Deal allows Williams to keep drilling while applying for permits |

Deal allows Williams to keep drilling while applying for permits

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

One of Garfield County’s biggest gas exploration companies this week won easy confirmation of a plan to keep relations on an even keel between the company and the county.

Williams, the gas company, has for 19 years been drilling for natural gas, and pumping it, from inside the boundaries of the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development near Parachute, without the proper permits.

Now, thanks to a deal ratified by the county commissioners, Williams is preparing to apply for those permits, thereby avoiding a potential legal wrangle with the county. As the agreement was being discussed, the commissioners were faced with the prospect of holding a “takings” hearing, in which the company would demand compensation for loss of the value of its holdings as a result of government actions.

The PUD, which is a type of development review that allows Garfield County and the developers some latitude in how a project is designed and built, was first approved in the 1970s to provide housing for Exxon’s workers in the oil shale boom of that era.

When the oil shale boom went bust in the early 1980s, Exxon ultimately sold Battlement Mesa, which has grown into an unincorporated community largely inhabited by retirees.

But a little-heralded provision in the PUD approvals, which required a special use permit for anyone hoping to drill for oil or gas within the boundaries, went along with the sale and was all but forgotten – until recently.

In 1999, Williams cut a deal with the Battlement Mesa management to begin drilling for gas inside the PUD, but for some reason was not required to apply for a special use permit. But earlier this year, when the Antero Resources company announced plans to drill up to 200 wells inside the PUD, the special use permit provision was uncovered, as was the fact that both Williams and Antero must comply with that provision.

Both the company and the county have agreed that the regulatory oversight was unintentional all around, and the company is being allowed to go ahead with plans to drill multiple wells and pump gas from far beneath the surface, while an application for the required special use permits is prepared and submitted.

Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, however, was not present at the meeting in August when the agreement was reached between Williams and the county. And on Sept. 8 she called for further discussion of the agreement, saying at the time, “I’m not completely convinced that I would have agreed with the resolution” formalizing the deal.

But at the Sept. 14 meeting, Houpt said she had merely wanted to give herself the time to thoroughly review all the documents and information on the matter, and she voted along with her fellow commissioners to approve the agreement.

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