Antero Tentative in First Round Negotiation Due to Lawsuit

The evening of March 23, began what is anticipated to be possibly a year-long process of negotiations between local citizens and Antero regarding gas drilling on Silt Mesa and Peach Valley. These are public meetings. My plan is to be there and report on them because I realize not everyone is able to attend but many are interested in the process. I am not a reporter. I am a blogger – an opinionator – so my reports are and will be biased. I will do my best to be fair and accurate because I believe in an open process and the public’s right to know. Your corrections and comments are welcome. Please refer all complaints to the Management.

Background

First off, Kevin Kilstrom, Jon Black, Lars Inman, and the rest of the Antero folks deserve credit for sitting down together with local citizens to listen to their concerns. However this process is not unprecedented. In 2005, over 150 local citizens, including representatives from Silt, New Castle, and Rifle town governments, organized with the aid of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance. Through the process of a series of meetings with Antero representatives, they came up with The Rifle, Silt, New Castle Community Development Plan (CDP) which was released on January 1, 2006. Their names are listed in the document’s Acknowledgments. The history behind these negotiations makes a good case for my reports on these meetings so there is an ongoing record of the process, and for future reference.

These current negotiations were recommended and are sanctioned by GarCo BOCC. Prior to the first meeting, the RSPN Alliance requested former county commissioner and COGCC commissioner Trési Houpt as the mediator. Antero requested Betsy Suerth. The commissioners sent GarCo oil & gas liaison Judy Jordan and Betsy Suerth. Trési Houpt was present for most of the meeting as a concerned citizen, not as mediator or representative. Betsy Suerth currently works as a project engineer for Garfield County. She is a former Silt town administrator, as well as former chair of the Energy Advisory Board (EAB), where she served with former vice chair Jon Black of Antero Resources, and other industry and community representatives.

Concerns & Agendas

The lawsuit against Antero, which had been announced the previous day (3/22) and in the Post Independent earlier in the day, took on the role of underlying theme for the evening.

To begin, Suerth asked everyone to give their names, where they live, and why they were there. As with all public meetings, some voiced their concerns and others addressed their own agendas. It quickly became apparent that at least a half dozen or more people had come to defend Antero publicly because of the lawsuit. They all left after the first hour.

Nicky Leigh mentioned articles she read in the New York Times’ Drilling Down series were quite alarming. Leigh is a trustee with the town of Silt but she introduced herself as a concerned citizen, not as a representative of the town. There were no representatives present from Rifle, New Castle, or Silt town governments

Terry Kirk said he does business with Antero and other gas companies and feels the industry is important to his business and the local economy. Then he stated he has spent lots of time at drill sites and he hasn’t seen any workers walking around with “tampons stuck up their noses” to stop the nosebleeds. Several people spoke up because they were offended by his statement. He insisted that he doesn’t believe health problems are related to gas well drilling because he doesn’t know anyone who is sick. Kirk also mentioned that well workers wear protective clothing and gear.

Nikki Fender, an RN, countered that in her job she has seen several cases of health problems with gas workers.

I said (paraphrasing), “There is also the issue of cumulative effects from exposure over long periods of time. What is different about our current situation is the close proximity of gas well drilling to residential areas, towns and subdivisions. In the past in this region, gas well drilling has mostly occurred away from densely populated areas.” I said to Kirk, “You mentioned that well workers wear protective clothing and gear. But families – especially children – who live 150, 300, or 500 feet from a well pad don’t wear protective clothing.”

Similar opinions to Kirk’s were expressed by other supporters of Antero. Had those folks been following any of the past statements or meetings of the RSPN Alliance or the GVCA they would know that these and other concerned citizens are knowledgeable about gas well drilling in this region. These negotiations were not set up to debate the economics of gas well drilling or the merits of any individual claims or lawsuits. The purpose of the negotiation process is to foster better communication between Antero and the public and to advocate for the implementation of best management practices to mitigate impacts and make drilling as safe as possible.

During his introduction, Kevin Kilstrom (Antero) brought up the lawsuit. He said it could inhibit “our ability to talk about certain things” (on behalf of Antero) and it will be “up to our lawyers”. In fact throughout the two hour meeting, Kilstrom and the other Antero representatives said little or nothing at all. When Kilstrom did respond to direct queries, he qualified any commitments to the negotiation process as being dependent upon direction from the company’s lawyers because of the lawsuit.

There was also some discussion about Betsy Suerth’s role. The term “mediator” has been used, however Kilstrom felt the word implies two sides. The gradual consensus then moved toward the notion that we are all working toward the same goals and the term “moderator’ would be more appropriate.

Outline & Goals

Leslie Robinson (GVCA) recommended that the 2006 CDP serve as a “workbook”, or outline, for these negotiations. Dottie Pretti said a lot of people had worked hard on that agreement and it should stand as is. Robinson explained that the agreement is five years old and therefore should be updated. She pointed out that Antero’s drilling plans have changed and their local management team has changed since then. She also added that most the people who participated back then have either moved away, or for whatever reasons are not currently involved.

Another discussion focused on the acronym “CDP”. In the case of the 2006 CDP, it is a Community Development Plan, which is a non-legal, non-binding agreement. On the other hand, a Comprehensive Drilling Plan – also referred to as a CDP – is legally binding. Members of RSPN Alliance expressed concern about the non-binding aspect and the enforceability of a Community Development Plan model. With respect to the 2006 CDP, Antero has not necessarily abided by the guidelines set forth. For example, “Guideline #5 Monitoring Activities During Drilling Operations” recommended air quality monitoring. Kilstrom said Antero is not currently conducting air quality monitoring.

Robinson and Jordan both stressed that using the 2006 CDP as an outline would serve as a means of moving the negotiation process forward and those specific concerns should be addressed along the way. Robinson’s procedure was then agreed upon by group consensus.

The following points were gleaned from the various discussions by Suerth and listed as goals:

1)    CDP that addresses concerns
2)    Minimize impacts while allowing drilling
3)    Reach consensus on agenda process
4)    Need consistent attendance at meetings
5)    Some would like to see drilling expedited
6)    Avoid preconceived notions
7)    Continuous open dialogue about new information & technologies
8)    Non-biased education

Future Plans

Provided Antero’s attorneys allow this negotiation process to continue, the long-range plan is to hold meetings on the 4th Wednesday of the month. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM at the Silt Fire Station.

The following people were present at the March 23 meeting:
Judy Jordan, Betsy Suerth – GarCo
Kevin Kilstrom, Jon Black, Lars Inman, Tof Haque, Dave Strickland – Antero
Dave Pegg, Fiona Lloyd, Sandy Pickard, Nikki Fender – RSPN
Leslie Robinson – GVCA
Diane & James Barry, John Bellio, Don Chapin, Floyd Diemoz, David Ebeler, Lewis & Barbara Fenno, Lindsay George, Mike Gross, Trési Houpt, Emily Kielmeyer, Terry Kirk, Nicky Leigh,  Dick Maddock, Janean Nutter, Doug Piffer, Jack & Dottie Pretti, Bill & Beth Strudley, Peggy & Tod Tibbetts

*Disclaimer*
Any opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of RSPN Alliance or its members.

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