Doubling density near Durango

  After two decades of trying to hold the line against an increase in oil and gas drilling, commissioners in La Plata County recently signed deals allowing two energy companies to double the density of coalbed methane wells near Durango. Now that the companies’ infill applications have been approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the county expects a crush of new drilling proposals.

Under the agreements, the county pledged not to oppose applications from BP and from Samson Resources Co. to reduce spacing from one well per 160 acres to one per 80 acres. In return, the companies say they will use existing well pads when possible, employ directional drilling, and cut noise and emissions from well pumps. They’ve also agreed to pay road-impact fees.

County officials say the deals were the best they could hope for: "If we went to the (Oil and Gas Commission) and asked for the same thing, well, they’ve never been predisposed to helping anyone but industry," says County Commissioner Wally White.

But Dan Randolph of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a Durango-based environmental group, believes the agreements were "close to meaningless," because the companies would have implemented similar measures anyway. Randolph worries that the approval of these individual applications means no one is looking at the overall impact on the area. He says, "We think the end result was a loss for the county."