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Garfield County directs Antero, critics to seek compromise

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Garfield County officials on Monday did not withdraw a formal “intervention” into Antero Resources’ request for intensified gas-drilling rights on Silt Mesa.

But the Board of County Commissioners directed Antero and its critics, a group of neighborhood property owners and their supporters, to get together and work on some type of compromise by which they can all coexist in the area.

“If that doesn’t happen, then the intervention will go forward,” intoned Commissioner Mike Samson.

And, Samson said, should the commissioners decide to go ahead and withdraw from the intervention, it can still be done at a special meeting on any day up to Jan. 12.

The intervention is due to be heard by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on Jan. 13 at an “adjudicatory hearing” before a hearing officer – in this case, commission executive director Dave Neslin.

The meeting before the commissioners on Monday was to discuss Antero’s proposed “settlement” and request for the county to withdraw the intervention.

On its side of the discussion, Antero pledged to build a maximum of four well pads across the 640-acre section described in its application. That would mean “a hypothetical maximum” of one well pad per 160 acres, according to Antero, rather than the maximum of one well pad per 40 acres that currently is permitted, which would mean up to 16 wells across the 640-acre section.

In addition, according to attorney Ken Wonstolen, the company is offering a setback of 500 feet between any well head and an “occupied structure,” or home.

He said the current setback is 150 feet in “low density” drilling areas such as Silt Mesa, according to the gas commission.

Wonstolen noted that a recent Post Independent news story quoted an industry critic as calling Antero’s setback “not much of an offer” because existing rules call for a 500-foot setback, which Wonstolen said is incorrect.

But Commissioner Tresi Houpt pointed out that Antero itself agreed to a 500-foot setback in the 2006 Community Development Plan signed by Silt, Rifle, New Castle and Garfield County, which Houpt said “may be where the confusion comes in.”

On the flip side of the standoff, Silt Mesa residents demanded to see Antero’s Comprehensive Drilling Plan for the area, in order to see exactly how many well pads are planned and such information as the exact number of below-ground wells, the location of pipelines, the haul routes for service trucks traveling to and from the pads, and other details.

Houpt noted that Antero’s proposal, which calls for an end to the intervention followed by negotiations about specific well permit applications, skirts the question of cumulative impacts from widespread drilling activities, which is what the Silt Mesa residents are worried about.

She also mildly rebuked Antero for not strictly following the 2006 Community Development Plan, concerning such things as meetings with the neighborhood when new developments are about to be launched.

Some of those opposing Antero’s settlement noted that they had not seen the actual settlement letter until the Jan. 3 meeting, and had not had time to absorb it and respond.

In order to provide the needed time for such deliberations, community spokesman Dave Pegg urged the commissioners to either reject the settlement or ask that the COGCC hearing be postponed from Jan. 13 to some later date.

“We have nine days,” Pegg noted. “There is not sufficient time.”

Others from the neighborhood, such as Sandy Picard, simply asked the commissioners to reject the proposal and go ahead with the intervention.

Commissioner Mike Samson, trying to wrap up the discussion, said flatly, “There will be drilling on Silt Mesa” because, in his view, “the majority … favors the harvest of those minerals.”

But, he continued, the citizens and the commissioners need to determine some parameters for the industry in situations such as this.

“There are going to be some inconveniences,” he said, such as polluted air, extra truck traffic and others.

The question, he said, is “How much is acceptable?”

It was a motion by Samson that directed the county’s staff to work with Antero, using the settlement letter “as a basis,” and come back with a revised version that will take into account Antero’s talks with the Silt Mesa residents.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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