by Carol Dunn
HUERFANO — After hearing testimony and public comments on July 10, Huerfano County Planning and Zoning voted unanimously to recommend to the County Commissioners the approval of conditional use permits for drilling of four wells by Shell Western Exploration and Production Inc (SWEPI) in the Gardner area. Each permit includes a pilot hole and the first lateral line.
The recommendation included eleven conditions of approval:
• A $7,500.00 performance bond per well (or a $30,000 blanket bond for all four wells), plus SWEPI must perform road, dust, weed and safety mitigation to County standards.
• A closed loop drilling system is required.
• On-site dumpsters must be bear-proof.
• Weed control is required along access roads.
• Noise mitigation is required to meet minimum standards in County regulations.
• “Produced” water cannot be used on roads unless it is tested and meets Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment standards.
• All drilling operations must comply with Huerfano County Dark Skies regulations.
• Fracturing cannot take place unless the County is notified and approves of it.
• Major changes in SWEPI plans (ie. fracturing or digging pits) will require notification to the County and approval by the County.
• Failure to abide by these conditions may result in revocation of the permit(s).
• Construction must begin within one year of permit approval.
P&Z set the permits to be valid for one year, even though SWEPI was hoping for a two-year term to align with the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission approvals. The amount of the bond drew criticism from some hearing attendees, but P&Z member Max Vezzani explained that $7,500.00 is spelled out in the County regulations, which were developed based on La Plata County regulations, and further, were “formed through a very public process, and quite recently.”
When P&Z member Lonnie Brown asked about well testing, Bergstrom indicated that SWEPI would be flexible on baseline testing of wells farther than ½ mile from the drilling site. However, he would not commit to testing the Gardner municipal wells, although Project Leader Philippe Heer said, “We can look into that.” SWEPI recently purchased the Thorne Ranch water rights for use during drilling, and if those rights go out of priority, Michael Bergstrom said the backup plan is to purchase water from Walsenburg, as was done in 2011.
Heer told the audience that there will be a flare stack at drilling sites for emergencies, but if SWEPI taps into natural gas in the process of oil-shale drilling, it would be used to power equipment onsite or commercially produced.
Vezzani clarified that Steve Channel, County Planner and Building Inspector, will be responsible to inspect and enforce the County regulations. If infractions occur, SWEPI will be given the opportunity to cure them. The Huerfano County permit conditions are in contrast to the lease SWEPI has on lands administered by the State Land Board. That 10-year lease has no conditions attached.