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Drilling issues before Garfield County

Phillip YatesGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS Area residents opposed to drilling near the Project Rulison nuclear blast site and others opposed to changes to county zoning regulations for man camps at area gas rigs are expected to address Garfield County commissioners on Monday.Residents who live near the Project Rulison blast site where the government detonated a 43-kiloton nuclear weapon 8,426 feet below the surface in 1969 in an experiment to free up natural gas will address the county commissioners to ask their support on three specific actions about drilling in the area.The residents last month asked the county to ask for an extension to request a hearing for drilling permits about one mile from the blast site, but the county declined that request. The county said it will seek a hearing for permits within a half-mile of the blast site.EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) and Noble Energy have received conditional approval for 19 permits for wells within a three-mile area after a Dec. 21 decision by Dave Neslin, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to allow drilling within the area. Residents believe perhaps more than 1,000 drilling applications could be submitted within a three-mile perimeter of the blast site.Oil and gas commission records show 13 producing wells within three miles of the site, and approximately 40 wells have been permitted but not yet drilled.The three actions the residents are seeking were outlined in a letter submitted to the commissioners in advance of the Monday meeting.According to the letter, the Department of Energy is willing to conduct further research and testing at the blast site, and that the state will request additional research if Garfield County will agree.We request that the county commission agree and state that it supports further DOE research and investigation at this site, the letter said.The residents will also request that the commissioners endorse an open scientific advisory committee. That committee would be composed of recognized scientists to work with the DOE in ensuring the quality and openness of any DOE research and recommendations regarding the need for a no drilling closure enveloped to protect the public health and safety from contamination of ground, water, soil or produced natural gas, according to the letter.The residents also requested that commissioners agree to let residents make a presentation regarding the scientific and technical basis for their concerns before any more permit applications are sent to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.Surely it is wise to be cautious as drilling activity increases exponentially around the Rulison site, the letter said.Garfield County commissioners will also hold a public hearing on proposed man camp regulations. The changes could allow many of the housing structures at area gas rigs to be built without special use permits, which energy companies have to receive during public hearings before county commissioners.Under the proposal drawn up by the county planning staff, the industry could automatically house up to six workers at a time in small temporary housing after receiving a building permit. However, the temporary housing would have to meet certain performance standards, such as providing adequate water supplies.Camps housing from seven to 24 workers would require authorization by the county planning department, according to the new plan. Anything larger would require a hearing before county commissioners, as the county has been requiring of camps of all sizes under its current rules.The Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a member group of the Western Colorado Congress, and others are arguing against the county adopting the new regulations.The county commissioners are pushing regulations that will allow up to 12 employees to live on your property without your permission, said Pepi Langegger, who owns Twin Creek Ranch outside of Silt, in a prepared statement. Landowners throughout Garfield County should be outraged by this proposal.Garfield County commissioners considered adopting the new regulations last month, but voted to continue a hearing on the matter until Monday.Mike McKibben of The Citizen Telegram contributed to this report.

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