By David O. Williams | 10.03.11
Citizen advocates in Huerfano County fuming over state permit
For decades, Royal Dutch Shell – Europe’s largest energy company – has been known in Colorado as the king of oil shale research, spending an estimated $200 million on an experimental and controversial extraction process that has yet to be proven commercially viable.
But Shell and its American subsidiaries have increasingly been moving into natural gas drilling in the United States, including a well permit pulled in southern Colorado that has touched off a firestorm of debate over state versus local control of drilling operations and just how much public input should be allowed.
The company also acquired natural gas leases in northwestern Colorado when it purchased Pennsylvania-based East Resources for $4.7 billion last year – a move Shell CEO Peter Voser said fit with company plans to “grow and upgrade” its shale gas holdings in North America. Because while oil shale remains years if not decades away from viability, shale gas is quite lucrative right now.
“We do have additional leasehold in northwest Colorado – Moffat and Routt counties, specifically,” Shell’s Kelly op de Weegh told the Colorado Independent. “We’re still in an early phase of development and have not yet begun drilling operations. We are currently upgrading the existing field facilities to Shell’s stringent safety and operational standards.”
Those standards are precisely what citizen advocates in Colorado’s Huerfano County (CHC) are concerned about. A group called Citizens for Huerfano County filed a lawsuit in July seeking to vacate a state permit issued to Shell Western Exploration and Production to drill and hydraulically fracture a natural gas well in the area.
The group argues both the county commissioners and the state did not properly inform them of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) permit or allow public input.
“CHC members are infuriated that neither the COGCC nor the county commissioners think they have any obligation to inform the public or to allow them any meaningful role in the permitting process — even though it is the residents of Huerfano County who will be dealing with well impacts,” CHC attorney Julie Kreutzer said in a press release.
Shell’s op de Weegh did not directly address the litigation in southern Colorado, but did acknowledge the company’s operations there.
“We do have leasehold in Huerfano County for future natural gas operations,” op de Weegh said. “Much like our project in the northwest, it is also in a very early stage. We are not currently drilling in Huerfano County.”
The COGCC, which has ultimate regulatory authority over oil and gas drilling in Colorado, informed both Huerfano County and CHC members that, “based upon this review, we determined that the permitted well and location will not result in significant adverse impacts to public health, safety, or welfare or the environment.”
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