County could start to see shale drilling

For the first time, La Plata County could see horizontal shale drilling.

Swift Energy Co. has filed an exploratory drilling and spacing application for two units near Kline and Marvel – an area of the county that has not previously experienced heavy gas development.

One unit would encompass 643.4 acres, while the other would encompass 587.8 acres on privately owned land.

Thus far, the county has only seen coal-bed methane drilling, but shale drilling has gained momentum in recent years, fueling a gas boom that flooded the nation with inexpensive gas.

County commissioners debated whether to intervene with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Swift’s application and enter into negotiations for a memorandum of understanding at its meeting Tuesday. The county typically takes this course when debating coal-bed methane wells, but shale drilling is new territory.

Memrandums of understanding cover land-use issues such as road maintenance and allow the county to negotiate what responsibility each entity has.

About 15 residents attended the meeting to hear the commissioners debate and to give their feedback. Most of the residents urged the commissioners to intervene, saying questions were left unanswered about the safety of the wells and increased truck traffic.

The board voted unanimously to intervene on the application.

“We want to make sure shale drilling happens in the most environmentally responsible way possible,” said Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, former director of Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project.

The application is only for exploratory drilling to evaluate the contents of the ground, but the decisions the commissioners make for these wells could set a precedent for future companies that want to establish similar wells in the county.