Routt County commissioners OK gas drilling near grouse lek

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners approved an oil and gas drilling permit Tuesday that has implications for how far local governments can go when balancing the region’s energy needs with the goal of protecting critical wildlife habitat.

The proposed Sunterra well will be drilled about six miles northeast of Hayden and six-tenths of a mile from a lek, or courtship ground, used by the struggling Columbian sharp tailed grouse. The 3-acre well site is within the boundaries of a 1,757-acre conservation easement on the privately held Wolf Mountain Ranch. The easement was purchased in part with local property tax dollars and is held by The Nature Conservancy, which is in charge of enforcing the terms of the easement.

Commissioner Doug Monger said county regulations don’t provide for treating conservation easements differently than other land in the county when it comes to approving oil and gas wells.

“At the present time, I don’t believe our zoning regulations put conserved lands any higher than non-conserved lands,” Monger said. “We have a letter from The Nature Conservancy’s land conservation project director Jennifer Herrington suggesting we give this property additional protection. I don’t believe our current land-use regulations allow us to do that.”

Geoff Blakeslee, Yampa River project director for The Na­ture Con­servancy, said the plight of the sharp tailed grouse makes this conservation easement important. He said his research confirmed that the birds have lost 90 percent of their historic range, and that in Colorado they are confined almost entirely to Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

“These easements are special and we think they deserve special consideration,” Blakeslee said. “It’s our responsibility to protect their conservation values. We’re willing to work with industry in this case to limit impacts.”

The commissioners voted, 2-0, to approve a special-use permit for the well with the conditions that they pay for any damages to Routt County Road 70 and retain a third-party engineering firm to ensure the 1.3-mile access road to the 3-acre well pad doesn’t threaten slope stability. Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush cast the second vote for approval. Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak was unable to attend the hearing after she was involved in a traffic accident.

The site is a sagebrush-covered mountainside overlooking Morgan Bottom on the north side of U.S. Highway 40.

The energy exploration company has agreed to abide by the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s recommendation that it suspends drilling activities from March 15 to July 30 — the critical mating and rearing season for the birds. It also will attach mufflers to generators used on site.

“Our oil and gas regulations protect wildlife, water quality and provide for monitoring of neighbors’ water,” Mitsch Bush said. “I think the state has regulations that are reasonable for both sides. We at Routt County take it very seriously.”

Chris Petry, a Sunterra landman, said that before March 15 his company will dismantle its drilling rig and remove it from the site until Aug. 1.

The county’s task in analyzing the permit application was complicated by the fact that the subsurface mineral rights on that portion of Wolf Mountain Ranch are detached from the surface rights held by Bob Waltrip and his associates in Pirtlaw Partners.

Pirtlaw representative Brent Romick told the commissioners that the owners very much value the conservation qualities of the ranch and are satisfied that they have negotiated a surface agreement that will protect those qualities.

The same independent biologist who researched baseline data on the grouse population will continue to work, and be paid up to $3,000 a year by Sunterra, to monitor wildlife impacts in the area of the drilling rig, Romick said.

Sunterra is eager to accomplish some drilling before March 15 because its lease on the subsurface rights expires in May.

“If we can spud the well, we can preserve our lease,” Petry’s colleague Jordan Wells told the commissioners. “We haven’t drilled this rock before, but we’ll try to drill the initial stage —maybe 1,000 feet.”

Sunterra must build its access road and pad before it can install its 150-foot-tall drilling rig this winter.

“We’ll drill 24/7 for (a total of) 30 to 45 days,” both prior to March 15 and after July 31, Wells said.

The target is the oil-bearing Niobrara shale between 5,766 and 7,000 feet beneath the surface. Wells said they hope to find oil at 6,045 feet, but the directional well, with a bore shaped like the heel and toe of a boot, will need 8,182 feet of pipe to reach that depth.

— To reach Tom Ross, call (970) 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

The mistake was not zoning or such for conservation properties, but a simple mistake in land acquisition. People that do not want the risk of drilling make sure they own at least 50% of the mineral rights.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 5 months ago

All parties involved need to take a look at this movie, for your own sakes. There are some pretty scary stories coming out of other areas of the state and across the country where very bad things have started happening to people that live near these wells. Especially the people with well-water.

http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/about-the-film/

.

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housepoor 3 years, 5 months ago

You are right Scott. The blame falls on the PDR board for recommending a property that had oil and gas development potential without also securing the subsurface rights. Unless they think drilling and oil derricks are less invasive and unsightly then 35 ac lots. My guess is that subsurface rights is not on the list of criteria for selecting properties and obviously it should be. I’m sure that the Grouse habitat was a big consideration in selecting this property for a conservation easement. So does the PDR board contact land owners whose property fits the criteria or does the land owner and their realtor give a sales pitch to the PDR board?

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

It is just an oversight in the acquisition process. They should probably evaluate the potential for exploration and whether they should attempt to acquire enough of the mineral rights to control exploration efforts on the property.

As for mining issues, a drill hole that is not properly sealed as it passes through sections of groundwater can cause contamination, but that is a pretty clear mistake by the driller and they are liable for that. It also appears that some of the people complaining about issues are surface owners without mineral rights that would like to get some of the money from the drilling operations because their high profile blaming of the drilling for nat gas in their groundwater is undermined by documented history of nat gas in that area's groundwater.

County obviously has the resources to test the groundwater before and during the drilling process and monitor the operations so other violations so going to cited and pursued. So, unless Sunterra is suicidal, they must expect they can do this cleanly.

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pitpoodle 3 years, 5 months ago

Sometimes the mineral rights are not available to purchase. Do not assume that people who have had problems with their water from nat gas drilling are doing so because they want payment from the drillers. They have contaminated water and they should be protected. There needs to be more scrutiny of the drillers.

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guerilla 3 years, 5 months ago

The last thing a drilling company ever wants to do is end up in front of a jury, especially in NW Colorado. If they are negligent and ruin a supply of fresh water, they are screwed and will end up paying millions in damages. Drilling companies are extremely careful not to contaminate a supply of fresh water or damage the environment in other ways. The world is addicted to oil and without it, we would all be living in the dark ages. Without oil we could not produce massive amounts of food to feed the rest of the world, let alone ourselves. Do you like driving that car or riding that bus or flying in that aircraft or heating your home? What about all those cheap chinese trinkets from Wal-Mart? You wouldn't have any of it without oil.

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kathy foos 3 years, 5 months ago

I hope they don't find any oil,just waste a bunch of time and lots of money .

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sledneck 3 years, 5 months ago

Yeah! That'll teach 'em. It's not like those dry holes are something we as consumers have to pay 4.

Seriously Sun, I was gonna ask WHERE you studied economics but perhaps a more relevant question would be DID you.

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kathy foos 3 years, 5 months ago

Seriously Sledneck,we need to get away from oil and the laws are not safe in their production operations.Oil Industry destroys the planet and kills people and animals,what does that have to do with economics?Thats all you care about I guess.Money.To trust the industry is crazy,I found out the hard way just how shamefull they are,my son was killed in 2007 in our wilderness area in an unsigned ,unfenced oil well .A Hayden youth lost a leg,if the industry had any respect for children and the wildlife the would voluntarily fence and sign off facility's.The state doesnt make them do it.They are still unsigned and unfenced!You tell me why they shouldn't fence off their operations like anyonw else?Go ahead a trust the state to make it safe.What a joke.Oh yeah you are correct,I am dumb ass,but that doesn't shut me up.If only I could have had the right economics class.....It doesn't cost anything to just hope they dont find oil..

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sledneck 3 years, 5 months ago

I never said they were saints. I merely pointed out that hoping the oil industry suffers losses is to hope for higher priced energy. Million dollar / barrel oil won't reverse your loss, for which I am truly sorry.

If you really believed oil was such a problem you would stop using it altogether. So would all the others who give lipservice to the oil whipping-boy while sucking from its tit.

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trump_suit 3 years, 5 months ago

this particular land owner was allowed to purchase the entire ranch, he then proceeded to sell off the mineral rights to Sunterra which he is involved with as a business concern. Following the sale of the subsurface rights for profit, this landowner applied for and received the PDR which granted serious cash and tax breaks in return for not developing that land.

Once all of that was completed, the same landowner came in and said something like:

"I don't own those mineral rights, Sunterra does and they have the right to develop them."

This whole story is not so much about the oil and gas, but more about how the rich landowner gamed the system for maximum profit and manages to get development done in spite of the PDR. This project should be rejected. Allowing them to develop this land is a slap in the face for the entire idea of land conservation.

Why can't the county see thru this thin veil and reject an obvious attempt to circumvent the PDR agreements. You can bet that rich landowner Mr. Waltrip will benefit greatly from this development.

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kathy foos 3 years, 5 months ago

I car pool,take shorter showers,and advocate conservation,anything I can think of personally,I enjoy the fact that this county doesn't look like other areas that have drill rigs in every field.Im hoping that since there arent many wells in the county ,that means they haven't had much luck finding it here,maybe never will. Im sorry you had to say you are sorry for my loss,...but I want this stupid issue ended.If they have to have wells in the county,they should be fenced off from the public.A chain link fence and warning signs are not asking too much.I wouldnt keep talking trash about them if they were responsible ,safe facilitys,that were concerned that the dangerous work area is fenced and signed.Its not a money issue,fences and signs don't cost much.They don't want to be regulated .They rule and they also rule the Mineral Managment Service.Even the MMS wants them to sign and fence off those wells,for public safety.More kids die all the time.Its not like there won't be more deaths ,there have been over thirty three deaths and I dont know the injurys.It wouldnt hurt Routt County to make sure those companys do right to protect the public.It wouldn't hurt to make sure they have funds available for a catastrophic disaster caused by their drilling.It wouldnt hurt to make sure they are insured.How they will reclaim the land and properly maintain the wells while operatiing in this county? Im just goading them,you will have to forgive me,they win,the commissioner 's say the state will make them operate safely,then what happened to the three youths either killed or injured by lack of safety in our own county,by oversite administered by the government?I say the only way to change it is locally,If they want to drill here(if there is indeed any oil)make them sign and fence for our county at least.Dont tell me nothing can happen,because I follow the news hard,and it does happen.What doesn't happen is for people to think that it could happen to them,untill it does.Every time I see a facility without signs and fences,it reminds me of how disrespectfull and ignorant the oil industry is.Nothing personal to you oil people that I hope would be reading this,its just that your safety SUCKS!

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Marcus 3 years, 5 months ago

I feel that it would be very beneficial for all of you to read and become familiar with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Rules and Regulations (COGCC) before commenting any further on the article. The Rules and Regulations would clear up a lot of your questions preventing you from looking like a bigger idiot (especially SUN and mmjPatient22).

The COGCC web-site also has several responses to the fallacies that are presented in Gas Land. Methane occurs shallow naturally and depending on the aquifer that a water well is producing from there can be a significant amount of methane. All oil/gas pads have to be fenced and have a sign with emergency contact information. For all the people bitching how about you do several things before you post again 1). Stop driving you car or taking any form of transportation that requires any form of hydrocarbon, 2), Stop using any Tupper ware or anything that requires petroleum products to manufacture (included make-up if you are a woman, 3). Stop heating your home and using your refrigerator, 4). Start growing all your own food, and 5). Do you reading so you might not embarrass yourself next time you post. Here is the link to the COGCC web-site http://cogcc.state.co.us/

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blue_spruce 3 years, 4 months ago

The relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

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the_Lizard 3 years, 4 months ago

Blue Spruce, What environmental damage occurs at 6000 feet in an encased well? Could you elaborate please? Also, were you unaware that the wastewater is hauled away to an approved site? I think that Marcus has hit on a marvelous idea. Read the COGCC, not left wing " I hate energy and America's prosperity" green approved sites In the meantime, what about this environmental destruction? "Public and tribal lands will be targeted because of their size. Huge acreages, some projects as big as 7,000 acres, may be set aside for a single use — energy — in wind farms or solar spreads. Never before has America pre-empted such huge pieces of land for a single use." http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_17476154?source=pop

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skidattle 3 years, 4 months ago

Lizard, please watch 'Gasland' the movie, it's out on netflix.

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sledneck 3 years, 4 months ago

The difference between the aquifer and gas is sometimes hundreds of feet (elevation wise) and sometimes thousands of feet. Where the 2 are in close proximity there is a legitimate concern. Where they are thousands of feet apart the risk, in my opinion, is greatly reduced.

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the_Lizard 3 years, 4 months ago

I know skidattle, Gasland is out and I also know it's to gas extraction as Inconvenient Truth is to Global warming. It's as full of lies and distoritions and already being discredited by multiple sources..

"Contrary to the film's misleading claims, natural gas production is subject to federal, state and local regulations that cover everything from initial permits to well construction to water disposal. 
In rare cases where incidents occur, companies work with the appropriate regulatory authority to promptly identify and correct the issue, and implement measures to ensure it does not recur." http://anga.us/learn-the-facts/the-truth-about-gasland?gclid=COHF1737qqcCFRNSgwodZ3DdCA This article also has links to studies that disproved some of the more egregious claims made by this film. Sledneck, are you talking of oil wells or gas wells? I thought gas wells were much deeper.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 4 months ago

It appears that the waste water can have elements that the local waste water treatment plant is not designed to handle. So the processed water from the treatment plant is no longer safe.

It looks like an area that local officials need to monitor.

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blue_spruce 3 years, 4 months ago

Before we let these gas companies into our back yard, let's remember that they do not care about anything but profit. They could care less about your health, much less about our wilderness. They will only care about safety as much as we force them to. Given a free pass, undoubtedly they would cut corners at every turn – much like BP did in the gulf. Do we want to be the Texas of natural gas, with drilling rigs as far as the eye can see?! Personally, I rely on the tourism industry to make a living, and see this as a direct threat. I'm not saying that we should not drill, but let's please not compromise on keeping NW Colorado a place we all want to live.

http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/02/26/us/100000000650773/natgas.html

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the_Lizard 3 years, 4 months ago

Blue Spruce, as the cost of energy rises, tourism is going to dwindle. An economic fact.

"With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself. " This paragraph comes directly from the NYT recent ( and poorly researched) hit on natural gas drilling. Normally people are supposed to credit their sources...Right? More facts. Average depth of has and oil wells. http://www.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/pet_crd_welldep_s1_a.htm

Water Aquifers http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06700.html Your post is full of conjecture and nonsense.....

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blue_spruce 3 years, 4 months ago

sorry lizard, next time i'll remember the " " marks...but seriously, what's the difference - the point is the same.

watch the video. http://video.nytimes.com/video/2011/02/26/us/100000000650773/natgas.html

why would these people make this stuff up???

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Colette Erickson 3 years, 4 months ago

Shame on you, County Commissioners. Why does Waltrip get any and everything he wants? Money talks, I guess.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 4 months ago

I read the NYT article as what can happen to poorly supervised wells where the proper handling of the waste water is not being monitored. These problems are not with all wells, but with some. So it should not be ignored, but nor does it mean the industry should be shut down. It does mean that the County should monitor the well and whomever processes the waste water needs to be performing chemical analysis of what is in the waste water and the output of the treatment plant also needs to be monitored.

In a wealthier county like Routt with fewer wells then the county is well positioned to perform the monitoring. And the county's residents should expect to be sure that all parts of drilling operations are being properly monitored so that major environmental problems are not allowed to occur.

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kathy foos 3 years, 4 months ago

There have been over 700 earthquakes in Oklahoma, as reported in the national news last week,since they began hydro-fracking there last year.Many were over 4 points.The NYtimes yesterday had an article about how the salty water is reaching the river systems .and all over America the oil companys are in position to go forward in a huge way.Its too late and we will never stop the results of this new experiment they are going to try.Our commissioners tell us we can trust the state to regulate and protect the county.NOT. Maybe we are close to seeing the light of truth.The water will be protected for recreational use.Salty water returned to the Yampa,what a sad set up for the future.Many of us drink well water.That is in jeopardy.What does our" water buffalo" attorney for water say about the situation?

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 4 months ago

Hmm, since earthquakes are the fault lines shifting and releasing pressure between tectonic plates and if drilling triggers those quakes then we have discovered how to eliminate destruction earthquakes! It is the build up over time of those forces that cause destructive quakes and if drilling causes quakes then it is causing the forces to be released before they reach destructive levels.

The Oklahoma geological service website shows a year's activity per slide and has 25 slides. It is absolutely obvious that they have quakes all the time and they occur in swarms. They occur in swarms because when one bigger quake releases the pressure is one area which changes the stresses on other areas which tends to cause quakes there and so on until the stresses are minimized and have to build up again before new quakes. That 2010 had more earthquakes than average is not at all rare because the slide show clearly indicates that Oklahoma has years of minimal activity and years with a lot more activity.

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the_Lizard 3 years, 4 months ago

Well Bluespruce, I thought you had written the original post until I read your second one and realized.no..then I found the NYT article. Typically people care about plagerism, so it kinda does matter. Anyway. a couple insights into the NYT article, if you are interested. http://www.johnhanger.blogspot.com/ http://www.pgh2o.com/docs/2008_Water_Quality_Report.pdf Sun, sigh, here is a direct link to the COGCC waste water regs. for CO. http://aqwatec.mines.edu/produced_water/regs/state/co/index.htm It's helpful to be armed with facts if you are going to be an advocate for an energy free America.

In the meantime I think it's a win win situation to have a salt water source in such close proximity. Fresh shrimp, crab, tuna steaks; hmm mmmm sounds yummy. Plus with the salty Yampa water and stuff like that and everything we can eat locally, which is helpful if we can't bicycle to coastal waters.

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kathy foos 3 years, 4 months ago

Marcus,I will post when ever I want,as long as they dont kick me off.Sigh...I car pool and do many things to help,what do you do besides just give in to oil and trust the Gas Commission.Sigh.... Oh by the way ,now they have found that some water returning to the waste treatment plants from fracking in these areas is radioactive, .Is anyone checking it in Colorado for that?Oh.well,we only approved a few wells at this point,maybe Craig being downstream wont get much of our countys runoff in the Yampa. Lizard Im not for energy free .just SAFETY.Is that asking too much?NO.I am stating facts that are reported in the news ,and the Steamboat Newspapers do not inform the public on this gas fracking issue.No wonder we are all ignorant,if we are.I think people in this Valley didnt learn anything from the Gulf disaster ,are apathetic,and care only about tourists (money)and not their own enviroment.

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