Mat-Su residents warm to coal bed methane plan

Company proposes pilot well on private land near Palmer

Posted: Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A proposal to drill for coal bed methane in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is getting a warmer reception than a plan three years ago that cost a Palmer state senator his job.

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Fowler Oil and Gas has proposed placing a pilot well on an 840-acre unit. The land near Trunk Road and Bogard Road in Palmer is owned by four families who support the company's plan.

Bob Fowler, the company's chief executive officer, said his proposal is much different from one by Evergreen Resources in 2003.

"It's like comparing the driving a '52 Chevy with leaded gasoline, spewing pollution in the air to a Toyota hybrid with flex fuel," Fowler said. "There's just no comparison."

His horizontal drilling technology has no surface impact, no noise and no effect on water, he said. All three were concerns raised with Evergreen's multiple well plan.

The Evergreen proposal caused a strong public outcry and left landowners who held surface rights wondering how someone could use their property.

State Sen. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, worked as a consultant for Evergreen until the fall of 2003. In the face of a recall effort the next year, in which detractors claimed he worked harder for the company that for his constituents in pushing for development of coal bed methane, Ogan resigned from the Senate.

In Fowler's application, the surface landowners also own subsurface rights and are willing to participate.

The plan has the preliminary support of Kathy Wells of the group Friends of the Mat-Su.

"What a difference a few years make," Wells said. "(I'm) cautiously optimistic. Mr. Fowler met with us about a year ago, much unlike previous developers - he's not afraid of getting his permits."

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough sent 1,300 letters to residents who live within a mile of the proposed test drill. They have 45 days to submit comments.

The borough now has in place some of the strictest regulations for coal bed methane exploration and drilling in the country. Municipal officials hope Fowler's plans are as good as they appear on paper.

"At first blush it meets all the criteria that we've established within our permit program. The application has been deemed complete," said borough planning director Murph O'Brien. "Now it's just a process of a more detailed review by our third-party engineering group. If it works it's going to be a tremendous resource development for the borough."

Fowler's proposal will be introduced at a borough planning commission meeting Aug. 6. A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 20.

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