Drillers will stay away from Rifle eagles | VailDaily.com

Drillers will stay away from Rifle eagles

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Coloorado
Kelley Cox/Post IndependentTwo eaglets (only one is visible in this photo) remain in a nest in a tree near Rifle along the Colorado River. Antero Resources is voluntarily restricting drilling activites near the nest in the spring and fall.

RIFLE, Colorado ” A natural gas company that has been working to minimize impacts on people while drilling between Rifle and Silt is extending similar consideration to a bird, too.

The efforts by Denver-based Antero Resources Corp. aren’t directed to just any bird, but to America’s national symbol. A pair of bald eagles has been nesting along the Colorado River, and Antero has been voluntarily restricting drilling operations near the nest during the pair’s nesting and eaglet-rearing activities.

“We have imposed seasonal wildlife restrictions on ourselves,” Robert Mueller, vice president of geology for Antero, told people who attended a meeting in Rifle Tuesday night to hear an update on Antero’s drilling activities.

The company reported that it has drilled about 100 wells in the Silt-to-Rifle area and plans to drill about 72 more this year, including near the nest site. Mueller said Antero is restricting activities within a half mile of the site during nest preparation in late fall and through the period in the spring when eggs are laid and eaglets are in the nest.

“Perfect. We recommend a quarter mile (buffer),” Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton said Wednesday, upon hearing of Mueller’s comments.

Mueller said that after a landowner made Antero aware of the eagles’ presence, the company hired a biologist to monitor them and consulted with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Division of Wildlife.

Antero didn’t have to consult with the Division of Wildlife about the eagles because its operations are on private land.

“We certainly appreciate when industry considers wildlife and takes a voluntary approach to protecting it on private land,” Hampton said.

Eagles have been making a comeback in Garfield County, just as elsewhere in Colorado and across the nation. Before 2004, eaglets hadn’t been born in the county since 1973, and prior to that, the last local eaglets were seen in 1954. However, starting in 2004, pairs of eagles began rearing young on the Roaring Fork River north of Carbondale, and at the Rifle-area site.

Mueller pointed out that the site is near gravel pit operations, and also within earshot of Interstate 70, railroad tracks and the Garfield County Airport.

Hampton said wildlife often feels less threatened by people in vehicles than by people who are on foot, and historic habitat is important to eagles.

“If they’ve been there before, they’re likely to return,” he said.

Antero met with residents living in the Silt and Rifle areas this week as part of its voluntary community development plan, which is aimed at minimizing drilling impacts on residents and keeping them informed of its plans. The plan was developed in recent years after Antero began leasing property between New Castle and Rifle, including land north of the river that long had been considered an unlikely place to drill.

Up to now, Antero has focused its drilling activities just south of Silt, and along the Colorado River/Interstate 70 corridor heading toward Rifle. However, company officials said that this year they plan to drill four wells north of Highway 6 ” Antero’s first wells north of the highway. The wells would be drilled east of Rifle.

The 72 total wells Antero plans for this year would be drilled directionally from existing well pads and seven new pads.

Company officials said Tuesday they hope to install pipelines to reduce the use of trucks to haul water required in the drilling process; are willing to look into ways of reducing lighting and noise at drill rig sites; have been conducting air quality and water well testing; and also will continue to investigate odors that are brought to their attention.

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