The news that the Garfield School District Re-2 recently leased mineral rights under Coal Ridge High School prompted a surprised and somewhat irate response from an adjacent landowner this week.
The Post Independent reported on Jan. 28 that the school district had reached an agreement with Antero Resources for the district to lease 50 percent of the mineral rights underlying the school's 40-acre site.
Officials are uncertain about who holds the other 50 percent of the mineral rights under the school.
District spokeswoman Theresa Hamilton confirmed that the lease agreement forbids Antero from putting drilling rigs anywhere on the school's property, as well as prohibiting drilling-related roads, pipelines and other facilities.
Hamilton speculated that to reach the gas, the company would have to drill from lands outside the school's property, using directional drilling techniques.
But the school's nearest neighbor said Monday that however Antero plans to get to the Coal Ridge gas deposit, it will not be from her property.
"I own three sides of Coal Ridge," declared Michele Pfeifer of Shellbird Inc. and Rising Hearts Ranch, which surrounds the high school with the exception of the U.S. Highway 6 right of way.
"They do not have permission to drill here, and they never will," said Pfeifer, who is not related to a movie star with a similar name.
Pfeifer said she was approached by Antero about five years ago about leasing the mineral rights underneath her land, which comprises roughly 250 acres surrounding the high school site.
The company would not agree to her contract demands, however, and abandoned the effort until about a year ago, Pfeifer said. At that time, she explained, Antero once again attempted to lease her minerals, to no avail.
"Then they just disappeared until they drilled a well up Slaughter Gulch," she recalled, referring to an area north of her property where Antero built a drilling platform and drilled a well last summer.
She refuses to lease her mineral rights to the company, she said, because, "I think it's just a bunch of crap; everything they [gas drilling companies] do and say is a bunch of bull."
She accused the companies of hiring workers from out of state, or from Canada, while claiming to offer jobs to the Garfield County workforce.
"They're doing nothing but destroying the water and the land values," she added.
Antero Resources officials did not respond to requests for comments.
The news of the school district's agreement with Antero also aroused some ire from another nearby landowner, Jim Birney, who lives in Slaughter Gulch.
"I think that these guys are up to no good," said Birney, including both Antero and the school district in his criticism.
He questioned whether the district put out adequate notice to the public before leasing a publicly held resource.
A review of the minutes of Garfield Re-2 board of education meetings indicates that the matter was discussed at least twice in open meetings, once on Jan. 11 and a second time on Jan. 25, when it was finally approved. It was first submitted by Antero on Dec. 8.
The district's attorney, Tom Stuver, said the district publicizes its meeting by posting notices at the district offices in Rifle and announcements on the district's website.
"They don't own that," Birney said of the mineral rights. "The people of this county own that."
If discussions about the leasing proposal had been more widely advertised, he declared, "People around here would have been in an uproar."