2nd Wolf Mountain well goes to Routt County commissioners
March 11, 2012
Steamboat Springs — The steps needed to monitor groundwater quality in the vicinity of oil wells on a mountainside southeast of Hayden are almost certain to come up Monday night when the Routt County Board of Commissioners considers an application for a drilling permit by Quicksilver Resources.
The Routt County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit for private property on Wolf Mountain Ranch by a 7-2 vote March 1.
Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips said Friday that Quicksilver, surface land owners Pirtlaw Partners/Wolf Mountain and the Planning Commission all have points of view on what's needed to test nearby wells and springs in order to detect whether any compounds related to drilling operations find their way into the groundwater.
Quicksilver Resources officials hope to take a two-phase approach to drilling a second well beginning late this month on Wolf Mountain, about 6 miles northeast of Hayden.
Quicksilver already completed one exploratory well on Wolf Mountain Ranch in 2011. The first well was drilled by another company, and subsequently acquired by Quicksilver, which completed hydraulic fracturing there. The well has yet to go into full production.
The second well would be drilled within a mile of the first. The new well ultimately is destined to be drilled to a depth of 7,800 feet in the Niobrara Shale formation.
However, a first phase would be drilled to a depth of 1,200 feet using a 60-foot surface rig. Quicksilver expects that phase to begin by March 22, pending issuance of permits. The company plans to complete the first phase by March 31, then resume drilling a second phase in August after the sensitive period for grouse mating and chick rearing in the area.
The first phase of drilling is dependent on a one-time variance to grouse restrictions, which typically are observed from March 15 to July 30.
Area Wildlife Officer Jim Haskins, of the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, has said that his office has approved the variance and the two-phased drilling plan.
Quicksilver Senior Director of Government and Community Affairs Steve Lindsey told the Planning Commission this month that his company would participate in the voluntary water-testing program designed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association across all of its operations in Routt County.
According to the association Web page, that means water samples would be collected from the two closest groundwater features including permitted and registered groundwater wells or groundwater seeps and springs within a half-mile of well pads. Baseline samples would be collected prior to the setting of the well casing. A second sample would be collected from each of the groundwater features within one year of well completion, unless prior notification is filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Sampling would be conducted only if landowner access is granted and the landowner agrees that the laboratory analytical results will be submitted to the Oil and Gas Commission for posting to a database that can be viewed by the public.
Post-completion samples also will be collected from wells from which baseline samples were collected in the case of landowner complaints of a distinct or measurable change in water quality.
Conditions recommended by Planning Commission on March 1 call for dedicated groundwater wells to be installed within 300 feet of the drilling site boundary. The number of wells would be determined by geologic studies, groundwater depth and flow direction.
Samples would be tested according to Oil and Gas Association guidelines.
Further, the Planning Commission recommends that sampling and testing occur at least annually throughout the life of the permit. Sampling and testing would take place 60 to 90 days following the completion of the well or 60 to 90 days after fracking operations are carried out, then at one year intervals through the life of the permit.
According to minutes from the March 1 Planning Commission meeting, Brent Romick, a representative of the surface owners, Pirtlaw Partners, told Planning Commission members that because they want to minimize surface disturbance, they would request the elimination of "additional and intrusive water testing requirements."
And in a March 1 letter, Pirtlaw officials informed the Planning Department that they had undertaken a water sampling program at two springs located downhill from the first well on Wolf Mountain.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com