Garfield County commissioners speak out, again, in a gas industry case |

Garfield County commissioners speak out, again, in a gas industry case

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – When Garfield County officials go to Denver on Nov. 29 to appear before the state’s gas and oil overseers, it will not be the first time they have done so.

On at least three occasions, the board of county commissioners has moved to intervene with gas industry plans to increase the density of underground gas wells, with mixed results.

Roughly a decade ago, the county had a similar situation develop over drilling plans by the Barrett Resources Corp. for land in the Rulison area, a semi-rural enclave located on the south side of the Colorado River between Rifle and Parachute.

According to county officials and published accounts, Barrett, in 2000, asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for the right to drill gas wells at a density of one well per 20 acres, at a time when well density was typically no greater than one well per 40 acres.

Garfield County Attorney Don DeFord said the county commissioners, swayed by citizen appeals, decided to step in on the side of its constituents.

DeFord recalled that the commissioners hired an outside attorney, Martha Rudolph (currently the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) to argue that the higher-density drilling was not appropriate for the area.

DeFord said that Rudolph amassed a squad of expert witnesses concerning reclamation issues and the comparatively new technology, at that time, known as “directional drilling.”

The upshot of the 2000 hearing before the state commission, DeFord recalled, was that Colorado officials ruled that Barrett could proceed with its drilling plans, but that the company had to make do with fewer drilling pads than it had applied for, and use directional drilling to minimize the amount of surface disturbance.

Prior to that time, DeFord said, directional drilling was considered too expensive for use in all but certain situations. Today, he said, “nearly all the wells drilled around here are by directional drilling.”

More recently, in February of this year, the county was preparing to intervene in another application, this one by Antero Resources, to drill at a density of one well per 10 acres in an area adjacent to Battlement Mesa.

Battlement Mesa is an unincorporated community of approximately 5,500 residents near the Town of Parachute, where Antero also has separate plans to drill up to 200 wells within the boundaries of the 3,500-acre Battlement Mesa Planned Unit Development.

According to Dave Devanney, co-chair of the Battlement Concerned Citizens group, the intervention in February was called off when “the county was advised that this type of request was fairly routine and that they had already been approved by the COGCC in the past for Antero and other operators.”

The county also at one time planned to intervene in a request from Berry Petroleum Co. to drill for gas near the controversial Prather Springs location in western Garfield County, where the COGCC has ruled that the spring has been contaminated by drilling activities.

But upon learning that the requested drilling site was “several drainages over” from the Prather springs, the county dropped its intervention plans.