State questions gas drilling intervention |

State questions gas drilling intervention

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

SILT, Colorado – State regulators want greater specificity about Garfield County’s effort to intervene in Antero Resources’ request for intensified gas drilling rights in an area north of here, county officials were told this week.

At the same time, attorneys for Antero want the state to dismiss Garfield County’s case because, in part, it is based on concerns that are not covered in state rules and regulations governing the gas industry.

County staff members took part on Wednesday in a telephone conference with the staff of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, regarding a January hearing about plans by Antero to quadruple the density of its gas wells on Silt Mesa.

According to a letter from the COGCC to the county, the company currently has the right to drill one well per 40 acres [not one well per 160 acres, as previously reported].

The company has applied to the COGCC for permission to drill at an increased density of up to one well per 10 acres.

The “10-acre spacing,” as it is known, refers to underground well density, thanks to drilling technology that allows gas companies to drill multiple wells from one well pad on the surface.

Some residents of the Silt Mesa area have responded angrily, worried that the drilling might contaminate their water wells, pollute their air and destroy their property values, among other effects.

The county, under pressure from the residents, agreed earlier this year to intervene formally in Antero’s application process, citing concerns about gas drilling’s potential negative effects on public health, safety and welfare.

Among other things, the county has requested that members of the COGCC take part in a site visit to Silt Mesa, in response to concerns that the commission members are not aware of how many people live in the area.

The county also has requested that the hearing take place in Garfield County, rather than in Denver, where it is now scheduled to be held on Jan. 13, 2011.

If the COGCC is unable to move the hearing to Garfield County in January, the request is that the hearing be continued to a date when it can be held in Garfield County.

In documents filed with the COGCC, the county has argued that the communities of Silt Mesa, Peach Valley and the Town of Silt “are high-density residential developments,” home to more than 2,300 people.

“The cumulative impacts of exponentially increased well densities may result in adverse affects upon the public welfare,” the county’s documents maintain, including such impacts as “potentially severe and long-lasting water quality and air quality contamination,” as well as increased traffic, dust, odor and noise associated with the drilling.

In particular, the county argues, the intensified drilling poses “an increased likelihood of accidental contamination … due to the increased number of wells.”

The county states that “these potential impacts … are not specifically addressed by the COGCC’s rules and regulations.”

The county lists up to 34 potential witnesses including county staff, private citizens, scientists and public health officials; “unknown technical experts”; and a number of exhibits meant to bolster its case.

Responding to the county’s statements, Antero maintains that the well-density hearing is not the proper venue for voicing such objections, and that they should be made only when the individual well applications are filed.

The well-density hearing, contends Antero, as well as the director of the COGCC, are only meant to establish whether the well-density should be allowed, and do not provide permits to drill wells.

As for whether the COGCC’s rules adequately cover such matters as the public’s health, safety and welfare, Antero declares, “It should never be the job of the regulated to prove that the regulator’s rules are adequate.”

Citing a pre-hearing conference of the parties involved, Antero further states, a COGCC representative “made it clear to the county’s attorney that [the county] would have the burden of proof to establish the validity of the alleged impacts.”

The company also maintains the COGCC’s regulations and requirements are adequate to protect public health and safety, and argues that anything said by 22 citizen witnesses listed by the county would not be “competent evidence in an adjudicatory proceeding requiring technical evidence.”

The Antero response asks the COGCC to demand that the county satisfy these objections by Dec. 17 or dismiss the intervention “due to its lack of factual basis.”

Garfield County’s oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, told the Post Independent that Dave Neslin, executive director at the COGCC and the “hearing officer” in this case, declined to rule on any of the motions at the conference on Dec. 15.

But, according to Cassie Coleman, the deputy county attorney who is handling the case for the county, Neslin was expected to issue his rulings by Friday.

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