over last several months,” said Antero vice president of production Terry Dobkins. “It’s been done with my input all the way through.”Although he agreed that 640-acre spacing could be used in some places, “there’s always a caveat,” he said, that one landowner might want one thing and another something else.The plan can lay out the best drilling practices and guidelines for spacing, he added.Dobkins said Antero tries to use 640-acre spacing in neighborhoods when it can. “I think the industry as a whole has been moving there for some time. We’re trying to do it particularly when we get around houses. The concept of clustering is not new.”However, given one well pad in one square mile, and with current technology, that would mean 64 or 32 wells per pad with either 10 or 20-acre down hole spacing, he said. Such a pad could cover between two and three acres. If a compressor station was added, which pressurizes the gas so it can flow in a pipeline, that would add another two or three acres.With such spacing “the issue becomes, when you’re dealing with populated areas, if you can find that much acreage that’s out of the way,” he added. “Sometimes there’s less impact with more small pads. You don’t know that until you’re on the ground working with the owners.”Utesch praised Antero for working with the group to come up with workable solutions.”We’re asking them to do business in a new way. It will take some discussion for us to all be on the same page. Antero has been very cooperative. We’re very encouraged.”The group has also recently begun talking with another gas operator, Galaxy, which intends to drill in the Rifle to New Castle area.”They seem very interested in working with us,” Utesch said.Also included in the community development plan are best management practices for natural-gas drilling. If agreed upon, the plan would require operators to place pipelines alongside or in existing roads, pipe water to wells rather than trucking it in, and install equipment to reduce toxic emissions, reduce noise and light. Companies would also have to site drilling rigs at least 500 feet from the nearest homes.Water-quality testing would be required on nearby domestic water wells, and hydraulic fracturing would use only water-based fluids, not hydrocarbon-based chemicals.”Antero has not agreed to all those things,” Utesch said. “But most of what’s there they’ve agreed to. Nothing is finalized yet. The frac’ing we’re going back and forth on. It’s been a kind of point of contention with us.”The plan also proposes royalties for gas extraction be shared with surface owners, to compensate them for impacts to their land.”A person who has impacts needs to receive compensation,” Dobkins said. “So people who don’t have impacts on the surface (such as mineral owners) should be willing to give up some of their royalties to give to surface owners.”Once the community meetings have taken place, Utesch said the plan will be presented to the municipal governments in Rifle, Silt and New Castle for their blessing.”Our hope is if we negotiate an agreement with industry, there wouldn’t be any reason the municipal governments wouldn’t say yes. Why wouldn’t they?”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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