Routt County commissioners to hear oil well request
Board to discuss proposed well near grouse habitat
February 8, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners will hear a request today for a permit to drill an exploratory oil and gas well on a portion of Wolf Mountain Ranch that is under a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy.
County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said Monday the proposed well pad off Routt County Road 70, about six miles northeast of Hayden, is within six-tenths of a mile of a sensitive sage grouse lek.
The energy company, Sunterra Oil and Gas LP, has agreed to suspend drilling from March 15 until July 30, the most sensitive time of the year for Columbian sharp tail grouse breeding and rearing.
"It's frustrating. We try to do our homework on these conservation easements," the Nature Conservancy's Geoff Blakeslee said Monday. "We thought the chances of this happening were remote, but technology is changing and these are issues we are going to be faced with."
The issue has risen in part because the subsurface mineral rights on this portion of Wolf Mountain are severed from the surface rights. The owners of Wolf Mountain have the ability to negotiate terms of the energy company's access to the well pad but ultimately cannot stop them from drilling.
Blakeslee said Robert Waltrip, controlling partner of Pirtlaw Partners, owners of the ranch, had assembled a strong team to work out the surface rights agreement with Sunterra.
"The landowner is committed to protecting the conservation values on the easement," Blakeslee said.
The Sunterra request marks the third that has come before the commissioners since October.
The Routt County Planning Commission voted, 7-0, on Jan. 20, 2010, to approve the request of Sunterra for a special use permit to drill the well with conditions.
Brent Romick, representing Waltrip's partnership, told the Planning Commission that the protection of the grouse lek is the single most important element of the surface agreements and described the work done to establish baseline data about the habits of the birds.
Planning Commissioner Donna Hellyer predicted Jan. 20 that the heavy use of C.R. 70 would have an impact on the habitat.
County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Monday she wants more specific language in any conditions of approval, if not a formal agreement with Sunterra detailing the requirement that the drilling outfit would be responsible for any damage to the county road beyond that requiring routine maintenance.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife has consulted closely on conditions needed to protect the grouse, which have lost a large percentage of their critical habitat throughout the region, Blakeslee said, and a biologist familiar to the conservancy will monitor activity on the site.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com