Oil and gas operators looking to send heavy trucks south through the town of Hayden to access well sites in rural Routt County will have to find an alternate route or work with the town to invest in its infrastructure.
After the Hayden Town Council discussed for an hour the potential impacts of an oil play in their backyard, the members on Thursday night denied True Oil LLC's request to bring heavy trucks and oil rig equipment down Poplar Street in Hayden to access a well southwest of the town via Routt County Road 65.
The Casper, Wyo.-based oil company was set to perform a necessary traffic study on the town roadways that it wanted to use as part of its application for the well site.
But council members said that with two schools, aging bridges and many homes along the proposed traffic route, they won't allow trucks with the oil company to roll down existing roads in the town even if a traffic study came back clean.
“We should not let them do anything with our roads and infrastructure unless they're prepared to fix it or upgrade it,” Hayden Mayor Jim Haskins said about energy companies after he alluded to towns in North Dakota he said have been left to repair their roads on their own in the wake of an oil boom. “This is not like coal, where these people move into this community and they're a fabric of this community and they raise families in this community. These people are here and they're gone and you'll never see them again. And then you're left to deal with problems.”
After they agreed to prevent True Oil from using existing town roads, the council proposed that any operator looking to send 80,000-plus pound trucks through town streets should invest in the construction of a new road connecting U.S. Highway 40 to Breeze Basin Boulevard south of the town, or access the wells via Moffat County.
“We're not only concerned about the schools and the safety of residents, but also the turns the trucks will have to make when they have to turn from Poplar onto Breeze Basin,” Hayden Town Manager David Torgler told the council before he outlined the possible route of a new road that would bypass residential areas.
The cost for such a project hasn't been determined.
Staying ahead of the game
Sensing that oil and gas operators here are optimistic about their operations on the Niobrara Shale formation below Northwest Colorado, Haskins, who also serves as the area wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, said the town needs to adopt policies that prevent taxpayers from shouldering the burdens that can accompany an oil play.
He then gestured toward a map hanging up in Town Hall showing existing oil and gas leases and said activity near Hayden has the potential to pick up.
“Looking at that map, there's an awful lot that could be developed around Hayden,” he said, adding that he has seen reports showing the existing wells near Hayden are producing as much as 500 barrels per day and as little as 30 barrels. “I can't tell you if they're coming tomorrow or next week, but we're trying to come up with a game plan here.”
Like Haskins, many council members also took the position that although nearby energy exploration has the welcome potential to benefit individual landowners holding mineral rights, the activity has little financial incentive to the town as a whole.
“Nobody wants to stand in front of economic development ... but what nobody understands is there is no money (coming to the town from nearby wells), and when they tear up your infrastructure, there's no money to fix it except with your taxes,” Dallas Robinson said.
Robinson and Mayor Pro Tem Lorraine Johnson both said they didn't want to simply tell oil and gas operators “no” on using town streets.
They sensed some potential benefit from oil crews stopping and spending in Hayden, but they agreed that the safety concerns associated with an increase of heavy trucks through town outweighed any of those potential benefits.
The council also predicted that if an oil play picks up in their area, they likely would be negotiating with Shell Oil and seeking the company's investment in their infrastructure.
In March, officials with Shell said they were planning to drill three exploratory wells in Routt County, including one southwest of Hayden off C.R. 65.
And in September, it was announced that Shell was partnering with Quicksilver Resources to jointly develop oil and gas in an area covering more than 850,000 acres in Northwest Colorado.
Torgler said Thursday that he would like to continue discussing with the council the other potential impacts of oil and gas exploration in Hayden.
“It's all rumors and speculation at this point, and that's why some of the advice we've heard is no town has ever planned perfectly for the oil and gas industry,” Torgler said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com