Steamboat Springs With Shell Oil officials saying the company could seek three oil drilling permits in Routt County in 2012 and another five or six in 2013, the Routt County Board of Commissioners is contemplating how best to add planning staff to handle the workload.
Routt County Planning Department Director Chad Phillips told the commissioners Tuesday afternoon that something needs to give.
“Right now, overwhelmed is the right word,” Phillips said. “We’ve been very busy with the staff we have right now. Since Thanksgiving, at least 40 percent of my time is going to help (oil and gas planner Chris Brookshire), which takes away from my administrative duties. We’ve got more work than we have planners is the bottom line.”
The commissioners Tuesday gave their blessing to studying an interim plan that would fill an anticipated opening for an administrative assistant with a technician. The hope is the new hire could take some of the oil and gas planning work off Brookshire and possibly back up the remaining administrative assistant.
County Manager Tom Sullivan said he has had long discussions with Phillips and thinks filling the staff opening with a technician could be a bridge to the future.
Phillips paraphrased Board of Commissioners Chairman Doug Monger by asking, “Is there a boom coming? What does our future hold?”
“We don’t know,” Monger answered.
If they could find the right person for the technician job, it might get the Planning Department staff to the 2013 budget cycle, when other options include hiring an additional planner at an annual cost of about $60,000 or contracting with a consultant to take on specific duties related to drilling permits.
County staff and public boards have endured laborious public hearings since December concerning applications for the issuance of special-use permits for three wells being undertaken by another energy exploration company, Quicksilver Resources.
Monger said he’d like to think the county approval process will settle into a more routine process but realizes that as energy companies seek to drill in new parts of the county, new groups of neighbors, who previously haven’t been involved in the process, will get involved and seek answers to their concerns.
The workload of dealing with oil and gas exploration has been increased because the county has undertaken an overhaul of the conditions of approval it uses to evaluate permit applications. Along the way, the county has formed a public task force and hosted state officials in guest speaking engagements.
The county already recoups a portion, but not all, of the costs associated with staff time that goes into processing a new drilling permit application.
There is a flat $1,500 permit fee, and Brookshire follows a template of hourly rates for different services to generate a bill that is submitted to the energy companies. The costs billed back to the energy firms vary significantly from permit to permit, Brookshire said. Phillips said the processing costs passed on to the companies could range from $3,000 to $7,000.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com