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."