The Routt County Board of Commissioners approved the renewal of a permit allowing testing for coalbed methane gas in land northeast of Hayden.
The approval overturned the Routt County Planning Commission's May 19 denial of the permit, which asked to be able to test the area using four wells on 640 acres of land about 10 miles northeast of Hayden.
"The reasons the Planning Commission gave for denial are not valid. I am not willing to uphold their denial," County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
Infinity Oil and Gas of Wyoming was the applicant, and its representatives said the test wells are being used to determine whether a coalbed methane gas operation is feasible for the area. A permit for the test wells originally was granted in 2000 for the original owner, Phillips Petroleum.
For coalbed methane test wells, permits must be reviewed every six months, which typically is done administratively. In this case, the permit was called for review by the Planning Commission and county commissioners because an appeal was made about the last permit that was granted.
The Planning Commission denied the permit on the basis that a six-month permit was meaningless given the ability of the well to remain open indefinitely, that the bonding requirement for reclamation was insufficient, that the applicant had not complied with the existing permit and that it did not comply with Routt County's zoning resolution and master plan.
Stahoviak said she was extremely confused about the Planning Commission's denial, saying some of its decisions were arbitrary.
"Normally, during these situations, they make very specific findings, even citing numbers and sections. They didn't do that here," Stahoviak said. "I went back through the fact pack and reviewed (the county zoning and master plan), and I couldn't identify where they were coming from."
Infinity Land Manager Robert Richardson said the permit is being extended so his company can continue to pump water out of the wells. He said there is a potential that the area could be a productive gas field and noted that the company held a large number of leases that could be part of the production.
"If we find the test project successful, we would certainly expand the project. We want to find out what the extent of the production is," Richardson said.
In coalbed methane mining, water needs to be lowered until enough gas can desorb from the coal. It could take months or even years until the water pressure is reduced enough for the gas to flow.
Mike Flanders, who owns land where the testing is occurring, and adjacent property owner Reed Zars asked the commissioners to raise the amount the applicant needed to bond to ensure reclamation was done.
Zars said Infinity was using the state standard $25,000 bond amount to ensure reclamation of the property.
Richardson said the company estimated that reclamation would cost about $41,000, and Flanders said that a separate estimate indicated reclamation would cost more than $100,000.
Flanders said an oil company dug a test well on his land more than 30 years ago and never reclaimed it, instead paying the $10,000 bond and leaving a gaping hole in the land.
"I'm afraid that is what is going to happen here, with Infinity or whoever owns it," Flanders said.
The county commissioners agreed that Infinity should get an estimate on the reclamation costs and bond for 150 percent of that amount.
"It is a woefully small amount," Commissioner Doug Monger said about the original bond amount.