Town’s plan begins to surface
While a plan for shaping the future of natural gas development in and around Silt might not have the force of law, it might have clout as a collective bargaining chip. If it works, the plan would give surface landowners power to direct the course of drilling and gas production on their properties.Organizers Christy Hamrick and Liz Lippett see the Silt Community Development Plan as something akin to a subdivision planning document with “regional implications,” Hamrick said. Hamrick said she expects the plan to take six to nine months to create.Silt Mesa and Peach Valley have both been under scrutiny by gas developer Antero Resources, which will begin exploratory drilling in the area this spring. About 30 residents of those communities who gathered at the Silt Fire Station Saturday night spoke about what industry’s responsibilities should be in dealing with surface land owners. “We’re not going to get everything we ask for, but let’s include everything we want,” said Peggy Utesch, a member of the Grand Valley Citizens’ Alliance, which is helping Hamrick and Lippett frame the community plan.Suggestions ranged from requiring developers to have a surface-use agreement with all land owners where they intend to drill, to clustering well pads so as to minimize environmental impacts.Many in the audience Saturday night questioned how the plan could be enforced with industry.”The law is not on our side,” Hamrick admitted.While the plan may not be a legally binding document, force of numbers in the community may pressure the gas companies.Industry will recognize a plan “with limited geographic scope where everything is signed off on by all,” as being “in its own best interest financially,” said GVCA president Duke Cox.”If you say to industry you have to deal with us as a group … that’s your best bet,” he said.Utesch, who lives in the Dry Creek area south of Silt, has been active with her neighbors in gaining concessions from developers. Companies use drilling rigs with smaller, less-noisy diesel engines and house them in trailers to reduce noise. They also install insulated panels around drill rigs.”They weren’t doing any of that until the Divide Creek ranchers raised a stink,” she said.EnCana, the primary operator in the Divide Creek area, now limits its truck traffic to designated routes along Mamm Creek, rather than Dry Hollow Road, and maintains roads in the area, Utesch added.Key to making the plan work will be buy-in from local municipalities and county government. But the county has not shown an interest in passing its own oil and gas regulations such as those established by La Plata County in southwest Colorado.”We’ve got to put pressure on the county commissioners,” said Jaime Roark of Silt. “I think they’ve taken a back-burner approach.”Utesch also had advice for those at the meeting who might be approached about drilling:Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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