Antero, citizens groups reach preliminary agreement
Aspen, CO Colorado
BATTLEMENT MESA, Colo. – Negotiations remain relatively cordial among Silt Mesa residents and Antero Resources officials, according to a report to the Garfield County commissioners on Jan 10.
But at least one of those commissioners, John Martin, emphatically stated that the outcome of the negotiations “is not binding on the county at all” as the Board of County Commissioners considers how to deal with conflicts over intensified gas drilling on Silt Mesa.
“The burden of proof is on the county,” Martin told representatives of the Silt Mesa property owners who are resisting Antero’s plans to drill one gas well every 10 acres in their semi-rural neighborhood.
The county has to provide evidence to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Martin said, “to prove that the spacing-order request [if granted] is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare” of nearby residents, he said.
Martin’s remarks, and the negotiations, revolve around Antero’s request to the COGCC to increase the drilling density on Silt Mesa. The current allowable level is up to one well per 40 acres, and Antero hopes to increase that to up to one well per 10 acres.
Antero officials have stressed that multiple wells can be drilled from a single drilling pad, and that there will not be drilling rigs popping up every 10 acres or so.
Still, residents are worried about everything from increased heavy-truck traffic to potential negative impacts on air and water quality.
Some residents have reported falling ill after drilling began on Silt Mesa last summer, blaming either fumes from the drilling activities or contamination of groundwater supplies from the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing.”
At least one family is moving away from their home of four years, relocating to a rental miles away from the drilling rigs.
Company and industry officials, however, have responded that they have helped residents to test water for contamination, and found none.
They also maintain that gas drilling activities have never been proven to cause health problems for nearby residents.
But pressure from residents and two citizen groups, the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA) and the Rifle/Silt/Peach Valley/New Castle (RSPN), a more informal organization, convinced the county to intervene to prevent the COGCC from approving Antero’s request, which is due to be heard at a meeting in Denver in late February.
To head off that intervention, Antero is meeting with the two groups to come up with some sort of agreement on how the drilling should proceed.
According to a draft “memorandum of understanding” submitted to the commissioners, Antero has preliminarily agreed “to drop proposed 10-acre well density at this time” in return for the withdrawal of Garfield County’s intervention in two well-spacing applications. The applications involve two sections of land of approximately 640 acres apiece, some of it belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
As the memorandum reads now, Antero has agreed to keep drilling density at 16 wells, from no more than four well pads, in each of the 640-acre sections, with a minimum of 500-foot setbacks from the well heads to any occupied dwellings.
The company also, at least in the draft, agrees to undertake “extra measures to protect water wells, irrigation ditches and other water resources,” according to the document.
But the draft document would not prevent Antero from applying for 10-acre well density development in the future, or in other portions in the Silt Mesa area.
Although Leslie Robinson of the GVCA at one point told the commissioners that the negotiations would take at least another week, outgoing Commissioner Tresi Houpt urged the negotiators to “take all the time you need … to make this a proper resolve.”
While no Antero official stood up to address the commissioners on the subject, Robinson said the company is aware that the draft is not a final agreement.
Fiona Lloyd of the RSPN group said that the RSPN does not have the legal standing of the county commissioners, and that “the agreement ultimately has to be between the Board of County Commissioners and Antero.”
If that were so, Martin responded, the county itself should be at the negotiating table, which it is not.
Houpt added that the RSPN group represents its members, and that the county is looking for “that nod of approval” from both the RSPN and the GVCA before making any further conclusions about whether to pursue the interventions or drop them.
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