Grass Mesa residents OK winter drilling proposal
RIFLE – Residents of Grass Mesa south of Rifle have officially accepted an offer to accept $500,000 in return for supporting a proposal to conduct winter natural gas development in their neighborhood.Property owners voted 32-19 Wednesday night to accept the proposal by EnCana Oil & Gas (USA). EnCana got to cast five votes of its own as a property owner on Grass Mesa, said homeowners association manager Garland Anderson.The assent of residents means that EnCana will formally propose its plan to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. EnCana had said it would pursue the idea only with the support of residents.The BLM has a say over EnCana’s drilling operations on Grass Mesa because EnCana uses a road it built across BLM property to reach the area. The BLM has prohibited winter drilling in order to protect big game habitat.The agency says its decision will be based on what input it receives from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.Grass Mesa residents previously had voted in favor of the drilling plan, but it wasn’t a formal vote and its outcome was challenged by some opponents of the plan. A new vote was held in order to follow state election rules for homeowners associations, Anderson said.Anderson said Wednesday’s “vote was loud and clear to accept the money.”That money may amount to about $375,000 after taxes. The association plans to use it to make badly needed road repairs, Anderson said.EnCana proposed the plan as a way of speeding up and completing drilling on Grand Mesa. It would help the company financially by saving the cost of moving rigs and letting it get gas into production faster.Residents would benefit from the cash payment and from EnCana completing its drilling in their neighborhood faster, which would reduce how long they would put up with its impacts. But some residents fear the current drilling program would drag on longer than 2010, when EnCana hopes to complete it.EnCana hopes to begin winter drilling on Grass Mesa a year from now.Steve Bennett, associate field manager for the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office, said that if the agency allows winter drilling, it would be for just two years. EnCana would have to reapply with the BLM if it wanted to extend winter drilling beyond that, he said.The BLM and DOW had representatives at Wednesday’s meeting. Despite concern by some residents about the ability of big game to make the adjustment, the DOW has shown an interest in EnCana’s offer to make 8,000 nearby acres available as temporary wildlife habitat. Anderson said the agency pointed out that Grass Mesa residents also have a major impact on wildlife.”Everybody pretty well understood that we were all causing it. They didn’t beat up on the industry,” he said.Another concern raised Wednesday was over the possibility of worsened air quality on Grass Mesa as a result of winter drilling because of the tendency of winter air to settle rather than disperse.Said EnCana spokesman Doug Hock, “We continue to use combusters on well pads to alleviate odors in areas where we’re near neighbors, and we’ll continue to do those things to try to reduce impacts.”EnCana also will continue to install more water lines to drilling sites to reduce the amount of water truck traffic required, he said.In addition, he said, the company hopes to address reseeding needs to help deal with an invasion of nonnative cheatgrass on Grass Mesa. Native vegetation would provide better forage for big game and reduce the fire danger caused by highly flammable cheatgrass.Contact Dennis Webb: email@example.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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