Meeting held to discuss shale-oil wells

Water, traffic cited as drilling concerns in La Plata County

Concerns about water usage and potential contamination dominated discussion Tuesday night during a public meeting about a Texas energy company’s plans to drill two exploratory shale-oil wells in the western part of the county.

The meeting was hosted by Swift Energy Company, a publicly traded natural-gas and oil company based in Houston, that filed exploratory drilling and spacing applications for two units near Kline and Marvel. The units, which are about 600 acres each, establish the area where the company can produce minerals.

The wells would be the first shale-oil development in the county.

Representatives from Swift, La Plata County and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission attended the meeting to explain the development and permitting process and answer residents’ questions.

Many of the questions asked by the more than 50 attendees at the meeting focused on the water used in the drilling process. Water already is scarce in the area, and the La Plata River basin is one of the most over-appropriated in the state because of a historic compact requiring Colorado to send half the river’s water to New Mexico, said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and a property owner in the Fort Lewis Mesa area.

Though estimates are hard to make at such an early stage, company representatives guessed that drilling and fracking a well here could require about 1 million gallons of water. The firm has not yet determined where it will get that water, said Bruce Vincent, president and director of Swift Energy.

The company has agreed to comply with new groundwater sampling rules passed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that will go into effect May 1, said Karen Spray, the agency’s southwest environmental-protection specialist.

Increased traffic and resulting road damage were other major concerns. Swift will conduct a traffic study as part of a memorandum of understanding it is creating with the county and plans to maintain roads it uses and pay an impact fee, said Bob Redweik, Swift’s corporate health, safety and environmental manager.

Swift Energy needs to complete a memorandum of understanding with La Plata County to address certain mitigation measures before its drilling and spacing applications are considered for approval by the state gas and oil commission. The company will then need to file for drilling permits and land-use permits for specific wells, which it hopes to do in April.

“We are hoping to have a rig here by summertime,” Vincent said.

The company hasn’t drilled in Colorado yet, but has obtained leases on 75,000 acres of mineral rights in La Plata County and more in other parts of the state, though company executives wouldn’t disclose how much or where.