Residents in the Shenandoah subdivision say they are caught off guard after learning about the possible development of a gas and oil field next to several homes. They take issue with not being notified of a public comment period that ends in less than a week.
The Bureau of Land Management started the public comment period on Sept. 7 for a lease sale, which is scheduled for March 8. The comment period ends Oct. 10.
The Durango Herald contacted 10 to 15 residents in the Shenandoah subdivision on Monday, about eight miles southwest of Durango in Wildcat Canyon. No one contacted had heard of possible oil and gas development next to their homes.
Sandra Tischaefer, with AREM Property Management, the firm that manages the Shenandoah, Shenandoah Estates, Shenandoah Highlands and Trappers Crossing, all subdivisions in the area, also said they were not notified by the BLM.
“I haven’t seen anything to this point,” Tischaefer said. “I would have thought as property managers of (four neighborhoods in the area) we would have been notified.”
In June, the BLM announced that two parcels in La Plata County would be up for an oil and gas lease sale: a 40-acre tract just south of Shenandoah on BLM land, and an 80-acre tract on private property off County Road 120 in Hay Gulch.
Shannon Borders, spokeswoman for the BLM’s Tres Rios office said a news release was made public and letters were sent to affected property owners in June. The Herald could not confirm this information Monday.
No mention of the public comment period was made by the BLM when it began last month, which drew the ire of residents in the community who were alerted by the Herald on Monday.
“I’ve never seen anything to indicate that possibility,” said resident Carolyn Staby. “When we moved here in 1993, we were aware of various parts of the county that had oil and gas development, and we were very careful about not buying where that was happening.”
For a parcel to go up for an oil and gas lease sale, it has to be nominated by an interested buyer. The BLM does not release the identity of interested buyers, Borders said.
For the area in Shenandoah, there’s not much in the way of oil and gas development, which historically occurred further south of Wildcat Canyon around Red Mesa, and other parts of a county that has an estimated 3,500 drilled wells.
These two parcels are also just outside of a recently designated Master Leasing Plan area, which puts a keener eye on future oil and gas development, and encompasses nearly 71,000 acres in La Plata and Montezuma counties.
According to a La Plata County document, the parcels up for auction are located north of the Fruitland Formation outcrop, which will likely be targeted for its shale formations that can produce oil and gas.
In the same document, county staff expresses concern for the significant amount of water drilling shale wells could have on a part of the county that is known as the “dryside.”
Because oil and gas operators are not required to obtain a county land-use permit, there is no way to request a road impact agreement for the “amount of large truck traffic” associated with well drilling.
However, the operation may show potential for new sources of revenue for the county, which is in a downward spiral because of steep declines in natural gas revenues.
“New exploratory wells will provide information regarding the viability of shale resources in this part of the County and a potential new income source for the County,” the report concludes.
The parcel up for auction that is on private property is owned by Dan Huntington, a La Plata Electric Association board member who owns as many as 1,600-acres in Hay Gulch.
Huntington said he was alerted in June about a company’s interest in drilling on his land, and he is in favor of it.
“Hell yes I am,” Huntington said. “Our county is broke because they regulated oil and gas out of here.”
The BLM’s Borders said it is up to the property owner and company to come to terms – such as financial compensation – for access to federal minerals on private lands.
Residents in the Shenandoah subdivision, who do not have the opportunity for financial gains of nearby gas, were less enthusiastic Monday.
“If I was looking to buy property and heard that was going to happen, I wouldn’t buy it out here,” said Michelle Douglas. “I wouldn’t want to live near that.”
The state of Colorado has a 500-foot setback for wells drilled near residential homes.
Borders said once a company wins the auction for the parcels, it then has to obtain a permit that includes certain environmental and public health measures, which the BLM in turn has to approve.
At that time, a company proposes how many wells it would like to drill on the acreage.
That process, too, includes room for public comment, Borders said.
Comments can be made until Oct. 10 at http://bit.ly/2xbKqpt.