For several months, a Colorado gas exploration company has campaigned to obtain approval for future development and redevelopment in the Carbon County area, particularly around the Nine Mile Canyon region.
At a public hearing last Wednesday, the county commission voted to grant the company's request for a conditional use permit for the installation of a compressor station near Rasmussen Cave.
The public heaing capped a three-week period during which Bill Barrett Corporation brought in top executives to speak at a Carbon County Chamber of Commerce meeting, an extensive effort by the company to contact public officials and a move by members of the Nine Mile Coalition to question the need for the station at its proposed location.
Almost a month ago, the corporation met with the chamber and interested parties at a luncheon at Carbon County Country Club to discuss the industry in general as well as the company's plans for the Stone Canyon gas field.
"The gas business is a great business to be in but there are a lot of onerous regulations," said Bill Barrett, addressing the group. "It used to take 30 days to get a permit to drill and now the average time is 137 days."
Several questions had been raised about the viability of gas wells in the area. A number of wells have been operating in the area for 30 to 40 years and some are on the decline in terms of production. According to company officials, the existing operations are shallow wells. But Barrett plans to go after gas that is much deeper in the ground.
"There are probably several billion cubic feet of deep gas there," stated Barrett. "Maybe even a trillion."
The audience listening to the company's comments consisted of local chamber and Nine Mile Coalition members as well as interested residents.
"We are here as a business partner to you and want to work with you," stated Barrett.
After a few more remarks, Barrett turned the presentation over to Duane Zavadil, the company's director of environment and safety. Zavadil discussed plans for the area as well as how the company would conduct seismic studies and operate in the sensitive area around the canyon.
The company had given a similar presentation to the county commission by a subcontractor to the company only a few weeks before.
"There is little or no activity planned directly for Nine Mile Canyon," said Zavadil. "Our current operations are in the Stone Canyon area."
Zavadil explained that the company has inherited some shallow wells along with equipment and compressor stations.
"Right now, we have 15 productive wells in the area, and 12 of them we inherited from the previous operator," he said. "We plan on drilling six more wells this year as well as upgrading pipelines and compressors."
He pointed out that the lines in the area, many of which run on top of the ground, are 30 to 40 years old and need replacement.
Over the past few months there has been a lot of concern about a compressor station that is being constructed in Dry Canyon. It is close to some rock art panels and Rassmussen Cave.
In addition a number of citizens are concerned about the effect development and particularly the seismic surveys, which use vibrating trucks and dynamite charges in the ground to produce sound and motion waves will have on cultural and historic resources in the area.
Members of the audience asked a number of questions about the situation.
Dan Sullivan, a subcontractor for Barrett, told the audience that seismic charges had been used many years ago and that no damage was done to the panels or other sites that he knew of.
"I don't think you can quantify what damage may have been done," countered Pam Miller, the director of the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum in downtown Price. "There could be hidden fractures."
Questions also came up about the water that could be brought up from the wells.
According to Zavadil, the wells Barrett will be drilling are deep and the company does not expect that there will be much water coming out of the sites.
"At the most it looks like we would only get about one half barrel of water per day," he said.
Another question that arose was about increased traffic in the canyon.
"During exploration the traffic will increase about eight to 10 percent," he explained. "Right now we have one rig in the area and we will have two later."
He pointed out that the dust in the canyon has probably been reduced this summer because Barrett has been treating the road to keep the fine powder down for the past few months.
He showed a series of slides detailing how the seismic work would be done, explaining each step and the differences between how the work would be done in various areas of the exploration.
When asked about environmental control and whether the company does all of the necessary work, Zavadil replied no.
"Almost everything is sub contracted out," he said. "But we have our personnel in close supervision over all activities."
At the same meeting, Dave Levanger, the counties director of planning and zoning, passed out a document with information about what has already been done in terms of Barrett's activities through that department.
The assessment spelled out that the property where the new gas compressor station would be located is at the confluence of Nine Mile Creek and Dry Canyon.
It also stated that this type of development was permitted in that zone (mining and grazing) and that the chair of the planning commission (Richard Tatton) and a number of county officials had visited the site.
At the regular county commission meeting last Wednesday, Levanger made a computer presentation to Carbon lawmakers and local residents gathered to comment on the gas company's application for the conditional use permit.
Levanger and Commissioner Steve Burge had revisited the site, primarily because of the sensitive nature of the area. Levanger and Burge had taken photos and had re-examined the options.
At the commission meeting, Levanger passed out a traffic survey on Nine Mile Canyon that was conducted in July and early August.
"We had this traffic count done at the planning commission's request," Levanger told the Carbon commissioners as he handed the lawmakers the results. "It looks like the count averages at about 77 vehicles per day."
The traffic count was conducted at the cattle guard above the mine and the new wells that are in the mouth of the canyon.
The results of the count and the percentage of growth that may result later became key in some discussion on the traffic in the canyon.
After Levanger's presentation, Zavadil addressed the commission regarding the project and some of the conditions that had been placed on the compressor station by the county's planning board.
"There are some problems with putting in a concrete building as the planning commission requested," noted the gas company representative. "We have to lift, service and replace heavy machinery in and out of that building and it would be too hard to move those kinds of walls. So we want to put in a steel building that will have a stucco material on the outside and will be painted to match the background area."
Zavadil also pointed out that there will be an eight-foot slatted fence painted to match the area as well to hide any parts of the site that are not covered by the building.
"We will also construct the facility so that the fan points away from the canyon to help mitigate the noise," stated the gas company respresentative.
The county commissioners asked a series of questions regarding the size of the building, where the equipment and manpower would be coming from to work on the project, when construction would start and the conditions placed on the compressor station by the county.
One of the questions was about the dirt berms the county's planning board had placed on the project as a condition.
Zavadil explained that the company had chosen to go with the fence instead.
"We have limited soil on the site and that will keep us from having to make any ground disturbance in the area," he stated.
Once Zavadil had answered the county commission's questions, the public hearing was opened. More than six people stood up to speak about the subject.
No one appeared adamently opposed to the company's compressor station project, but most of the people commenting about the matter had reservations regarding what could happen to the canyon.
"What I recommend is that the company bring people who are concerned about the canyon into the loop when examining projects," stated Layne Miller, a local canyon guide and part of the Nine Mile Coalition.
"We have no idea of the scope of what is going on here. Small projects get approved one at a time, but the accumulation of the all those projects could make the area a full blown gas field," added Laynhe Miller.
Local resident Steve Tanner took issue with the noise the compressor station could generate in Nine Mile Canyon.
"I wonder if the company has looked at a sound shroud on the fan and whether to lower the grade of the building so it is down in the ground," stated Tanner.
"I also worry about the fact we have been trying to get salt out of our drainage and yet they want to use magnesium chloride on the roads in the canyon to prevent the dust," added Tanner.
Zavadil told the group that the company was flexible as to how to control the dust and that mag chloride wasn't the only answer.
"As for the noise, once the station is constructed and running, I'd like to see what noise problems are there," explained the gas company representative. "Maybe we could look at some other things to do if it is a problem."
Noise was also an issue with two other speakers. Carbon County resident Jim Darter, formerly from Duchesne County, pointed out that noise became a major problem when gas companies put in facilities near his home. But Darter viewed the Barrett project as "being much more responsible."
Dennis Willis was concerned about the distraction the noise might cause at an interpretive site up the canyon from the station.
"The county has invested money there in the rest rooms on that site and in the trail that was put in," he stated. "With a standard of 55 dB at 1800 feet that means the level is 135 dB at 100 yards. I don't think we want to have that kind of noise in the canyon. I know that we can beat that level. The 55 dB is a whimpy standard for any development."
Pam Miller, who had challenged the thought that no previous damage had been done using seismic testing in the canyon in the past at the earlier chamber meeting, brought up the problem of roads, too.
"As I see it the company has said, based on its own estimate, that the traffic on the road will increase about 30 percent because of the development they are doing," indicated Pam Miller.
"The road is obviously inadequate for more traffic. The cumulative effects of development on the road need to be examined all together. Barrett could be a real hero here and help us do something with that road," added the CEU museum official.
Pam Miller asked the county officials and the gas company to look to the future.
"I hate to see this compressor station go on that site," commented Pam Miller. "They should come to those that know and understand the canyon and ask us where something like this should be located. I realize that putting it there is perfectly legal, but the more important question is if it is right."
After the public meeting was closed, the motion was made to approve the conditional use permit, but with an addendum that the company re-evaluate the noise once it was up and running and take action to mitigate it if necessary.
The county commissioners approved the permit unanimously.