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P&Z Board recommends denial of Presco application

by Susan Simons

WALSENBURG At their May 27 meeting, the Huerfano Planning and Zoning Commission recommended to the County Commissioners denial of the four Conditional Use Applications submitted on February 5 by Presco, Inc., and they recommended adoption of 17 conditions to be applied to any future drilling applications in Huerfano County.

    Richard Ellis, project manager for Presco, was not present. The company was represented by local contact, “Mac” MacMillan.  Peter Gintautas, environmental consultant for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) attended primarily to report county decisions to the COGCC though he was asked to interpret COGCC regulations to the group.

    The Planning Commission members voted unanimously to deny the Presco applications to drill five test wells in Twin Lakes Ranch, intended to establish commercial viability of coalbed methane extraction in the area.  Commissioner Max Vezzani offered this rationale: “We should not move forward with any drilling operations until problems at River Ridge are resolved. It would be irresponsible until that issue is resolved.”  Commissioner Edmundson also spoke: “ We are in favor of resource recovery but also in favor of protecting property rights and property values.”

    Despite the action of the Planning Commissioners, this denial must be considered a symbolic action.  The County Commissioners may choose to approve the Presco applications at their June 4 meeting.  Indeed, John Galusha,  County Administrator, said that Jeff Robbins, an attorney hired by the county to advise on coalbed methane drilling issues, recommended that the County not deny the applications outright. Apparently if the county denies outright, then it loses the right to place conditions on the process.

    Even if the County Commissioners do deny the Presco applications, COGCC will no doubt give state approval to Presco.  By state law, “the mineral owner has the right to responsibly capture their asset” (Galusha).  While the County Commissioners will take action on the Presco applications on June 4 at 10:50, it is not known when the COGCC will issue permits to drill to Presco.

    The Planning Commission also sent 17 conditions to the County Commissioners for their approval. The Planning Commission recommended these as fundamental conditions to be enforced in Huerfano County on any proposed drilling operations.  Following is a summary of some of the most important provisions. 

    It was required that a very thorough Emergency Preparedness Plan be submitted to the county to cover explosions, fires, leaks, gas emissions, or hazardous materials spills Several provisions addressed the prevention of wildfires.  It was required that storage pits for waste water be fenced and netted to protect wildlife.  It was required that engineering data concerning the structural integrity of the water storage pits be provided and also plans to avoid or resolve breaching of these ponds.

    The conditions call for a  four-hour-per-week contract inspector to inspect drilling operations.  The conditions require that water wells within a radius of four miles be tested for static water level and screened for methane gas three times in a six-month period: before drilling, at 3 months, and at 6 months when the county has asked that Presco conclude its exploratory drilling operations.