ALAMOSA — Rio Grande Roundtable members yesterday voted to ask Rio Grande County Commissioners to postpone for a month their review and decision on a pending conditional use application for exploratory oil/gas drilling near Del Norte.
Commissioners are scheduled to review First Liberty Energy’s pending application on January 16.
Rio Grande County Land Use Administrator Rose Vanderpool told the roundtable group during its Tuesday meeting that the Rio Grande County Planning Commission voted the previous day to recommend approval of First Liberty’s oil/gas well in Rio Grande County with two conditions: 1) finalize emergency response plans with the local emergency response team; and 2) meet with Rio Grande County Road/Bridge Supervisor Patrick Sullivan to determine how First Liberty will mitigate road impacts.
The Roundtable’s primary concern with oil/gas exploration in Rio Grande County is the potential impact to water. At the request of Rio Grande County Commissioners, the roundtable helped fund a $100,000 hydrology study to provide more answers to potential drilling impacts on water. Vanderpool said the current study is excellent, but she anticipated a future funding request for further research in this area.
Vanderpool told the water group Davis Engineering submitted a draft version of the hydrology report last week, but the draft had not yet been made public or shared with First Liberty or the state oil and gas commission.
She said she would be asking the commissioner today (Dec. 12) if she could distribute the report to First Liberty and the state, specifically, even if it is still in draft form because it contains valuable information.
“The study itself is a wonderful study,” she said, “very informational.”
She said Allen Davey, Bob Kirkham and Eric Harmon conducted the study. They sampled 47 wells within the area of San Francisco Creek and Old Woman’s Creek. All of the wells showed no current contamination.
One of the recommendations from the hydrology study is that oil/gas wells be cased at least 4,000 feet, which is about the base of the Conejos Formation, to the ground surface. Their study determined the Conejos Formation was very permeable and served to provide pathways for water between deeper formations up to the surface. They therefore believed extra precautions needed to be taken to protect groundwater in that area of Rio Grande County.
Vanderpool said the data in the hydrology study is not going to change between the draft and final form, but Davey wants to complete some finishing touches to the study, such as an executive summary. Because the study was not in final form, county legal counsel advised the planning commission to not consider it in making its decision, but Vanderpool said she hoped the study would be finalized before the commissioners acted on the application in January.
The commissioners also plan to host a public presentation of the study’s findings as soon as possible, she added, probably the end of January because Kirkham is out of the country.
“That was the whole intent and is the intent is to share this study with the public,” Vanderpool said.
Sharing the information with the state oil and gas commission is also crucial, she added, so they will understand how unique this area is.
Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver, who sits on the Rio Grande Roundtable, said she was hoping the hydrology study would be finalized before the end of the year. She said the draft was open to public review right now, and anyone who wanted to look at it could come to the county offices to read it.
Shriver added that once the study is finalized, it is the commissioners’ intent to put it on CD’s that could be purchased for a small charge. It is a large report and a huge computer file so might not be possible to download.
“We are going to make it available however we can,” she said.
Rio Grande Roundtable Chairman Mike Gibson reminded the group it had decided not to comment on the oil/gas applications until the hydrology study was completed. However, he said he believed it would be appropriate for the roundtable to make a formal comment to the county commissioners based on the findings of the study and what the study would be recommending. He said the roundtable as a group and/or individuals could comment.
He said the roundtable not only deals with water quantity issues in this basin but also water quality, which is where the oil/gas issue lies.
Roundtable member Charlie Spielman said he believed it was a bad thing for the county commissioners to consider and act on First Liberty’s application before the public had the opportunity to review the hydrology report.
“I think the roundtable should take a position even today simply asking them to defer their meeting for about a month until the study results are finally available to the public,” he said.
He then made that his motion.
Vanderpool and Shriver were asked if the county could defer its meeting/decision. Vanderpool said the commissioners could make a decision on Jan. 16 or table a decision for up to 30 days. She and Shriver explained that the hearing was set for that date because of the timelines that needed to be followed once an application was submitted to the county.
“There’s an established process we have to go through,” Shriver said. She added she could not take a position on the matter right now.
“There’s a process, and we are going through the process,” she said.
Roundtable member JB Alexander said most of the roundtable members were not voters in Rio Grande County, “and I think we are meddling … where we aren’t entitled to meddle.” He said he would vote no on the motion, which he did.
Gibson said the roundtable is a basin-wide group, and if the roundtable members told him to write a letter to the commissioners on this issue, he would.
Gibson said if the commissioners on Wednesday decide to release the draft of the hydrology study to everybody, the public would have a chance to review it before the Jan. 16 hearing, so he wondered if the roundtable still needed to ask for a delay. Spielman said his motion still stood.
Roundtable member Travis Smith said even if the draft was public, the public presentation on the study would not be scheduled until after the Jan. 16 hearing, so timing is still an issue. He said the roundtable is simply making a request to the county commissioners who can honor it or not.
When the roundtable acted on Spielman’s motion, Alexander voted against it and Shriver abstained.