A Denver-based energy company is offering a handful of Ignacio-area residents $5,000 to forgo their protections under La Plata County’s oil and gas regulations as the company seeks to drill a new injection well.
The proposed deal has residents around the would-be injection well site split between those who want to take the money and allow the company full access, and those who fear their voices will be silenced with concerns about water and traffic.
Rusty Kelly, senior vice president for Catamount Energy Partners LLC, did not return multiple emails and phone calls this week and last week seeking comment for this story.
A copy of a letter, obtained by The Durango Herald, asks residents to sign a waiver that “waives the benefits of La Plata County Oil and Gas Regulations and any objections he may have in connection with the proposed injection well” in exchange for a payment of $5,000.
An injection well sends produced water, a term used in the oil and gas industry that refers to the water brought to the surface during oil and gas drilling operations to allow gas to release from coal seams. The chemical makeup of produced water varies depending on its location. It has been known to contain high levels of brine and salt, as well as hydrocarbons, such as methane and benzene, that can lead to negative environmental and health impacts.
It appears the waiver was sent to at least seven property owners within a 1,300-foot radius of the proposed injection well site at 5301 County Road 334, about 7 miles northeast of Ignacio.
Courtney Roseberry, La Plata County’s natural resource planner, said Catamount Energy has not approached county staff with any plans for an injection well, so she was not familiar with the situation.
Under La Plata County oil and gas regulations, companies are allowed to ask residents to forgo their protections by signing a waiver. However, in most circumstances, Roseberry said companies seek to break the county’s 500-foot setback rule, not the entire set of county regulations.
“I haven’t seen one worded like that before,” said Roseberry, who has been with the county since 2009.
Also, an injection well is considered a “major facility” under county codes, which requires a process similar to obtaining a Class 2 land-use permit. Catamount Energy has not started that process, she said.
“So I don’t know what’s going on,” she said.
All this might be a moot point because a company must obtain unanimous consent from all neighbors to waive rights under the county’s regulations. And that appears unlikely.
Ken Beck said he has good relations with Catamount Energy. However, he’s not comfortable signing off on his right to speak up should an issue arise with the injection well.
“If something goes wrong, you’ve taken their money and you’re not allowed to complain,” he said. “It seems uncomfortable to me to forgo protections there for the residents.”
Wayne Wiebe said residents haven’t been informed of the full scale of Catamount Energy’s intended operation. He, like others opposed to the waiver, fears the injection well may affect his groundwater well.
“They’re going to have to listen to some of our concerns,” he said.
Ron Tate, whose property is closest to the proposed injection well, said he signed the waiver.
“I understand the regulations are there to protect everyone, but I also recognize sometimes (the regulations) go to a point where it’s difficult to get anything done,” he said. “My approach is, I’m going to be a good neighbor and rely on their good faith to be a good neighbor back.”
Kathryn Westbrook also signed the waiver.
“They (Catamount Energy) should have the right to do what they want,” she said. “This county has too many laws, too many regulations, too many taxes.”
But one neighbor, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the county’s regulations are intended to protect residents. He fears the waiver would make residents vulnerable to any possible future damages from the injection well, like groundwater contamination.
“If there is contamination, we’d have to carry water here for the rest of our lives instead of pumping it out of the ground,” he said. “You’d eat up $5,000 real quick.”
La Plata County drafted its own set of localized regulations for oil and gas development in the early 1990s, the first county in the state to do so. Roseberry said companies and residents are free to enter third-party contracts, but Catamount Energy is sort of in uncharted territory asking residents to waive all the county’s regulations.
“I’m not sure what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s odd.”