Craig Matt Holman, project lead for Shell Oil’s Northwest Colorado operations, measures the success of a public meeting in an interesting way.
“It’s about educating people on what you’re doing, being honest and making good local contacts,” Holman said. “I’ve got seven new contacts here, and one of Shell’s hallmarks in hosting these events is to mature these contacts into local vendors that we’ll use.
“We want to be able to demonstrate to the community that we’re using the people that already live right here. It’s really difficult to do that if you don’t have the contacts or the people in place to interface with the company.”
More than 200 people attended Shell’s open house Thursday at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig to learn more about the company, its operations plan for Moffat County and its policies regarding drilling, safety, environmental protections and community involvement. The meeting in Craig came one day after a similar open house meeting with residents in Steamboat Springs.
As with the Steamboat open house, 15 Shell employees were spread throughout the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium to answer questions from the public. Among them was Brenda Clark, Shell’s environmental specialist for new exploration projects.
Clark provides environmental support in Shell’s play for Niobrara Shale oil, including monitoring air and water quality and drafting policies for spill prevention.
Moffat County residents were most curious about Shell’s strategy to protect the region’s groundwater supply from contamination, Clark said.
“We go out ahead of time and take samples to ensure our operations don’t have an effect on groundwater,” Clark said. “We’ll return to our sample sites at different stages of the project to monitor certain groundwater levels.”
Another popular station was manned by Shell drilling engineer Keith Smelker.
He arrived at the open house Thursday expecting to answer a lot of questions about fracking but said the majority of the concerns he fielded from residents were in reference to road safety and obeying speed limits on Colorado Highway 317 near Hamilton.
Smelker’s specialty is in planning and executing the drilling of Shell’s exploratory wells.
“In other words, I’m the guy that makes the holes in the ground,” Smelker said. “It’s my job to not only ensure we comply with federal and state regulations, but to also meet Shell’s safety standards.”
Although Holman told the audience Shell might begin fracking in 2013, Smelker said the company has no plans to do so this year.
Additionally, all nine wells in Shell’s plans for Moffat County this year will be drilled horizontally, Smelker said.
The depths range from 2,700 feet to 6,000 feet with lateral lengths up to 3,500 feet.
Holman said he was pleased with the number of people who attended the open house from outside the city.
Sparky Pappas was a Craig resident for more than 25 years and traveled from her current home in Meeker to learn more about the potential boom in her former hometown.
“I’m very encouraged by what Shell is doing, and I hope it provides a good opportunity for the community,” Pappas said. “I think they’re very organized, they know how to ramrod whatever they want to do, and they’re big enough to do it.”
Erica Stewart owns Creekside Guest Cabin in Hamilton, not far from where Shell has focused the majority of its operations.
Stewart attended the meeting because she is moving and has been in contact with Shell representatives about renting her log homes to the company’s incoming employees.
“I think (all of the drilling activity) will be good for Moffat County because of all of the business it will bring in,” Stewart said. “Everyone I have met has been really nice, and they seem to be really interested in working with the businesses in the area. I think they’re going to be a great group to work with.”