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First Liberty drillers say 'fracking' not part of plan

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 22nd, 2013

Karen Spaulding and Andy Peterson address Rio Grande County Commissioners concerning First Liberty Energy's conditional use permit. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

This is a follow up to Valley Courier article RG County tables oil and gas permit, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

DEL NORTE — First Liberty Energy (FLE) representatives brought their plans for oil and gas drilling before the Rio Grande County Commissioners (RGCC) and the public last week seeking approval for a conditional land use permit.

The RGCC unanimously decided to take 30 days to make a decision on the permit application to conclude the required public hearing on Jan. 16. The board could have granted the permit, granted the permit with conditions, denied the permit or tabled it for 30 days.

The RGCC are scheduled to make a decision on the application Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Rio Grande County Annex in Del Norte after taking appropriate time to review recently submitted material without hearing any additional public comments.

Over the past few weeks, the board and the Rio Grande County Land Use Department have received several documents relevant to the decision including several FLE, supplemental information and an updated emergency response plan; comments from the Colorado Department of Transportation; Rio Grande County Road and Bridge documentation; Rio Grande County Landfill documentation; and the 126 page Rio Grande Hydrogeologic Study recommending further investigation of aquifer formations.

FLE and the RGCC did agree during the public hearing to exclusively employ a closed-loop, pitless system.

FLE attorney Karen Spaulding and consulting engineer Andy Peterson, Peterson Energy, spoke in favor of the permit application.

Spaulding reviewed the project, citing the six preexisting wells dating back to the 1980s, its 1,900-foot distance from a residence and the land’s vacant state. She also referenced the preexisting industrial traffic on highways included in the company’s plan; waste disposal solutions in the county’s landfill; and the odorless production method.

“This is a very remote sight,” Spaulding said. “And there is no fracking planned.”

She explained further the closed-loop system would not require a pit, and if fracking became of interest, the company would have 48 hours to inform the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

“Hydro fracking is a concern and it shouldn’t be,” Peterson said later during his presentation. “These formations should produce naturally.”

In addition, Spaulding said FLE would keep a low profile on the land, manage weeds, practice dust mitigation and fence the drill site that is not considered wildlife habitat. The company would, however, conduct well tests in compliance with new COGCC regulations requiring samples within one year of drilling and again within 60 to 72 months of operation, and keep local authorities aware of transported materials.

Peterson’s presentation addressed several topics including his company’s role, construction methods, potential problems, concerns, storm management, well control, emergency response plans and the hydrogeologic study.

Ultimately, he concluded, a water well drilled to 1,200 feet and an oil well drilled to 1,200 feet represent the same risk to the aquifer; the location structure is almost identical to any similar size dirt work done in Rio Grande County; FLE will share e-log and sample information down to 1,200 feet; best practice management and regulations are working well; and the COGCC has established procedures and enforcement methods that protect Colorado’s citizens and environment.

“As an industry in Colorado, we don’t hurt people or make a mess,” Peterson stressed.

In regards to the Rio Grande Roundtable-funded hydrogeolic study, Peterson rebutted the 4,000-foot casing recommendations. He claimed a 1,200-foot casing setting depth is adequate and “not too deep” and the entire casing is cemented into surface or into casing. Temperature surveys and radical cement bond longs will verify the cement quality of the latter.

“The Conejos complicating factor is you can run into oil and gas anywhere through it,” Peterson said. “It is a complicated problem and our proposed solution is to set the surface casing at 1,200 feet.”

He did, however, present three drilling scenarios that could unravel depending on discovery to protect the aquifer’s integrity and properly manage the proposed 9,000-foot oil well.

“It would be a lot to fix,” Peterson said. “It is a big problem. These are all proven methods.”

Later, he said, “Oil is not going to go very far and it’s not going to get in an aquifer that will take it away quickly.”

He added well control issues are about “as great as having a meteorite fall in this ceiling” and soil contamination “... is one of the bigger risks. We try to prevent it from happening.”

A word from the public

Several Valley residents shared their thoughts on the proposed project with the RGCC.

“We automatically have to look at the quality of the water,” said Mike Gibson on behalf of the Rio Grande Roundtable. “The big concern of the agriculture community is to keep the water quality from aquifer contamination.”

He added, “We recommend careful consideration be given to protect the aquifer and, as the study recommends, the well be cased through the Conejos formation.”

Rio Grande County residents Jack Marks, Dale Heersink, Charlie Bird and Bo Ward spoke in support of the potential economic development oil and gas drilling could bring to the area.

“I like it,” Bird said. “I think this project needs to move forward.”

Ward added, “This is a golden opportunity for growth and advancement. We should snap this thing up quick and run with it.”

Permit application opponents included Chris Canaly, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, who called for more time to make the decision; Nicole Langley, Rio Grande Roundtable; Del Norte residents Tom Woltor, Terry Hance, Jim Kuehn and Maureen Smith and Monte Vista resident Charlie Speilman.

“I’m not here to speak against it,” Langley said. “I am here to speak against thinking only about the economy.”

Hance later added, “They (FLE) will come in with their people... Oil and gas is above the law when it comes to air and water. We the people have to make it right... It is just not just us. It is the upcoming generation.”

Smith, who supports a deeper oil well casing, rounded out the public comments and said to the RGCC, “Thanks for having the courage and leadership to conduct the recent study... This is a golden opportunity to make sure things are done as well as possible... Keep going and be diligent.”

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