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Public Hearing March 24 Proposed Coalbed Methane Drilling

by Susan Simons


    Coal mining may be finished in Huerfano County but coalbed methane extraction may have just begun.

    Presco Energy, Inc of Woodland, Texas has applied to the Huerfano County Planning and Zoning Commission for four Conditional Use Permits to drill test wells for coalbed methane north of highway 160.  Public interest was shown at the Feb. 26 Planning Commission meeting, and the Commission scheduled a Joint Public Hearing March 24 at 1:30 pm at the Walsenburg Community Center.

    At this meeting, Presco, the public, the Planning Commission and the County Commissioners will have an opportunity to speak.  The Commission has asked the public to prepare comments beforehand, to choose spokespersons, and to sign up the day of the meeting.

    At their Feb. 26 meeting, the Planning Commission listed 12 areas of concern they want Presco to address: dust, roads, lights, noise abatement, water discharge, casing depth, methane discharge, pipeline route, monitoring after establishment, wildlife assessment, weed management plan, historic/prehistoric sites assessment.

    The test well sites Presco specified are six miles northwest of Walsenburg in tracts 138, 139, 146, 147 of Twin Lakes Ranch between Gordon and Maitland Arroyos off CR 521.2 (T28S R67W Sections 4 & 5).  Twin Lakes Ranch and Majors Ranch will be affected. Navajo Ranch is also concerned about the public water system which supplies their residents.

    The Planning Commission will consider Presco’s application at their next meeting and recommend it to the County Commissioners for approval, approval with conditions, or denial.

    Drilling could begin only when the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) issues Presco a permit.  The COGCC is currently involved in rulemaking and public comment on House bills 1341 and 1298.  They expect to adopt the final rules on July 1, 2008. HB 1341 adds representatives of public health, wildlife, and agriculture to the COGCC.  HB 1298 will minimize the effects of oil and gas exploration on wildlife. Also, Colorado has a new landowner protection act, HB 1252, which requires companies to consider the rights of landowners, to minimize impacts to the surface, and to choose and use best practices to achieve these results.

    Other Colorado counties faced with oil and gas exploration issues include La Plata, Archuleta, San Miguel, Gunnison, Saguache, and Rio Grande.  Since 1992, when the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the right of La Plata County to enact  land use regulations on the oil and gas industry, Colorado counties have had the ability to regulate surface impacts.

    Also, citizen’s alliances have formed in affected areas to draw up Surface Use Agreements (SUA’s) to minimize surface impacts.  These SUA’s give the landowner more protections than the conventional SUA which the company presents to individual landowners for their signature.  However, it is the surface landowner’s responsibility to see that the contract is fulfilled. The North Fork Ranch Landowners Association near Trinidad is an example; they negotiated a detailed Surface Use and Easement Agreement with Petrogulf in Aug. 2005.

    Locally, landowners have been having significant problems with coalbed methane drilling in the River Ridge subdivision south of 160 where both surface and ground water have been contaminated and some  wells have gone dry.  Our County Commissioners are handling that difficult problem and deserve countywide support in addressing this latest coalbed methane bid.

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