Oil well on Wolf Mountain shifts to fracking | SteamboatToday.com

Oil well on Wolf Mountain shifts to fracking

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners reacted with surprise this week at the news that the Quicksilver oil-drilling pad on Wolf Mountain east of Hayden is being changed to drilling equipment that will employ the hydraulic fracturing techniques commonly referred to as fracking.

"I'm alarmed," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said during a discussion with planning staff Monday. "I didn't realize. Mea culpa for not knowing they could change it to fracking."

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips said Tuesday that he is in the process of confirming with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission whether the county has jurisdiction over down-hole techniques like fracking.

Mitsch Bush said Monday that regardless of whether the county has the direct ability to prevent the use of hydraulic fracturing, the county should be able to regulate it through the use of road regulations that could address the impacts of hauling chemicals and large amounts of water used in the process.

The county originally issued the permit to drill the Pirtlaw No. 1 H-3 well to Sunterra, in early February.

County Planner Chris Brookshire was notified in May that Sunterra had sold its interest in the exploratory well to Quicksilver Resources, of Fort Worth, Texas, and that the new owner followed procedures that included bonding a little more than $41,000 for future site cleanup and acknowledged in writing that the company would live by the conditions imposed by the county on the original special-use permit.

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Olson Associates, a Grand Junction-based consulting firm working on the project for Quicksilver, filed a formal notification June 15 with the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that it intended to change from the original direction drilling process to a vertical well, and that document is in the county's file on the project.

However, Brookshire told the commissioners Monday that she had not received any formal notification of the change to the fracking technique. She learned about the change while visiting the site earlier this month and observed that new drilling equipment was being trucked onto the well pad site.

The realization that the change to fracking could be made without notification led County Manager Tom Sullivan to question how much control Routt has over the process.

"Nobody at the state or federal level is looking out for the local interest," Sullivan said. "How do we protect the local interest?"

The Pirtlaw well is named after a company directed by Bob Waltrip, who owns the surface land rights to the well site within his sprawling Wolf Mountain Ranch. The well site also lies within the boundaries of a 1,757-acre conservation easement held by The Nature Conservancy on Wolf Mountain Ranch.

The three-acre well pad occupies a sagebrush-covered hillside overlooking Morgan Bottom along Routt County Road 70 north of U.S. Highway 40. It is within six-tenths of a mile from a mating lek used by struggling populations of Columbian sharp-tailed grouse.

Sunterra and now Quicksilver have agreed to abide by recommendations from the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife that drilling activities not take place between March 15 and July 30, when the grouse are mating actively and rearing chicks on the lek.

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

Shell permit tabled indefinitely

The Routt County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to table indefinitely a permit application by Shell Oil to drill the Dawson Creek well south of Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

It was the second time since Sept. 13 that the Shell application has been tabled for a lack of information. On Tuesday, county oil and gas planner Chris Brookshire confirmed Shell’s analysis of truck traffic on county roads, which was submitted Monday evening, was not in time to allow county officials and their consultant to analyze it.

Shell spokeswoman Carolyn D. Tucker told the Steamboat Today that her company took responsibility for the delay.

“We apologize for the delay in the traffic information,” Tucker said. “It was definitely our fault. The study is complex, and we wanted to do it right.”

Tucker added that two wells Shell is drilling in Moffat County represent the first time in “many, many years” her company has drilled specifically for oil (and not for natural gas) in Colorado and her colleagues are learning the public process.

Tucker was emphatic that the Dawson Creek well will not involve fracking.

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