Residents fear they’re on crash course with drilling rigs |

Residents fear they’re on crash course with drilling rigs

Residents on Grass Mesa are reporting close calls with gas exploration rigs that rumble up and down a steep, twisty, narrow road to their subdivision southeast of Rifle.

Tere McGuire said she had one such encounter with an EnCana semi-trailer truck.

“I was terrified,” McGuire said. “A huge semi was coming down the middle of the road. Fortunately, I was just able to pull over far enough so he didn’t hit me.”

Even a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission vehicle was crowded to the side of the private road that Grass Mesa residents share with EnCana. The incident occurred on May 17, according to a citation the Gas Commission issued to the Canada-based EnCana.

The citation said EnCana operations are being conducted “in an unsafe manner” that constitutes “an unsafe or potentially dangerous condition which threatens public safety.”

The citation set in motion plea bargain negotiations between EnCana and the Gas Commission. The company hopes that will result in an alternate road to Grass Mesa.

“EnCana tentatively plans to start construction on the alternate access route by Oct. 1, 2002, with a completion anticipated by Nov. 15, 2002,” said EnCana’s Chris Williams in a letter to the Gas Commission dated Sept. 13.

The proposed road, which would be restricted to EnCana’s use, would cross U.S. Bureau of Land Management property south of the existing Grass Mesa Road.

Steve Bennett, associate field manager for the BLM, said he hopes to complete an environmental assessment for the project by the end of September, and construction on the road could begin soon after the document is finished.

“We expect the road’s approval quickly,” said Alan Boras, a spokesperson for EnCana.

Approximately 40 to 50 homes sit on 35-acre lots at Grass Mesa, where drilling started two years ago. There are 26 miles of roads in the subdivision. The problem stretch of road traverses up to the mesa from the valley floor for about a mile, and is the only access to Grass Mesa.

“The road has pitches that exceed oil and gas industry standards,” said Bennett.

Aside from close calls with trucks, residents also complain the road has been completely blocked by EnCana vehicles for up to three hours at a time.

“Four big rigs have jack-knifed,” said Jess Beck, a former Grass Mesa Home Owner’s Association board member.

After the May 17 incident, in which a Gas Commission vehicle was forced to the side of the road, the commission required EnCana to develop and implement an access and transportation plan to address Grass Mesa Road problems.

Boras said short-term solutions include prohibiting heavy oil field truck traffic from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., and from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Traffic flaggers are also stationed at the base and top of the Grass Mesa Road for tractor-trailers more than 50 feet long, prior to the trucks’ departures and arrivals.

Williams said the company negotiated to buy property for an alternative road during the summer, but the deal fell through in August. That’s when EnCana went to the BLM for access to Grass Mesa on federal land.

Although EnCana is moving forward with the BLM in attempts to build an alternative road, many Grass Mesa residents are steamed that the commission hasn’t cracked down on the company. They point to at least one extension the commission gave EnCana to fully implement its transportation plan.

Because EnCana did not meet transportation plan deadlines outlined in the May 17 citation it received, Beck said all activity at Grass Mesa should be shut down.

“I think EnCana should be stopped from being up there,” Beck said.

Morris Bell, an oil and gas commission operations manager, said he doesn’t know whether the commission has the authority to shut down EnCana until its transportation plan, and presumably an alternate road, is implemented.

Brian Macke, assistant director of the Gas Commission, was out of town on Tuesday. Bell said Macke and other staffers will discuss EnCana’s request for yet another transportation plan deadline extension later this week.

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