Oil extraction equipment is silhouetted on a ridge line that runs alongside U.S. Highway 40 just outside of Milner in western Routt County in 2008. Interest in energy exploration in Routt County has been growing since February 2010, when a well drilled into the Niobrara shale beneath Weld County just south of the Wyoming border began producing 1,000 barrels of light sweet crude in its first day of operation.

File photo

Oil extraction equipment is silhouetted on a ridge line that runs alongside U.S. Highway 40 just outside of Milner in western Routt County in 2008. Interest in energy exploration in Routt County has been growing since February 2010, when a well drilled into the Niobrara shale beneath Weld County just south of the Wyoming border began producing 1,000 barrels of light sweet crude in its first day of operation.

County meeting explores oil and gas development issues, concerns

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— There was no answer to the question of the night at the Routt County Courthouse on Thursday, but that’s the nature of wildcat drilling for oil and gas.

About 30 people took their seats in the Commissioners Hearing Room to hear a presentation from David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, about the state’s regulations of exploratory oil drilling. Based on a show of hands, about 12 of those people were representing the energy industry.

It was Steve Aigner, of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, who finally asked the question on everyone’s mind.

“I don’t have any idea how many drilling permits we expect to have put in front of us in the next 12 months to a year and a half,” Aigner told county officials. “Can anyone tell me?”

Chris Brookshire, the county planner who analyzes applications for oil and gas drilling permits, said interest has definitely picked up in 2011 compared with 2010, but it’s difficult to predict how much of that interest will turn into drilling rigs.

“I do have a lot of conversations going on with a lot of people about sites they are considering,” Brookshire said. “But I don’t know how many will turn into permit applications. I do have four applications on my desk right now.”

Interest in energy exploration in Routt County has been growing since February 2010, when a well drilled into the Niobrara shale beneath Weld County just south of the Wyoming border began producing 1,000 barrels of light sweet crude in its first day of operation and continued producing.

The Niobrara shale layer extends west under the Rocky Mountains to Routt County, where it is within reach of drilling rigs about 6,000 feet beneath the surface. The interest in drilling here first came to light as landmen for oil companies appeared in numbers at the county Assessor’s Office to search for detached energy and mineral rights where the surface owners no longer controlled the riches that might lie beneath them.

“We may not see a growth in energy exploration,” Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said Thursday night. “On the other hand, we know from other areas the Niobrara may produce and it may produce a lot. So it’s important that our regulations cover the interests of the community. I think it’s really important to learn from the other counties, from the state and other people with experience so we can build on those, leading to balanced oil and gas regulations in our county.”

Neslin told the gathering that oil exploration in Routt County goes back to the 1930s, but local oil and gas production represents a small fraction of Colorado’s total.

“Oil and gas production here is a relatively small but important part of the state’s overall production,” Neslin said. “Historically, 380 wells (were) permitted in Routt County, most of which were never drilled or abandoned or plugged. There are currently 28 producing wells in the county with seven more permitted but not drilled and two pending.”

The oil and gas produced in Routt County annually represent less than 1 percent of the state’s hydrocarbon energy production, he added.

Neslin took an hour to give a detailed overview of how his agency processes drilling applications and inspects operations in the field. He paid particular attention to the subject of hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking.

“Hydraulic fracturing is virtually ubiquitous of oil and gas drilling today. If they were not using (fracking), most (wells) would not be economically practical to drill,” Neslin said. “High pressure injection of fluid and sand with (proportionately small amounts of chemicals) into the formation, releasing the natural gas or oil and improving the productivity and ultimately the recovery from that well.”

Steamboat Springs water advocate Ken Brenner told Thursday’s gathering that during a recent statewide water conference a spokeswoman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said vertically drilled wells typically use 1 million gallons of water and wells drilled horizontally use as much as 5 million gallons.

Actual consumption varies with the percentage of fracking fluid that is recycled, he said.

Sasha Nelson, a Steamboat native and representative of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, praised the county for launching a public discussion of energy exploration early in the game but urged local officials to broaden the sources it relies upon for information about the regulatory environment.

By adopting strong regulations, Nelson said, the county isn’t necessarily putting undo constraints on the oil and gas industry. In many cases, strong regulations reward good corporate citizens like Quicksilver, which is currently drilling on Wolf Mountain, for their efforts and helping them to remain competitive.

Steamboat Springs attorney John Vanderbloemen asked the county for clarity on how it protects the rights of private property owners adjacent to oil drilling rigs on federal lands like those managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

County Planner Chad Phillips said he and Brookshire had analyzed BLM drilling regulations and determined they are consistent with the county’s.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

stillinsteamboat 2 years, 7 months ago

This issue should not be ignored by Routt County. Just speak with residents of Silt, New Castle and Rifle. Some have had their wells polluted. I've seen stories where they will turn on water spickets, light a match and the water ignites. This is not some benign process without consequences. We all need to do our homework on this one. If you don't own the mineral rights under your property you are vulnerable to having a rig constructed on your property.

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rhys jones 2 years, 7 months ago

The scuttlebutt on the OZ is that BP oil soaked into the marshes of Texas and Oklahoma, causing the massive fires there now. And Progress marches on.

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the_Lizard 2 years, 7 months ago

Stillinsteamboat, get a grip, NO (none zero, nada) proven well contamination by fracking has occured in Colorado. Even our Democratic governor knows that:

This is why Colorado’s Democratic governor John Hickenlooper, who has a background in petroleum geology, recently said it was “inconceivable” that fracturing would contaminate water because ”hydraulic fracturing doesn’t connect to the groundwater.”

"Even the greens’ favorite EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, said recently that hydraulic fracturing doesn’t affect water. This follows a 2004 study by the EPA that found no connection between fracturing and water contamination."

"In fact, in the signature scene in the movie Gasland, a man in Colorado lights his tap on fire, something that the producer Josh Fox attributes to methane in the water due to hydraulic fracturing. Colorado regulators, however, investigated the incident and determined conclusively that the methane was unrelated to any drilling activity. How is this the case? Water tables often sit above rock layers that have quantities of methane. Over time, because methane is lighter than air, it seeps upward and into the water. Even a recent study from researchers at Duke University – widely reported as “proving” the connection between gas production and methane contamination — found quantities of methane in Pennsylvania water wells where no natural gas drilling was taking place." http://www.energyindepth.org/tag/hydraulic-fracturing/ Are all these people wrong?

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kathy foos 2 years, 7 months ago

Lizard,come on.I respectfully must disagree, I side along with the citizens of Rifle,you are so "way off base"it is just laughable.Have you researched this issue at all?The Rifle citizens welcomed the oil and gas companys,THIS POLLUTION IS WHAT THEY GOT INSTEAD. Where are they going to get the five million gallons of water to work with for fracking?Who will handle the toxic waste?What will be done to protect the county from air pollution owith cancer causing chemicals.?Do they have money set aside for an emergency cleanup?Action plan in place for the clean up?These are things that commissioners should be held responsible for,you are safeguarding this county for us. Yes Lizard, the "energy in depth " propaganda is wrong in my opinion and so are you for supporting their dribble. This article makes alot of to-do about light sweet crude oi(yummy,I could taste it now) They shouldn't fracture every well,there lays the problem.This process sucks and is not the normal operating process all of these years for oil and gas .Pull up some nice "light sweet crude" the old way and I will even have a drink(so thirsty). Stick in your Dirty Fracking and you can stay out of the county forever. I hope you don't get a drop of Light Sweet Crude out of our county.I hope your Nirobi layer fakes your asses out good and expensivily thrashes you.If you drill anywhere near my well ,you are going to be so sorry if you mess the water I drink up. "Hydrolic fracturing dosn't connect to the ground water."You are so funny,you should have been in the comic section today Liz.

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