Citizens let it all out at gas forum |

Citizens let it all out at gas forum

RIFLE – Angry Grass Mesa landowners packed a public forum Thursday, complaining about devalued property, ruined scenery, noise and foul odors from natural gas drilling in western Garfield County.

The standing-room-only crowd of landowners, gas industry workers and government representatives packed Rifle City Hall for the quarterly Northwest Colorado Oil and Gas Forum. Topics included well permitting, drilling activities, and new rules affecting local government input on oil and gas well permits.

Garfield County Commissioner Larry McCown, co-host of the forum with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission deputy director Brian Macke, said the meeting drew three times as many people as other Oil and Gas Forums held in Rifle in the past.

People expressed concern about oil and gas companies taking water from local homeowners and landowners.

That led to a discussion regarding the difference between fresh water – surface water and river water – and produced water – water drilling companies draw from water tables thousands of feet underground.

“It’s not potable water,” said Steve Soychak, the district manager for Williams Production in Parachute. “It’s unusable to the general public.”

Discussion of water quality and use led to a bigger discussion of the frustrations landowners feel about gas and oil drilling.

“I’ve got a well less than a mile from my front door,” said Grass Mesa landowner John Terry. “I’ve got another one less than a half-mile, and another less than 1,900 feet from my front door. I just got my property appraised and it’s not worth s–t, excuse my language.

“I’ve invested more than $400,000 in my land, and it’s no good. I’ve got livestock up there, and you’re impacting my horses. You’ve encircled me with this. You don’t live up there. What’s your obligation to the community?” Terry asked.

Other landowners expressed frustration about drilling and truck noise and the unsightliness of drilling operations.

Macke asked the landowners if they knew who owned the mineral rights before buying their property. One landowner said he was aware, but said Realtors and developers encouraged him to believe there was no way gas drilling would take place nearby.

Soychak briefed the audience on Williams’ proposed well production on 11,000 acres north of the Colorado River between Rulison and Parachute. Williams wants to use directional drilling to double the downhole density of wells, using pads that are already planned or in place. The 10-acre spacing proposal, which is sought for 11,000 acres of private land north of the Colorado River, would mean an additional 554 new wells drilled over five to 10 years.

Soychak told the audience he estimates the new wells combined with existing wells would bring an additional $124 million in tax revenues to Garfield County over the next 20 years.

“We’re currently the largest taxpayer in the county,” he said. Williams’ Garfield County tax bill was $1.8 million for 2002.

Williams must first receive approval for the 10-acre spacing from COGCC. A hearing is set for April.

Macke also provided an update on regional oil and gas activity. Statewide, 2,006 permits were approved in 2002, and 290 permits have been approved so far in 2003.

Macke said the state agency approved 353 well permits in Garfield County in 2001 and 362 in 2002. So far in 2003, the oil and gas commission has granted 86 permits.

Weld County, long the state’s most intensely drilled county, continued with the highest number of permits: 702 in 2001, 760 in 2003, and so far, 107 in 2003.

Macke said northwest Colorado, which he identified as the Grand Valley area, Rifle, Rulison, Mesa County, Piceance Creek, and portions of Moffat County, accounts for 28 percent of all gas drilling permits in the state.

Tom Davis, a geophysics professor at Colorado School of Mines, discussed a seismic project he wants to implement this fall on Williams’ land to lessen the impacts of drilling.

The forum also included discussion of complaints of compressor noise, new permit processing guidelines, and a briefing by Rick Ryan of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Colorado state office.

The next forum meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 12 at Rifle City Hall.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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