Routt County requiring energy firm to help pay for road engineering | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County requiring energy firm to help pay for road engineering

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners will reconvene after the New Year's holiday Tuesday and consider a measure that figures prominently in its efforts to manage the course of energy exploration in 2012 and beyond.

The commissioners could sign an agreement Tuesday that calls for Quicksilver Resources to reimburse the county for the services of a consulting engineering firm, Schmueser, Gordon, Meyer, that will study and make recommendations on potential impacts of heavy truck traffic related to Quicksilver's pursuit of permits for four new exploratory wells.

Documents on file at the county show that Quicksilver already has signed the agreement and supplied a $9,280 deposit against the work to be done by the engineers.

The year that just ended could someday be remembered as the year that the seeds of a major oil play in Northwest Colorado germinated, and throughout 2011 the Routt County commissioners have said one of their best chances to influence how oil and gas exploration plays out here is through their ability to compel the energy companies to take care of rural county roads.

The impacts to mostly unpaved county roads that are susceptible to the effects of moisture could include heavy water tanker trucks delivering the most common component in some well fracking operations, the trucks that deliver the drilling rigs and, ultimately, trucks that haul away any oil the wells might produce.

The commissioners sent a signal in October about how seriously they take their mission of protecting county roads when they to tabled a drilling permit application from Shell Oil for a well south of Yampa Valley Regional Airport, which Shell had hoped to begin drilling in September.

Dismayed, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said, "I'm drawing the line, right here, right now."

Shell officials quickly promised to undertake further diligence to answer the county's questions.

Energy working group

The county's efforts to require energy exploration companies to pay for consulting engineering firms to safeguard the condition of rural roads comes as the commissioners engage members of the public — some who are on record seeking a moratorium against new drilling permits and others who have worked in the industry — to recommend new conditions of approval that could be brought to bear in the issuance of drilling permits.

County Planning Director Chad Phillips said in late December that he had initiated conversations with representatives of drilling companies to seek answers to questions he has about the potential impacts of drilling subcontractors should the activity here escalate.

Phillips said he has observed the significant number of equipment and supply yards, sometimes referred to as lay-down yards, that have proliferated along Interstate 70 in western Rifle. Those industrial yards can be used to store everything from drilling rigs to heavy equipment to stacks of pipe.

Because there is very little industrially zoned land near Steamboat, Phillips surmised the Hayden area could see the brunt of that activity if it came to pass. However, he said his contact guessed that because some existing drilling approvals have imposed a quiet period from March through July to protect nearby grouse mating and rearing grounds, the contractors might be reluctant to purchase or lease industrial ground. Instead, they told Phillips, those secondary companies might prefer to serve Routt County from existing bases either along I-70 or in southern Wyoming.

A scope of work

The work Schmueser, Gordon, Meyer will conduct on behalf of Routt County for four wells owned by Quicksilver includes a site visit to each of the drilling sites to assess existing access route and the existing drainage situation. Most of the current drilling interest here is at sites west of Steamboat Springs.

SGM will also consider site distances at the intersection of county roads and U.S. Highway 40, according to a memo written by Routt County's senior traffic engineer Heather McLaughlin.

If no traffic data has been collected on the primary access route to the well pad within the past two years, SGM will collect that data and consult with the Colorado Department of Transportation to determine if a highway permit is required.

The study also will generate a report on vehicle trip generation that would be created by the activity at the well pad.

SGM will provide a detailed list of potential mitigations measure that could be required of Quicksilver during the exploration phase of its work, and an SGM engineer will be available for public hearings if requested.

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