With a cadre of neighbors saying "four wells is enough," Archuleta County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted against a request by BP to drill a fifth well in a 640-acre section of land near Arboles.
BP requested to drill the well in the northwest corner of the parcel. After talking with residents about their concerns, BP employees proposed cutting seven feet down on one side of the wellpad to lower the profile of the equipment. They also proposed to bring shorter tanks to the site, at nine feet tall instead of 15 feet.
"We feel we have met the criteria," of showing compatibility for the project, BP representative Miles Vanzara told the commissioners.
County planning staff recommended the commissioners approve the project if BP would meet seven conditions set by the county.
That was not enough for the commissioners to approve the project.
While Commissioner Michael Whiting acknowledged the competing interests between the residents and BP, he said the long-term interests of the county would be better served by protecting "our beauty, our isolation and our agriculture."
Commissioner Ronnie Maez cited the county's current limit of four wells, joining commission chair Steve Wadley in voting no.
Residents along Archuleta County Road 977 said BP's efforts to reduce the profile and view of the well weren't sufficient reasons to grant an exemption.
"We really shouldn't even be here," said Lana Jo Chapin, who has four wells on her 70-acre property. "They have a legal right to get the gas, but they don't have to throw out the county rulebook" to do so.
No residents spoke in favor of the request by BP, while seven spoke against it.
Several of them said BP could access the gas by using directional drilling from an existing wellpad. BP already has one wellpad in the section of land, while another gas company has three. Chapin said the section actually is smaller than 640 acres because it is "squished" against the New Mexico County line. "We already have a greater density of well pads in the area."
Matt Witt, a resident of Pagosa Springs, said during his 10 years of working as a geologist in the gas industry, every well he worked on created some surface pollution.
"If you have to make an exception, don't do it," he recommended.
The Archuleta Planning Commission recommended against the proposal 2-1 at its July 27 meeting.