Routt County defies state oil official, OKs Quicksilver permit | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County defies state oil official, OKs Quicksilver permit

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night defied an eleventh-hour admonition from the acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and approved an oil well permit with requirements for water-quality monitoring, which the board deemed necessary to protect 39 domestic water wells a mile away from the well in unincorporated Milner.

"We've been told we have an oil and gas commission that is putting stringent requirements on oil and gas operations. It simply is not true," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "Protecting our water quality is a local concern. The (Oil and Gas Commission) has not helped us protect the water (wells) of Milner, which is why we are having to do it."

A little more than an hour before the hearing was set to begin at 5 p.m., the commissioners received an email from Oil and Gas Commission Acting Director Thom Kerr urging them to not impose their own conditions of approval on Quicksilver Resources' application for a permit to allow the company to drill an oil well on the Camilletti Ranch.

Kerr wrote that any plans to require Quicksilver to drill a well between the oil well pad and Milner to monitor groundwater quality would usurp his agency's authority.

"I strongly encourage the county to refrain from attaching any technical conditions of approval to Quicksilver's Camilletti 21-10 permit, including such conditions pertaining to water sampling and monitoring," Kerr wrote.

But Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, plainly irritated with the timing of the email from Kerr, said the county has statutory authority over matters of land-use policy and a responsibility to its residents to protect their health, welfare and the environment. She added that she thinks the Oil and Gas Commission does not have an adequate number of inspectors to monitor thousands of oil wells across the state.

"The agency charged with protecting our air and water quality (in the context of oil and gas exploration) really doesn't do it," Mitsch Bush said.

Mitsch Bush said she thinks the county must take measures to protect domestic wells in Milner, about 11 miles west of Steamboat Springs, before any signs of contamination appear.

"What we are doing here is to build conditions that can mitigate impacts before they happen, including water quality," she said. "Not after water wells in Milner are contaminated but before."

Quicksilver has been through numerous and lengthy public hearings regarding the well at the county level, with one of them lasting until 12:45 a.m.

Quicksilver Senior Director of Governmental and Community Affairs Steve Lindsey said after Tuesday's meeting that his company would redress its objection to Routt County's water-monitoring condition with the Oil and Gas Commission and would consider taking it to the Attorney General's office if necessary.

"Our goal from the beginning was to work in a collaborative way, but I think there's a fundamental disagreement with the county on the conditions of approval," Lindsey said. "We want to work within the procedures of the (Oil and Gas Commission) so that it is consistent from the state to local level."

Lindsey and Kerr suggested that the assurances Routt County seeks for protecting groundwater are provided by the state's oversight of the proper cementing and casing of the well bore.

Lindsey said that once the well is pressurized, any leaks of drilling fluids, for example, would be readily apparent.

"The pressure is monitored, and you can identify any issue immediately," he said.

Among the county commissioners, Kerr and Lindsey, there are differing interpretations about how the county has participated in the Oil and Gas Commission's local government designee procedure, which calls for a representative of the county — in Routt's case, county planner Chris Brookshire — to inform the Oil and Gas Commission board in writing when the county wants to add conditions of approval to a state drilling permit.

After the Camilletti permit application was deemed complete at the state level Nov. 7, Brookshire submitted comments explaining that the county was concerned about contamination. She went on to assert that Quicksilver should develop monitoring systems to address those concerns, according to Kerr.

However, Kerr added that Routt County's designee did not exercise its right to a hearing before the nine-member commission to demand that Quicksilver be required to monitor water quality.

"Why didn't they do that?" Lindsey asked rhetorically after the meeting.

Stahoviak said she looked up a Oil and Gas Commission assessment of the Camilletti well location in which Kerr indicated the Routt County local designee had not commented on the well, a statement that was inconsistent with his letter Tuesday.

"That really concerns me," Stahoviak said.

In his letter, Kerr sounded equally concerned that the county's decision to impose its own water-quality testing measures at the Camilletti well could interfere with his agency's ability to carry out state policies on oil and gas exploration.

"The county's imposition of a costly water-sampling plan will usurp the (Oil and Gas Commission's) authority to minimize adverse impacts arising out of oil and gas development, will bypass the (Oil and Gas Commission's) permitting regime and related safeguards, and will impede the state policy 'to encourage, by every appropriate means, the full development of the state's natural resources to the benefit of all of the citizens of Colorado,'" as required by state statute, Kerr wrote.

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

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