Protests from Sunnyside and East Carbon representatives about a gas well drilling operation near Penta Creek property resulted in the Carbon County commissioners calling for a temporary halt to the work.
East Carbon Mayor Orlando LaFontaine and Sunnyside Councilmember Shari Madrid approached the commissioners at the county's Jan. 16 meeting with concerns about the project's possible threat to the towns' water supplies.
"We are just concerned with our watershed area," said Madrid.
The councilmember presented the commission with an ordinance from Sunnyside that prohibits drilling or other operations in areas close to watersheds.
Madrid said work being done by Jake Oil of Utah could constitute possible contamination of the water.
LaFontaine and Madrid indicated that they were dismayed the drilling had started in the Penta Creek area and Patmos Ridge without any discussions between the cities and Jake Oil.
"We are concerned that we were never even notified and have all these trucks going up and down our roads and by our water source," said LaFontaine.
Sunnyside and East Carbon weren't the only jurisdictions unaware of the project until it was well underway. Jake Oil had already dug two gas wells and was ready to start on the third, when the owners found out that the company did not have the proper county permits.
At a special Dec. 11 meeting of the county planning and zoning board, the company sought a permit and a conditional use permit for its work above Sunnyside.
According to zoning administrator Gayla Williams, company representatives told the planning board that they believed they had everything they needed when they were cleared by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining.
It appeared that Jake Oil's requests would be a slam dunk, as they were approved by planning boardmembers Mike Milovich, Lynna Gray, Earl Gunderson and Richard Tatton.
However, the greenlight was given with some extra considerations, including a discussion with LaFontaine about providing water for the project and guarantees from Jake Oil that any road damage would be repaired.
Apparently, the discussion with LaFontaine and Jake Oil didn't transpire as the company's representative, George Wilberger, encountered a different atmosphere Jan. 16.
The company representative updated the commission on the operations before the hearing got into full swing.
"We are currently held up with these wells because of weather," said Wilberger. "But the company is trying to comply with all the county requirements."
Carbon County planning director Dave Levanger stepped up to the podium after Madrid presented the town's ordinance.
Levanger said that he understood that East Carbon had a similar one.
The planning director asked Carbon government's legal representative, Christian Bryner, if the cities' laws could supersede countyordinances.
Bryner told the commissioners that he didn't believe that a city ordinance could affect work being done on non-city property.
"I don't think by passing an ordinance the city can apply it to lands not owned by the city," said the attorney. "They may be attempting to overreach their jursidiction."
However, jurisdictions aside, the pleas by LaFontaine and Madrid did not fall on deaf ears.
"Even if they (Sunnyside and East Carbon) don't have the right, we need to be sensitive to water quality issues," said Commissioner Bill Krompel. "These issues need to be addressed before moving forward."
After Krompel's statement, the discussion took a a turn. The locking of the gate leading to the reservoir above Sunnyside took center stage.
"I found it ironical that the owners of the property insisted on locking the gate and now there's all this truck traffic going up to the reservoir that the residents can't even visit," said LaFontaine.
Krompel agreed with LaFontaine.
"I find it shameful that campgrounds and picnic areas are closed off to residents," said Krompel.
Commissioner Steve Burge steered the conversation back to Jake Oil's operations.
"Personalities aside, we have an issue of health, safety and welfare to look at," said Burge.
Sunnyside Councilmember Andy Urbanik confirmed Burge's assertion.
"As far as we know, there is one rig less than one-half of a mile from our reservoir," said Urbanik. "If anything does happen, it will be a major concern to our residents."
Commissioner Mike Milovich brought the discussion to a close by recommending that Jake Oil's applications be tabled pending further discussions and investigations.
Milovich also suggested that a bond be posted by the company to remedy any potential problems if the project were approved.
Krompel added that any further discussion had to be completely inclusive.
"It is critical that East Carbon and Sunnyside be at the table," said Krompel.