County commissioners table acting on gas permit request to review watershed concerns
A request for a conditional use permit to drill gas wells in the mountains near Jump Creek turned into an item of discussion when a cabin owner raised concerns about water and development in the area during the Carbon County Commission meeting last Wednesday.
After the Prima Oil and Gas company permit request was introduced to the commissioners, Craig Stay questioned the wisdom of continuing growth in the area.
"I own a cabin within a half a mile of a site near there where well drilling stripped out the vegetation completely," said Stay. "When I first came there, it was a very pristine place. Now when I bring people to my cabin they want to know what happened to the place. This proposed well is near my cabin and is of concern to me."
Representing Prima Oil and Gas at the commission meeting, Don Hamilton said the area Stay referred to was drilled by a company that left the county a long time ago.
The Prima representative admitted some of the older wells have not been adequately reclaimed, but assured county officials that the company requesting the conditional use permit conducts business differently.
The area referred to by Stay was defoliated many years ago without the county's knowledge, pointed out Carbon planning and zoning director Dave Levanger.
"I am very interesting in investigating this well site you are talking about noted Mark Jones from the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. "I haven't seen this and, I can tell you, the state will get to the bottom of it."
The cabin owner, however, continued to question the representatives from Prima.
"I am just concerned," said Stay. "I have a number of questions about how they are going to do what they want to do in the area. What size of pipeline do you foresee and where would it run? Where would you build roads for access because there is none to that area now? How can you keep the area secured? I also want to know who would enforce the conditional use permit?"
Enforcement was one of the cabin owner's major concerns. Stay said he has only seen Levanger and a few wildlife officials visiting the area.
There is no pipeline planned by Prima at present, explained Hamilton. But if one were to be put in, it would probably be a five-or six-line. All of the area involved in a pipeline would be located behind locked gates. The project would be on roads constructed by the gas company, according to the Prima representative.
Addressing the issue of enforcement, Commissioner Mike Milovich pointed out that the county could not have an officer in the area "every day. But you can bet, if something is violated the phone will ring."The discussion continued about how wells could affect the area - a watershed for the county.
Stay was worried that at least one of the wells could affect Jump Creek and a wet spring in the area. Jump Creek flows into the Price River.
"I think we need to put things in perspective," said Levanger. "We have a lot of illegal development in Beaver Creek, which is also part of the watershed. One of these recreational cabins that are not controlled has a far greater impact on a stream than does a gas well."
At that point, questions were raised regarding the well's location in relation to Jump Creek. Stay claimed the well was close to the creek, while Hamilton said the site was several hundred feet away from the water source.
Lynna Topolovec, a member of the county's planning board which had sent the permit request to the commission for approval, voiced concerns about the situation.
"If I had known that stream was that close I would have reconsidered my vote to send it on," she said. "I think maybe we need some testing done on the water to set up a baseline and then have periodic testing to be sure that the well isn't creating problems in the stream."
As the debate continued, Nick Sampinos suggested that the entire area may need to be studied by a hydrologist to determine if there are potential problems.
"I think we need to see what this development at the top of our watershed could or would do," pointed out Sampinos, representating some land owners in the area. "Instead of opening the floodgates to this type of development, maybe we need to step back and look at the whole thing and see how the watershed is affected."
Sampinos' argument was followed by support from all three county commissioners.
"What we have for information may not be definitive," said Commissioner Bill Krompel. "Maybe the whole situation up there requires more scrutiny."
Commissioner Steve Burge thought a hydrological study may be a good move.
"I'm not an expert in this and I think we need someone to examine it," said Burge. "We should establish a baseline so that we have answers for people."
Levanger expressed concern regarding the reliability and consistentency of hydrologic studies.
"If a well is going to create problems with a stream, you can see it," said Jones. "Casings aren't going to leak so the real problem would be erosion into a stream and that can be seen with the naked eye."
Krompel admitted being disillusioned with prior hydrologists' reports.
"I have seen reports from hydrologists that say the water in Skyline mine is from Electric Lake and others that say it isn't," said Krompel. "That makes me wonder about the reliability of their conclusions."
Milovich agreed that a baseline may be needed, but said the county's decision on Prima's request may not be affected by a study.
Jones said he would be going to the site in the next week and would evaluate the situation. Some county staff will also be going to the site.
Following the discussion, the commissioners decided to table the request for two weeks, and said they would examine if they could have someone from the state do some type of hydrology report on the area.
The commission also opened bids for an architect for the county maintenance shops. The shops will be built on Airport Road near the landfill.
The bidders included Pascar, Gould, Ames and Weaver of Murray; Wayne Ricks Architecture of Salt Lake; Gillies, Stranski, Brings and Smith of Salt Lake; Ensign Engineering of Midvale; Eaton Architecture of Salt Lake; Edwards and Daniels of Salt Lake and HHY Associates of Salt Lake. Architects work on a percentage of the total projects cost and that percentage can vary from firm to firm, so the commission decided to set up a committee to study the proposals and select one for the commission to act upon.