Wildlife area near New Castle may see more gas wells | AspenTimes.com

Wildlife area near New Castle may see more gas wells

Phillip Yates
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox/Post Independent fileAn Orion Energy drilling rig operates in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife area northwest of New Castle, Colo. in August.

NEW CASTLE, Colo. ” An exploratory well punched into the middle of the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area has uncorked commercial levels of natural gas, according to officials with the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

It is a development that has led Denver-based Orion Energy Partners, the company behind the well, to propose three more well pads in the deer and elk habitat south of New Castle, said DOW spokesman Randy Hampton. State wildlife officials learned of the well’s success during a meeting with Orion officials last week.

Hampton added that Dejour Energy USA ” a unit of Dejour Enterprises Ltd., a Canadian company ” is also exploring possible drilling in the habitat.

“Preliminary indications are Dejour may be mapping for a number of wells,” he said. “We have seen proposals from the company suggesting eight well pads.”

There are also reports that a third company may also be exploring the possibility of drilling in the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area, Hampton said.

“Now that one well has hit, obviously there are other people who are now interested too,” he said.

The 13,234-acre wildlife area is the last contiguous piece of elk and deer winter range in a hunting unit that stretches south of Interstate 70 from Grand Mesa east of Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs, Hampton said. It is also the scene of large-scale natural gas development, which is occurring south of Rifle and Silt.

Ron Velarde, northwest regional manager for the DOW, said that it is the goal of the agency to “maintain the integrity” of the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area.

“Whatever that takes, that is what we are going to propose,” he said.

The DOW cannot prevent drilling in its habitat because it does not own the mineral rights below the surface. State law allows mineral owners to have a reasonable use of the surface to drill for natural gas in the ground even if the owner of the land objects.

“As we have said all along, our preference would be for no development occurring on the state wildlife area,” Hampton said.

Drilling on lands the state uses to benefit wildlife isn’t limited to just the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area. There is ongoing development occurring in the Piceance Creek State Wildlife area southwest of Meeker and in the Bosque del Oso Wildlife Area west of Trinidad.

Doug Harris, vice president of operations for Orion Energy Partners, said the level of natural gas produced from its exploratory well “warrants” additional drilling locations to further determine where the natural gas may lie in the area.

One of the three well pads Orion has proposed in the wildlife habitat would be located to the east of where the company had its exploratory well, which was completed in mid-October.

That pad would mark how far east the natural gas field under the ground may extend, Harris said. It could be the eastern most gas-producing well pad in the Piceance Basin, a gas-rich formation that stretches across Mesa, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

The other two pads Orion proposes would “delineate” where the company might have economic production of natural gas in the area, Harris said.

“We will do everything in our power to work with the DOW to help mitigate the impacts to wildlife,” he said.

Harrison Blacker, president of Dejour USA, said the company and other partners have about 2,000 acres of leased mineral rights underneath the wildlife area.

“We are exploring about how we are going to develop those leases,” he said. “We do intend to work with all the stakeholders involved, which include the DOW, the Bureau of Land Management and the local community.”

During the DOW and Orion’s meeting last week, representatives from the two groups had preliminary discussions about a “surface-use agreement.” It would be similar to one the agency reached with the company earlier this year.

That agreement called for several wildlife mitigation requirements, such as seasonal drilling restrictions, that Orion had to follow in drilling the exploratory well.

“Orion seems interested in sitting down and seeing what they can do to do their job in a fashion that doesn’t impact our needs as the surface owner,” Hampton said.

Kyle Holt, a resident who lives near the wildlife habitat south of New Castle, said he has seen three areas where there have been stakes driven into the ground to form a big square. In the middle of those squares, is a tall flag. Those are signs that Holt presumes may be future drilling locations.

“I think it would be a shame to turn the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area into the Garfield Creek Gas Field,” said Holt, who added that he can smell the oil and gas development ongoing in the wildlife area from at least a half-mile away. “We should do everything to at least keep the development proper and prudent to protect the wildlife habitat.”

Hampton said wildlife officials will hold a public meeting for area residents about the agency’s role in future development in Garfield Creek. That meeting is expected to happen in mid-December.

The DOW also faces difficulties protecting the area because of all the federal mineral parcels below the wildlife area that may be targeted for drilling, Velarde said. State wildlife officials are expected to meet with representatives of the BLM Friday.

Earlier this year, the state wildlife agency filed a protest against the sale of a 280-acre mineral parcel in the area. The BLM later dismissed that protest ” an action that state wildlife officials are not expected to challenge before the U.S. Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals, Hampton said.

While the two agencies sparred over that parcel, the BLM has continued to defer leasing of 1,237 acres of federal minerals in the wildlife habitat until a long-term resource plan for the Glenwood Springs area is completed. A draft of that plan is expected to be released in fall of 2009.

There are 10,544 acres of federal minerals below the 13,234-acre Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area. The BLM has already leased 7,150 of those acres. Of that leased acreage, 5,980 acres carry a no-surface occupancy stipulation.

If the BLM were to lease any further acreage underneath the wildlife habitat, those leases would carry that stipulation, according to the agency.

There are no gas wells in the state wildlife area currently accessing federal minerals. All federal minerals below the Garfield Creek State Wildlife Area are accessed from drilling locations outside the area.


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