Routt County Board of Commissioners discuss oil and gas permitting in anticipation of applications | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County Board of Commissioners discuss oil and gas permitting in anticipation of applications

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners took preliminary steps to beef up their oil and gas permitting regulations Tuesday in anticipation of a new wave of drilling applications.

The county is preparing a draft of new policies for energy exploration companies that intend to drill along rough rural roads that see minimal maintenance. The dirt roads were not designed or built to the standards that would allow the heavy truck traffic often associated with drilling operations. The intent is to require the wildcatters to post bonds to ensure, if necessary, the roads will be repaired without burdening local taxpayers.

"The sooner the better, before we totally get an onslaught of permits," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said.

She confirmed that the Routt County Planning Department doesn't have any oil and gas permits in the pipeline but that a recent spate of mineral leasing activity has commissioners paying close attention.

"They aren't going to pay $500 an acre for mineral rights and not do anything," Commissioner Doug Monger agreed.

County Planning Director Chad Phillips confirmed Tuesday that planner Chris Brookshire has made a couple of visits to a prospective drilling site west of Hayden.

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Officials with Quicksilver Resources have informed Phillips' office by phone that within several weeks they intend to fill an application for a special-use permit to allow exploratory drilling in the area visited by Brookshire.

Quicksilver is a Fort Worth, Texas-based company that describes itself as a leader in the development and production of coal bed methane and shale gas.

Another energy company that hit a gusher deep beneath Weld County on the Eastern Plains of Colorado last year has touched off local speculation. They struck oil in a formation called Niobrara Shale. That same sedimentary rock is close enough to the surface in western Routt County to make drilling feasible. The Routt County Assessor's Office has been busy this year with oil landmen searching property records for land in the vicinity of the shale layer where ownership of subsurface rights is severed from surface rights.

Routt County already has fairly strict requirements in place on energy exploration, but in the past, the volume of applications has been a relative trickle. And because so few local wells have produced, the impact on ongoing operations has been negligible, Monger said.

Mitsch Bush said her research shows that other rural counties in the Rocky Mountain West have seen a sudden spike in drilling activity that sometimes has caught officials by surprise. Tuesday's discussion about tougher road regulations is an effort to avoid the same fate, she said.

"It's intended to protect us from what could be some major damage," County Manager Tom Sullivan.

Senior county road engineer Heather McLaughlin presented commissioners with a synopsis of road regulations for energy companies that already has been adopted by neighboring Moffat County.

Seven members of the public attended Tuesday's hearing.

Steve Aigner pointed out that the new regulations would require more staff time for inspections, and Mitsch Bush agreed with him that it was an important consideration.

Monger asked McLaughlin to return next week with draft language for a provision that would require energy exploration companies to obtain annual road permits to help ensure any damage from heavy trucks doesn't go unnoticed.

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

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