Salazar hears about community oil and gas plan
Post Independent Staff
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) paid a visit to Garfield County Thursday and got an earful about energy development. Contrary to the usual complaints from residents about the impacts of energy development, he heard about a happy alliance between a gas company and residents of Silt.
Salazar met with a group of local citizens and Antero Resources personnel at a drilling rig midway between Silt and Rifle.
Last year members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and Terry Dobkins, vice president for production with Antero Resources, which is drilling between Silt and Rifle, worked on a groundbreaking community development plan that makes important concessions to landowners affected by natural gas development.
Antero and Galaxy Energy have both signed on to the plan that gives surface landowners and their neighbors in the areas a say where rigs are located and positioning of roads and pipelines.
The companies also have agreed to cluster wells as much as possible to limit surface impacts.
“This is not a legally binding document,” said Liz Lippett, who helped craft the plan. It commits the companies to best-management practices such as monitoring nearby water wells, performing interim and final reclamation and using closed systems to contain drilling fluids.
“The process has been a very pleasant one, which was surprising to me,” Dobkins told Salazar.
Although he was skeptical at first, the relationship that developed between GVCA members and Dobkins laid the groundwork for his accepting the plan.
“It was a cooperative effort to find good solutions for the both of us,” he added.
Salazar commended the groups for working together.
“Because we are in so short supply for natural gas we will continue to have these conflicts,” he said. “We need to figure out ways to take this example and spread it to other areas.”
He also asked the cost to Antero of complying with the plan.
Dobkins said it increased the cost of a project by 15 to 20 percent.
“It’s an additional cost up front … but in the long term the benefits outweigh the upfront cost,” he said.
It has also allowed the company to acquire mineral leases it would not normally have a chance at “because people like how we operate,” Dobkins said.
Salazar also asked why other companies are not following the same practices.
While Dobkins defended other gas production companies, which he said are usually “environmentally conscious,” he added that “there are instances where they are moving too quickly … and they don’t do it right.”
Companies are also reluctant to meet with groups of citizens.
“We historically as an industry have been mistrustful of environmental or citizen groups,” he said.
The key to working toward a mutual goal is communication.
“There needs to be honest dialogue, about what we will or will not do, and the residents need to be honest,” Dobkins said.
“We tried to establish a dialogue with EnCana (one of the largest gas producers in the county) but it became contentious,” said GVCA member Peggy Utesch, who was one of the creators of the community plan. “They told us what they were going to do and did not ask for our input.”
Salazar also put Bureau of Land Management’s Glenwood Springs field office manager Jamie Connell on the spot by asking her what the agency could do to adopt best-management practices.
Connell said BLM is leery of setting too stringent regulations because technology changes.
“What we want to set is performance standards,” she said.
Industry should deal directly with communities. “We don’t want to be in the middle,” she said.
Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510
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