SiltBOTs to Antero: Drill baby drill

*Updated May 31

The Antero lease renewal passed unanimously at the SiltBOTs meeting Tuesday night (5/29). When the video for the May 29, 2012 meeting is available it will be posted here.

Dave Strickland was there representing Antero. The lease is not a three year agreement. It is for four years, until 2016. And it covers all depths – including into the Niobrara formation. Sound familiar?

BTW, it’s one lease – not leases – one lease amended and expanded. Town Attorney letter and Antero lease agreement.*

*In his letter the town attorney only refers to the Mancos formation however the Niobrara is the lower strata of the Mancos formation so essentially they are one in the same. Before I left the meeting I did talk to Dave Strickland briefly. I asked, “When you say ‘all depths’, does that include the Niobrara formation?” He nodded and repeated, “All depths.”

No one seems to know where that $180,000/year in revenue came from in yesterday’s article but that’s a crock. The town receives a single payment of about $30,000 for the lease renewal. From then on it’s anybody’s guess what the projected revenues will be because we don’t know what the yield of oil and gas will be.

Click here for a map of the lease areas, which are in orange. Be patient, the map downloads slowly. Sections 9, 10, and 11 contain the 75 acres of leased mineral rights – everything from Grand Avenue south.

There will be no drilling inside city limits, meaning no well pad. The drilling will occur under the town. Antero will likely access the oil and gas from existing well pad(s) outside the town. No one could say which pad(s) or when drilling will commence. It was also unclear whether a new well pad would be drilled near the town border. We were told that Antero doesn’t even know. But I don’t believe that. More likely they don’t want us to know cuz that’s how they roll.

*As you have probably guessed by now, I was on the right track connecting Antero’s two permit applications to the lease renewal. Yes, Sections 9, 10, & 11 are included in those permits. But these two permits are not for Niobrara wells, which are horizontal wells up to 19,000 feet in some cases. EnCana’s permits for Niobrara wells are for horizontal wells to 12,000 feet. These pending Antero permit applications are for vertical wells a couple hundred feet into the Williams Fork formation. I’ll go out on a limb here and say watch what happens with EnCana’s Niobrara wells up on West Divide Creek — and believe me we will be watching. If those wells produce, Silt will get fracked next.

I didn’t get the chance to ask this question at the meeting, so I emailed Town Administrator Pam Woods: Are these latest Antero permit applications which are related to Silt’s minerals lease with Antero also part of the South Gravel Trend drilling expansion which was discussed last fall? She replied, “Yes.”

We also didn’t talk about this at the meeting but I should point out that River Park – aka Dogland – is included in the leased acreage in Section 11. However Dogland is a town park so Antero will have to access the oil & gas from another well pad. I would also add that Dogland is part of a small floating island – as well as a bird and wildlife sanctuary. The water table is extremely high down there. Antero will essentially be drilling underneath the Colorado River there, and in Section 10.

Yes, I was allowed to speak – after much ado. Honestly. At the last SiltBOTs meeting I attended in January I was chastised for not coming to the meetings. Then I showed up at the meeting and they quibbled over whether to let me speak, and for how long. I looked it up ahead of time in the Silt Municipal Code which states:

2.28.020 – Meetings to be public
3. The presiding officer will recognize each individual desiring to address the board on any agenda item when such item is before the board for discussion. The individual providing comment shall have no more than five minutes to address the board.

Long story short, I reminded them of the above and they allowed me my five minutes which ended up being 12 minutes because I had a few questions and much discussion ensued. I have already covered most of the answers to my questions. Again I refer you to the full discussion on the video – when it becomes available.

In addition I asked: Will there be a public hearing? How does the town plan to keep residents informed about oil & gas drilling activity so close to the city limits?

The short answer is the town has no plans for public hearings nor do they have any plans to address public concerns or inform the public about oil & gas drilling activity so close to city limits.

The discussion was frustrating because Town Attorney Lee Leavenworth insisted that small towns can’t regulate oil & gas drilling and it can’t be stopped – yada, yada, yada. But I never said I was trying to stop oil & gas drilling or that I thought I could stop it with public meetings. So it was like pulling teeth to make my point that I feel public health, air quality and water quality are the town’s and the board’s responsibility and they ought to be mindful of that and be responsive to residents’ concerns. Some of the board members seemed to acknowledge that responsibility but at the same time unwilling to do anything about it.

So, if you live in Silt and you are concerned about public health, air quality and water quality, call the COGCC complaint line. If you want to know what’s going on with oil & gas drilling near Silt town borders, subscribe to the COGCC emailings. At least that’s the message I got.

Leavenworth also insisted that leases have to be signed because the companies will access the minerals anyway. Again he deflected so I was not allowed to make my point which was just because the leases have to be signed doesn’t mean the town can’t ask questions and obtain the answers before signing the lease. Antero should be held to the same standards as any other company that seeks to do business with the town.

I didn’t get into water quality because it’s a real touchy issue with the town. I believe the Colorado River (Silt’s watershed) is polluted from the West Divide Creek Seep and God-knows-what-all from 10 years of rampaging oil & gas development. No matter what the town says, I don’t believe they can get that crap out of the water through the treatment process. Besides, Silt’s water makes me sick and I know it makes other people sick, too. I’ve given up on Silt’s water. I really didn’t see the point of going there.

Instead I focused on air quality – specifically H2S. I said:

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and other toxic chemical emissions are inevitable by-products of oil & gas drilling. Last summer we learned that dangerously high levels of H2S emissions can occur at well pads and the oil & gas industry doesn’t monitor emissions unless they are required to by the COGCC – and then they get to pick and choose the well pads they monitor.

I have a study here, Hydrogen Sulfide, Oil and Gas, and People’s Health. I suggest you read it.  According to this study chronic exposure to ambient levels of hydrogen sulfide in the range that may be expected to occur near oil and gas sites can cause the following symptoms: malaise, irritability, headaches, insomnia, nausea, throat irritation, shortness of breath, eye irritation, chronic conjunctivitis, digestive problems, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Whether we know it or not — or perhaps I should say whether we admit it or not — living in Silt we already suffer from the effects of pro-longed, low level hydrogen sulfide and/or toxic chemical exposure from the drilling activity on Silt Mesa and south of town.

Does the town of Silt have any plans to monitor air quality?

Nope. The town has no plans to monitor air quality. Mayor Pro-Tem Rick Aluise claimed that the county has an air quality monitoring station in Silt. But no one seemed to know where it’s located.

Today I checked with Paul Reaser (GarCo’s Senior Environmental Health Specialist in Rifle). There are five air quality monitoring stations in the county, located in Carbondale, Rifle, Battlement Mesa, Parachute, and south of Silt on Owens Drive, up Dry Hollow called the Bell-Melton (or Melton Ranch) station. Sorry, I don’t consider that an air quality monitoring station in Silt by any stretch of the imagination. It is an air quality monitoring station south of Silt in Dry Hollow, which is in Garfield County. The other four monitoring stations are located inside the city limits. That’s like saying an air quality monitoring station on Sunlight Mtn is in Carbondale. No. It’s not. Apparently this is a matter of interpretation. Imagine that. Real time data for the Bell-Melton station is not posted at the Garfield County Air Quality website, just Rifle and soon Carbondale. However the data is available in the Air Quality Monitoring reports. They do not monitor for H2S.

There. I finally made my point 24 hours later.

I also said:

Air quality is just one issue. The impacts of oil and gas drilling tend to occur over a long period of time. We are actually seeing and feeling the impacts more prominently now after 10 years of drilling activity as it encroaches closer and closer into residential areas whether they be rural or urban.

I understand the lure of revenue from oil & gas development for a small community like Silt. In fact we are told repeatedly that oil & gas development is good for our economy. When I look around Silt I see a lot of oil and gas drilling activity south of town but I see a lot of empty houses and homes for sale. I don’t see how oil and gas drilling benefits the town.

I caution the town board and the town staff. That increased revenue could easily be offset as time goes on and oil & gas development increases. Many residents will find the community increasingly unlivable and they will leave – many have already left.

I would add that if you don’t know the answers to my questions, then you should not approve the lease at this time. Otherwise you will be rubber-stamping the process.

And so they did.

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