Steamboat Springs The year-long relationship between Quicksilver Resources and Routt County government reached new levels of frustration Tuesday night as the Routt County Board of Commissioners tabled for the second time in two months the energy exploration company’s request for a permit to drill an oil well on the Camilletti Ranch north of Milner.
The crux of the night’s discussion was the commissioners’ struggle to draft the language for conditions of approval dealing with water- and air-quality monitoring despite the fact that two out-of-town consultants hired for that purpose by the county were sitting at the table.
Sensing that the commissioners were not prepared to move the permit forward after hearing more than three hours of expert testimony and public comments, Quicksilver Senior Director of Government and Community Affairs Stephen Lindsey effectively backed out of the county process.
“Essentially, we’ve reached a point where we can’t continue in this fashion any more,” Lindsey told the commissioners. “We’ve made repeated attempts and statements that we’ll work with the county. But from this point forward, we request that all conditions of approval for each individual well be submitted (on the appropriate forms) to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission through the (local government designee) process.”
Board Chairman Doug Monger plainly was upset by Lindsey’s statement.
“What does that mean?” he asked Lindsey. “Does that mean you’re going to pull your permit? I think that’s hogwash, Mr. Lindsey. What you, in essence, have told us here is you’ve pulled the plug and ‘We’ll see you in court.’ We’ve been working very hard toward a standard set of conditions, and I think we’re this close. I hope you don’t think you’re pulling the plug on this.”
Lindsey told the commissioners his remarks should not be construed as a threat to file a lawsuit nor did he mean to say his company isn’t open to working with Routt County in the future. However, he said the delays in the county process had continued to the point that leaseholder agreements and contracts with mineral-rights owners were being jeopardized.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen so far is additional (conditions of approval) being added in and added in and, again like tonight, a delay,” Lindsey said. “We can’t conduct business operations like that based on the regulatory rule set (at the state level). I’m sad, as well. Unfortunately, we’ve come to a point we’ve made a decision that we have to get clarity on the process.”
The commissioners and Lindsey already had found middle ground April 24 on the language of more than 60 conditions of approval when they mutually agreed to table the permit application. The intent was to allow for two task forces involving outside experts to be assembled to hammer out the language of the water- and air-quality protections the commissioners want energy companies to undertake.
The commissioners and planning staff identified consulting hydrologist Tom Myers, of Reno, Nev., to research the water-quality issues and Lincoln Sherman, of Air Resource Specialists, to advise on air quality.
Myers told the commissioners that ideally they already would have been taking water-quality samples from test wells at the Camilletti site during the preceding year to create a timeline to measure any baseline impurities throughout the seasons.
Given time constraints, Myers suggested they require Quicksilver to install one well between the well pad and Milner with technology to sample water from several layers of rock strata.
However, Quicksilver brought to the public hearing its own hydrogeology expert who sought to debunk Myers’ approach.
“As a canary in the coal mine, forget about it,” Universal Geoscience Consulting President Tony Gorody said. “Your chance of drilling one well and of seeing (any contaminants) is slim to none.”
Gorody recommended monitoring existing domestic wells for signs of trouble and responding to citizen complaints.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said her primary motivation for water-quality testing was to detect problems before they reached domestic wells, and Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak backed her up.
“Darn it, if we’ve got a problem and there’s a complaint, we’re too late,” Stahoviak said. “We’ve got to figure this out. I’m sorry we’re a county that listens to our constituents. We have to do what’s right for our citizens.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to table the matter until July 10, saying they intend to deliver a completed water-quality monitoring condition and adding that they may defer an air-quality condition to the next oil well application in line.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com