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Giving drilling the gas

Judith Kohler
Special to the DailySpecial to the DailyA one-of-a-kind agreement between land owners and gas drilling companies sets up a process for town officials, landowners and others to communicate with drilling companies about the companys plans. The plan includes suggested development guidelines, including drilling as many wells as possible from one pad to reduce the number of roads, traffic and other disturbances.
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SILT – In the heart of one of the Rockies’ busiest natural gas fields, activists and an energy company executive touted what may be a one-of-a-kind agreement they hope will defuse energy development conflicts.Terry Dobkins, vice president of production for Denver-based Antero Resources Corp., along with residents and officials from three northwestern Colorado communities met on a dusty country road 3 miles west of Silt, with a drilling rig as backdrop, to discuss the plan that calls for cooperation between energy companies and communities.”This is a day we never would have anticipated 14 months ago,” said Liz Lippitt of Silt, who helped prepare the plan for energy development in the area. “It’s something that’s never been done before, working with community and industry to create a win-win situation for everyone.”The plan, endorsed by the towns of Silt, Rifle and New Castle, sets up a process for town officials, landowners and others to communicate with Antero about the company’s drilling plans. It includes some of the residents’ major concerns and suggested development guidelines, including drilling as many wells as possible from one pad to reduce the number of roads, traffic and other disturbances.Dobkins and community activists said they don’t know of similar arrangements anywhere else. Peggy Utesch, one of the project’s organizers, said Wyoming and New Mexico have shown interest in the plan.Perhaps the important thing it does, Dobkins said, is encourage cooperation and communication. He said he was skeptical when Lippitt and other members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance suggested more than a year ago that they sit down and hash out a plan.”The process has been a very pleasant one, surprisingly, to me,” Dobkins said.The Piceance Basin, where Antero and several other energy companies are tapping vast gas reserves, has seen growing conflicts as drilling has hit record rates. A big source of the tension is the so-called split estate, when one party owns the surface of the land and another owns the minerals underneath.The ownership is mixed, with the federal government owning some of the minerals and surface and individuals owning other parcels.Energy companies that own or lease the minerals have the right to use the surface to drill the gas. Federal and state officials encourage companies to negotiate agreements with landowners. If that fails, the companies can post a bond and start drilling.Much of the development has occurred in rural areas.Antero, one of the smaller companies operating in the area, has started drilling in more densely populated spots.See Drilling, page B17


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