The battle to block drilling in Rulison blast area continues | PostIndependent.com
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The battle to block drilling in Rulison blast area continues

Phillip YatesPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BATTLEMENT MESA The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last month told a group of area residents and local organizations who sought to block 16 drilling permits within three miles of the Project Rulison nuclear blast site that they did not have standing to ask for a hearing over the permits.Objections to two drilling permit applications were not proper because the permits already had been issued by the agency. For the rest of the 14 permits, there isnt an ability for the homeowners and groups to object to the issuance of a permit to drill under the agencys current rules and ask for a hearing on the matter, said Tricia Beaver, a spokeswoman for the COGCC. Last month, the Western Colorado Congress, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and three couples living near the blast site filed an objection with the COGCC, hoping to block 16 drilling permits for wells within a 3-mile area of the site. They argued that the use of fracturing technologies, which are designed to stimulate greater production of natural gas from the subsurface formations, increases the risk that radioactive contaminants from the blast site may reach the surface. Luke Danielson, an attorney for the three couples, said on Tuesday that he and the three couples dont agree with the agencys stance and that we are going to take some further steps about the matter. He declined to say what those steps might be.We are not done with this issue, said Danielson, criticizing the COGCC for what he said have been efforts to block residents from their day in court. There will be more to this.Noble Energy Inc. has 13 of the contested drilling permits, while EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) has the other three. We believe that the COGCC interpretation is correct and that there is a process in place to ensure the public health and welfare is protected, said Stephen Flaherty, director of government relations for Noble Energy.Flaherty said the company has worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, along with the COGCC, to implement a plan that protects the public health in the area. He added that the company is not active on any lands belonging to Danielsons clients.Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), said the company agreed with the COGCCs view of the groups and couples standing in connection with the contested permits. He declined to comment further.The federal government, in cooperation with Austral Oil, detonated a 43-kiloton nuclear device 8,426 feet below the surface at the Project Rulison blast site on Sept. 10, 1969. The experiment was an attempt to free up commercially marketable quantities of natural gas, but the gas it produced proved to be too contaminated with radioactivity. The DOE prohibits drilling lower than 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area around the site, and the COGCC requires a hearing for any gas wells proposed to be drilled within a half-mile of the site.

Beaver said residents can file a complaint with the director of the COGCC about a permit to drill if there are concerns about the environment or the publics safety and welfare, or if there are allegations that the permit violates any of the agencys rules. If that occurs, the director can withhold a permit, Beaver said. In a letter to Danielson, Beaver wrote that the agency would consider their objections in that fashion. However each permit would be reviewed, and either approved or denied on an individual basis, rather than as a group.The other opportunity for withholding a permit is if a local governmental designee in Garfield County that is oil and gas liaison Judy Jordan asks for a hearing on an application for a drilling permit, Beaver said.In her letter, Beaver wrote that Garfield County commissioners will not request a hearing for permits to drill for wells that are more than a half-mile away from the blast site. Beaver added there is a time period in which a local governmental designee has to ask for a hearing and that time has already passed.Duke Cox, interim executive director of the WCC, said who has standing to file objections over drilling permits is one of the issues that is now being debated in the agencys ongoing rule-making process. The Rulison case just points out the need for some new rules, Cox said.The COGCC, in late November, issued its initial proposal for rules the agency may implement as it moves forward with implementing House bills 1298 and 1341. The 2007 legislation expanded the focus of the COGCC to fully consider public health and wildlife impacts and require use of best management practices to minimize harm from oil-and-gas development. The COGCC expects to issue a draft of the new rules in March. Adoption of the rules is expected in July.Contact Phillip Yates: 384-9117pyates@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO


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