Courier staff writer
DEL NORTE — Two ayes on Wednesday afternoon approved the First Liberty Energy (FLE) conditional land use permit to drill for oil and gas five miles northwest of downtown Del Norte.
After taking the permit application decision under consideration for just under 30 days, Rio Grande County (RGC) Commissioners Karla Shriver and Doug Davie voted in favor of the permit with a list of special conditions.
Commissioner Pam Bricker, who seconded Davie’s motion to approve, abstained from voting.
“I do appreciate their (FLE) cooperation and that (abstaining) is a personal decision of mine and I don’t believe for the record I really need to state why I would abstain,” Bricker said after the permit was approved. “I appreciated their (FLE) cooperation and they have gone the extra mile, so to say. Because I am the newest member on the commission and it (the permit) is a very serious and an issue that has so many questions... I feel the county is unprepared at this time.”
The lengthy list of conditions included a pair specifically meeting community requests and the Rio Grande Hydrogeologic Study released earlier this year. FLE agreed to exclusively employ a closed-loop, pitless system and extend the casing below the Conejos Formation, which they contested at the end of January despite the study’s findings. The study called for a 4,000-foot casing depth, and FLE and RGC reached a deal with respect to the unpredictable underground structure.
Placing two layers of steel and concrete between the resource and the native rock, the immediate casing will go at least 200 feet below where the well is actually drilled because the Conejos Formation is not uniform, FLE attorney Karen Spaulding explained. For example, if the well hit the formation’s bottom at 4,500-feet, FLE would continue to provide contamination protection for an additional 200 feet, making for a total of 4,700-feet sealed with an immediate casing.
“First Liberty wants to be a good corporate citizen, a good corporate neighbor with Rio Grande County and the citizens here,” Spaulding said. “First Liberty Energy appreciates all your hard work in this matter and all the consideration and time you have obviously put into it as well as your planning commission.”
The commissioners also noted they submitted letters alongside RGC residents asking the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to consider the study’s findings and ironed out details with various county departments.
The majority of the permit’s special conditions require FLE to work closely with the Rio Grande County Road and Bridge Department. These conditions include efforts to avoid damage to unpaved roads, especially during wet weather; to share plans of work in the right-of-way; and to follow the department’s “reasonable and necessary recommendations,” and supervision on road maintenance repairs.
In addition, FLE will:
• Communicate with the RGC Emergency Planning Manager
• Report any spills or other incidents immediately to the RGC Emergency Planning Manager, Land Use Administrator and Road and Bridge Supervisor.
• Provide commercial liability insurance policies in a minimum of $1 million per policy
• Meet water well sampling scheduling and regulations
• Record the location of all of the flow and gathering lines and abandoned lines with the RGC Clerk and Recorder’s Office and the “Call Before You Dig” program
• Apply for overweight permits when required
“We appreciate FLE’s patience in this matter,” Shriver said. “This has been a learning experience for the commissioners and our staff... We appreciate them trying to be good stewards for us and the citizens by agreeing to amend their application and using best management practices in their operation. I think the main thing we need to make sure is we keep open communication between all of the parties. That is going to be a huge key... As long as we keep talking we can avoid problems.”
Once the public hearing closed, Del Norte resident Jim Kuehn addressed the commission.
“I think the responsibility is on elected officials that are being paid a salary on the Rio Grande County Board of Commissioners to let their constituency know where they stand on each individual issue and give an opinion instead of saying I abstain,” Kuehn said. “Earn your money and make a decision.”
Valley resident Pauline Washburn, who has received 190 signatures in two days petitioning to ban drilling for oil and gas in the Valley on MoveOn.org, added, “I’m disappointed, but I am not surprised at the commissioners’ decision. I think they were caught in a bind.”
FLE plans to start the project on Feb. 28 and provide the public with a location tour before breaking ground.