Routt County approves new oil well | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County approves new oil well

Oil and gas hearing goes beyond midnight

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted, 2-1, early Wednesday morning to grant a permit for Quicksilver Resources to drill a new well overlooking the Yampa River on Wolf Mountain west of Steamboat Springs.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush dissented, saying the proposal did not conform with elements of the county master plan and zoning regulations.

"I cannot say with surety that this will not adversely affect public health," Mitsch Bush said.

The company intends to begin drilling the first phase of the new well no later than April 4, then vacate the well pad and complete the bore hole to a depth of more than 7,000 feet in August.

As midnight approached Tuesday, the commissioners and representatives of Quicksilver Resources continued the laborious task of settling on the details of conditions of approvals for a second oil well on Wolf Mountain northeast of Hayden.

Entering the seventh hour of the public hearing, about 25 members of the audience remained in their seats in the courthouse for the discussion. The commissioners and their attorneys hashed out the wording of each of the 60 conditions with Quicksilver Senior Director of Community Affairs and Governmental Relations Steve Lindsey.

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The negotiations took on a serious tone when Lindsey and the commissioners appeared to have reached an impasse about a condition of approval having to do with the commissioners' strong desire to have well water testing conducted annually for the life of the special-use permit enabling the oil well.

Lindsey objected, saying the requirement of annually testing for the life of the permit went well beyond the voluntary program designed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association his company had agreed to.

"You have to draw the line somewhere," Lindsey said. "We're saying for this instance, the voluntary baseline program is what we're agreeing to. We think rewriting or tinkering with it could result in unintended consequences that have already been thought through from Colorado Oil and Gas Commission to the governor's office to the attorney general's office."

Lindsey suggested a compromise, offering to conduct a baseline test on an existing water well down gradient from the oil drilling pad, then test it again after fracking operations were completed at the well, and a third time after five years had passed.

However, commissioners Mitsch Bush and Nancy Stahoviak would not relent.

Mitsch Bush observed that assuring that groundwater is protected from possible contamination from drilling and fracking was the highest priority of members of the public who have commented on the drilling permit application.

"I will argue for the foreseeable future that once or twice or three times isn't enough" testing, Mitsch Bush said. "Keep monitoring to make sure the wells are OK. It will be done at least annually and will be continued through the life of the" special-use permit.

"This is where I'm going to draw a line in the sand," Stahoviak said. "Unless sometime in the future there's evidence presented to us that it's really not needed."

Lindsey then agreed to the condition but said he retained the right to challenge it at a future date.

"We'll accept that as a condition of approval, reserving our rights to file a rebuttal regarding that requirement," he said. "Based on a reservation of rights we'll confer with counsel and the COGCC."

Once that impasse had been resolved, Lindsey and the commissioners proceeded deliberately with the work of agreeing on the remaining details of the conditions of approval.

They talked about limiting the times of operation of trucks visiting the oil well, wildlife issues and methods of testing for volatile organic compounds escaping from drilling equipment.

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

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