More questions than answers at industry meeting
By John Gardner
About 70 Berthoud residents attended a meeting to get answers to their questions regarding proposed oil and gas drilling operations east of town, Monday night. But many of those in attendance found themselves seeking even more answers when the meeting had convened.
The Town of Berthoud, along with Extraction Oil and Gas and two contractors working with the petroleum company, held a community meeting at the Berthoud Community Center on Sept. 22. The mood started off calmly as Matt Volkmar, petroleum engineer with Extraction, and Bruce Fulker, president of Cougar Land Services, explained to residents the process of the seismic testing that is scheduled to begin in December.
While some seemed interested in the seismic testing, most questions pertained to letters that were distributed the week of Sept. 8 to nearby homeowners, land owners, surface rights owners, and mineral rights owners.
One woman in the audience commented that the letters asked property owners to consent to something, but the letter didn’t provide information about what exactly landowners were agreeing to.
“It was very upsetting,” the woman said.
Several audience members agreed that the letters were vague and asked for more explanation.
Jamison McIlvain, landman with Extraction Oil and Gas, explained that there were different letters sent out to property owners, land owners, surface rights owners, and mineral rights owners. Some of the letters came from Extraction Oil and Gas, while others came from Cougar Land Services, and others from Petroleum Field Services.
The letter obtained by the Surveyor from Petroleum Field Services was a notification of proposed horizontal well drilling operations and was also a 30-day mineral-owner notification. McIlvain said the letters are a state requirement set by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. But folks were frustrated by the language in the letter which states:
“Extraction Oil and Gas, LLC is planning to drill and operate the above referenced west-east and east-west trending horizontal wells in accordance with the provisions set forth in Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Rule 318A.a(4)D and 318.e.(6).”
The letters included reference material for specific well locations and also listed an “anticipated Spud date” of Nov. 1, depending on rig availability. A “Spud date” is defined as “the date of commencement of setting surface casing with a surface casing rig.” And, that date concerned a lot of residents.
According to McIlvain, the company is required to send out the 30-day notices to land owners, mineral owners, surface owners, and building owners within 500 to 1,000 feet of the proposed wells.
“We have to put a date on it, when we think we are actually going to drill the wells,” McIlvain said. “But the problem is that we weren’t sure when we had to send those notices out, so I can see if people were kind of confused with that Nov. 1st sitting on there, thinking that this rig’s coming out there.”
He clarified for the audience that the earliest drilling could realistically occur is likely not until March 2015, in the Berthoud area. The proposed drilling area includes 38 square miles of land extending from Berthoud’s east side to Interstate 25 and north to Loveland.
The aspect that seemed to upset those who received them was that the letters stipulate, at least in the letters to the mineral rights owners, that they have 30 days to accept the agreement or submit a formal objection.
McIlvain explained that the letters didn’t necessarily need to be returned, to which a couple of objections from the audience came.
One woman said it was her impression that if she didn’t consent and return the letter, she basically consented by not formally objecting.
“In a sense, it kind of seems like that,” McIlvain responded.
He continued, saying that the letters – signed or not – “just allows [Extraction] to put in for the permits at that point.” He clarified that consenting just allows Extraction to file drilling permits before the 30-day notification period has ended. Surface owners don’t really have an option to object to the drilling operations, they only have 30 days to contact the company with questions and concerns.
Marc Morton, local government liaison with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said that he wasn’t aware if Extraction has already submitted well applications yet, but clarified that the company has submitted some permit applications to the COGCC.
Morton explained that when a permit application is received by the commission, it’s reviewed. Once the review is complete, the permit is posted to the commission’s website as a “pending permit,” where an open comment period begins for people to comment or voice concerns on the permits for a minimum of 20 days.
McIlvain and the others hoped to spend more time talking about the seismic testing operations and tried to steer the conversation toward that topic every chance they had. But, folks just kept asking questions they were not prepared to answer.
“I have a lot more questions,” said Berthoud resident Donna Larson. “I don’t feel that my questions were answered.”
Another resident, John Goreski, said that he did get some of his questions answered, but he wasn’t completely satisfied with some of those answers.
“I think they know more than they’re letting on,” Goreski said.
Goreski, Larson, and several others in attendance said they will attend a scheduled Oct. 30 meeting where the same players plan to explain more extensively the proposed operations. However, some remain skeptical if they’ll actually receive specific answers.
“I don’t know if there’ll be more answers,” Goreski said. “It depends on who they have there to answer those questions.”
McIlvain said that Extraction’s intent for the Sept. 22 meeting was to notify people about the seismic testing scheduled for December because that is the next step in the process.
“I think people had a lot of questions that we probably didn’t fully answer,” he said, adding that he expects most of those questions to be answered at the Oct. 30 meeting.
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