Castle Valley Comments – Feb. 13, 2020

Ron Drake

There was a lot of public clamor in the valley 35 years ago this month when the Bureau of Land Management and Conoco Petroleum Company announced a proposed exploratory well at the base of Parriott Mesa just off the Pace Hill Road. Much of the agenda of the Castle Valley Property Owners Association monthly meeting was devoted to a question and answer session with officials from the BLM and Conoco. The BLM district manager stated that written comment would be accepted and a decision would be made 35 years ago this week.

Several issues were raised by some valley residents, concerns that included noise pollution, which would disturb dairy animals and poultry. Lights from the site, some charged, would reflect from the walls of the mesa and create additional annoyance. The chance of escaping deadly gases was another issue addressed by those who attended the meeting, stating that the unpredictable wind currents in the area could carry the gases into the valley.

Increased traffic on Highway 128 was also voiced as a concern. The Conoco officials said that they had monitors in the well to detect gases before they become a problem and could maintain control but admitted that they couldn’t absolutely guarantee safety. They said Conoco wants to be a good neighbor but they were concerned about the opposition that was voiced at the meeting.

The BLM approved the exploratory well that was supposed to drill to a depth of between 13,000 and 15,000 feet, but was contingent upon Conoco’s presentation of a hydrogen sulfide evacuation plan. The following week traffic was halted at the bottom of Pace Hill as crews from J & W Oilfield Construction blasted into large rocks to clear way for a road and drill site.

A few days later, as a result of the condition of the approval, officials from Conoco met with members of the Castle Valley Fire Department to present their plan before presenting it to the BLM. They demonstrated how the wildcat well would function and the safeguards that would be installed on the wellhead. They said that they would keep the valley informed through the fire department about events at the drill site.

In the case of a blowout, the plan called on the Grand County Sheriff’s office, the Castle Valley Fire Department, Conoco employees and the BLM to simultaneously notify residents, control traffic and direct residents to a safe location. Several locations were identified for residents who lived within a two-mile radius of the drill site. Helicopters, Air-Life helicopters and ambulances would be put on standby or dispatched. They stressed that the chances of a surfacing blowout was minimal but agreed to an evacuation plan at the request of valley residents.

Within the month the drill rig was in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the next two and a half months. The large drill rig, which was operated by Parker Brothers Drilling, took 50 truckloads to transport from a previous location. The drilling operation continued for the next couple of months as planned and there were no problems encountered from the drilling operation.

On a still night we could occasionally hear the clanging of metal as they brought the drill bit to the surface but the cows didn’t dry up and egg production continued during the drilling work.

The project did increase the activity of the town exploratory committee to form the town sooner because it was thought that a town would have more clout over similar projects in the future. The drill site was restored to the original contour and replanted with native vegetation and I doubt that anyone would know where the site is today unless they found the capped-off well head that must still be there somewhere.

Not much is known about the results of the exploratory well so we don’t know if there is a viable source of oil or gas located there, but if we hear of a request from the BLM to lease that area for an oil or gas pumping unit then the town will undoubtedly test its clout.

The next Castle Valley movie night, which is sponsored by the Castle Valley Library, is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25. The movie is entitled “Honeyland” and was filmed in Macedonia over a three-year period. “Honeyland” features the region’s last native beekeeper who relies upon traditional methods to harvest honey deep in the mountains. However, her livelihood is jeopardized when a nomadic farming family attempts to infringe on her beekeeping.