Routt County relaxes drilling dates for oil well west of Steamboat Springs

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Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:40 a.m. Thursday to include comments from Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins.

Now that the eagles have flown, the Routt County commissioners have agreed to relax the window of dates when Quicksilver Resources may drill its third oil well on Wolf Mountain northeast of Hayden.

The commissioners approved a special use permit to allow the drilling of the new well, formally known as Pirtlaw 32-09, on Jan. 22. The permit came with the condition that it must be drilled after March 1, to avoid impacts on a nearby winter roosting site for bald eagles, and before March 15, when Columbian sharp-tailed grouse brooding season begins in the vicinity.

Routt County Planning Director Chad Philips and the commissioners have amended the conditions of approval for the new oil well at the request of Quicksilver after receiving confirmation from officials at the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife that eagles have left the vicinity. According to the press release, a Parks and Wildlife official has stated the agency "has no concerns with allowing drilling activities to occur during the month of February.”

The release continues to state that the bald eagles may have moved on from the roost (in a tree) not far from the Yampa River because of cold weather patterns.

Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins explained in a Jan. 29 letter to Quicksilver officials that a member of his staff surveyed the area twice daily at dawn and dusk from Jan. 23 to 27 and determined there was no roosting activity taking place within a buffer zone near the proposed well. During the same time period, one eagle was seen roosting consistently outside the buffer zone to the northwest.

Haskins added that the eagles are drawn to mature cottonwood trees close to foraging areas, where they rest and sleep during the night.

"With the recent cold temperatures that have existed in this area of the state, foraging conditions along the Yampa River are extremely limited," Haskins wrote. "Within the area in question 95 percent or better of the river is frozen over."

The release adds that expanding the drilling period also could reduce another form of environmental impact by potentially precluding the need for the drilling operator to move heavy equipment onto the site twice.

Quicksilver has told county officials that drilling activities could begin as soon as the week beginning Feb. 11.

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

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