Colorado natural-gas company may be in a bigger hole than it thought
September 8, 2009
GARFIELD COUNTY – A natural-gas company that has been drilling wells inside the Battlement Mesa PUD without the proper permits may have a harder time clearing its slate than it once thought.
A Garfield County commissioner has, at least temporarily, derailed a board of county commissioners decision allowing Williams Production to retroactively apply for permits to drill wells that have existed, illegally, for years.
Williams has two well pads within the boundaries of the Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development (PUD), which covers some 3,200 acres of territory in Western Garfield County near Parachute.
The well pads, with six active wells and plans for up to 16 more, were built without the required special use permits that are called for in the documents of the PUD, which laid out the approvals and conditions for the development starting in the mid-1970s.
The need for a special use permit was generally unknown, and had escaped the memory of the Garfield County staff, until it was uncovered recently when Antero Resources announced plans to place 10 well pads of its own within the PUD, with a potential for 20 wells per pad. The requirement was discovered during research into the county’s codes and the documents that created Battlement Mesa for the ill-fated oil shale boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Williams pads came to light at about the same time, and the possibility that it might lose the right to pump gas from the site prompted the company to file for a “takings” hearing before the county commissioners. A finding of a “taking” is a legal remedy open to private property owners who feel the government has improperly denied them the value of their property.
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The commissioners decided in August that rather than punish the company, it would be allowed to retroactively apply for the special use permits and, if the application was accepted, not be held responsible for violating the provisions of the PUD.
Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who this week was in the role of acting chairman in the absence of chairman John Martin, was not at the Aug. 17 meeting at which the Williams decision was made. At the commissioners meeting on Sept. 8 she pulled the plug on the agreement, which was on what is known as the “consent agenda.” Consent agenda items are typically routine items liable to be approved with little discussion, but any commissioner can pull out any consent agenda item for discussion.
Houpt, noting that she was not at the Aug. 17 meeting, added that if she had been there, “I’m not completely convinced that I would have agreed with the resolution” of the topic.
The Williams application for a special use permit has not yet been received by Garfield County, but was to be subject to a hearing before the county planning and zoning commission as well as before the commissioners in December.
A Williams representative, attorney Jim Borgel, told the commissioners in August that the wells in question are located in the far northeastern corner of the PUD, far from residential development, and that their presence had not generated any complaints from either the residents or the Battlement Mesa Oil and Gas Committee.
The commissioners agreed in August that the company can continue to operate its existing wells and drill new ones while the matter is being reviewed.