Southwestern Energy era begins in Routt County oil exploration

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— The Routt County Planning Commission voted unanimously May 15 to recommend approval of a permit allowing Southwestern Energy to drill a new oil well on a pad located just off Routt County Road 80 on land controlled by the State Land Board north of Hayden.

The new well, along with the Board of County Commissioners’ approval last week of the long-anticipated permits for the Williams and Dill Gulch wells south of Hayden, marks the assumption by Southwestern Energy of Shell Oil’s former interests in Northwest Colorado. Drilling and completion operations at Williams and Dill Gulch now will be carried out by Southwestern.

Oil & gas issues in Routt County

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider final approval of the north Hayden well at 2 p.m. June 10 at the Routt County Courthouse, 522 Lincoln Ave.

Shell announced in August 2013 that it would divest itself of its leases in the Niobrara shale of Northwest Colorado to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Southwestern Energy acquired those leases in March for $180 million.

County Planning Director Chad Phillips said Monday that the recent oil well hearings have been routine, due in large part to Southwestern officials’ willingness to agree to the county's conditions of approval.

The north Hayden well is planned for an area of sage- and scrub oak-covered rolling hills valued as an area where elk concentrate in the winter. One of the recommended conditions of approval is that during the heart of winter, Dec. 1 to April 15, site visits will be restricted to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The well head would be 296 feet from the county road. The State Land Board controls both surface and subsurface mineral rights at the site.

The recommended conditions of approval also preclude drilling the well until after July 30 because the well will be within 1.25 miles of a Columbian sharp-tailed grouse breeding and rearing lek.

Colorado law requires that Southwestern test water sources within a half-mile of the well, and although there are no existing water wells within that radius, Southwestern has agreed to extend the testing area to a 1-mile radius in order to take in three wells for testing, according to county planner Chris Brookshire.

Phillips said about 15 members of the local group, Citizens Supporting Property Rights, attended last week’s hearing. Amy Williams — one of the organizers, who, with her husband, Mike, also owns the land where Southwestern will drill the Williams Well — was the only person to speak briefly in favor of the permit during public comments, Phillips said.

The well would be drilled to a depth of just more than 9,950 feet, and Southwestern is keeping open the option of fracking the well.

“Fracking operations have not been determined but will be performed if needed,” Brookshire wrote in her description of the project for the Planning Commission.

Some of the workers working on the well will be housed in Hayden and bused to the site, and others will be housed in self-contained trailers on site during drilling operations.

“The drilling crews will consist of two shifts of up to 12 employees on a 24-hour basis,” Brookshire wrote.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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