EnCana offers money to homeowners to speed up drilling
RIFLE Residents of Grass Mesa are considering an offer by EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) to speed up drilling there and give their homeowners association $500,000 in savings.The money could go to road maintenance or other neighborhood needs.The plan would require the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to lift an existing prohibition on drilling in winter to be lifted by the for two winters. That restriction is in place to protect winter elk range, but EnCana has offered to provide a temporary seasonal wildlife refuge adjacent to Grass Mesa, located south of Rifle.Under the plan, EnCana hopes to dedicate two drilling rigs to the Grass Mesa area year-round and complete its current drilling program there by 2010, two years earlier than planned. “If we can get through that program faster, we feel it’s a benefit to us and a benefit to the neighbors,” he said.EnCana plans to pursue the idea with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and BLM only if a majority of homeowners support the idea. The company formally presented the idea to homeowners July 16.Garland Anderson, manager of the homeowners association on Grass Mesa, said some residents are adamantly opposed to the proposal and others just as strongly support it. Residents have until Aug. 21 to vote on it, he said.Grass Mesa consists of about 3,000 acres. It has 77 parcels averaging about 40 acres in size, Anderson said. More than 45 families live there.The underlying federal minerals were leased to EnCana, which has drilled more than 120 wells there so far. It plans to drill 62 additional wells, and has contingency plans for 12 more.The company plans to do exploratory drilling in deeper geological formations next year and could return to do more drilling in those formations later.BLM spokesman David Boyd said the agency would consider lifting the winter restriction only if homeowners and the DOW support the idea.DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said the agency is interested in the plan, if homeowners like it.”There’s some really good things about getting in and getting out and getting that work done,” he said.DOW officials believe the 8,000 acres of temporary wildlife refuge that would be provided would be better habitat than the top of the mesa. EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said also is willing to move its rigs to the northern part of the mesa in the winter, to protect the southern part, which is more important habitat.Hock said the accelerated program would save EnCana the cost of moving rigs and help it get gas into production faster.Anderson said the homeowner association board decided against taking a position on the proposal because of the sharp differences of opinion over it and decided to simply put it to residents to decide.His own view is that it makes sense because some year-round operations already occur at wells, such as for maintenance and water hauling. The money could help the homeowners with the costly task of doing work on the parts of its roads not already maintained by EnCana as a part of its drilling program, he said.But one complication is that the nonprofit organization would receive only about $375,000 after paying taxes on what would be considered a gift, he said.EnCana first offered to simply rebuild the road to Grass Mesa so it could have winter access, but later decided to offer the neighborhood money to use as it sees fit, Hock said.EnCana’s relations with Grass Mesa residents were strained when drilling began several years ago but have improved gradually over time, Anderson said. He said residents had to educate the company to a degree because it hadn’t done much drilling in neighborhoods.Complaints over the years have centered on things such as traffic, noise and fumes. The company says it is continuing to take steps to reduce such impacts.
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