In October 2012, EcoFlight, a conservation group based out of Aspen, took a handful of college students on an aerial tour of the Upper Colorado River Basin to educate them about energy-related development and how it influences the basin. I was one of those students. Having grown up in Grand Junction, this aerial tour was an eye opener on topics I hear about almost every day. Oil and gas development in our area is a sensitive topic. It appears that roughly half of people in Colorado endorse it, and the other half wants to ban it. Both sides have valid arguments, and I feel pulled in both directions. As a biology student at Colorado Mesa University, I understand the importance of conservation, and as an outdoor enthusiast the last thing I want to see on my public lands are a bunch of deserted well pads or noisy derricks that obstruct the beautiful mountain views Colorado is known for. On the other hand, I endorse the development of oil and gas, because if it wasn't for the presence of these industries in Colorado, I would not have the opportunity to attend college. So, on this trip I was really hoping that I could finally make up my mind.After flying over the well-known Roan Plateau, it seemed like an easy decision. Looking down from the sky, I could really see the approximately 2,400 well pads that littered the landscape, with the roads connecting them, that have left their mark on the once pristine wilderness. And then there are the water impacts. During the gas extraction process, up to 8 million gallons of water can be used, and any water that comes back out of the well is salty. This water has to be gathered and disposed of according to regulations, but small spills of not only the saline water, but sometimes chemicals harmful to the area, are not uncommon. These are impacts no one would want to see, let alone endorse, but flying around with a conservation group wasn't exactly the most unbiased view you could have. For example, it wasn't clear how much of the land we flew over was public, and how much was private. After it all, I found myself in the same situation as preflight, pulled between two opposite perspectives.After thinking long and hard about it, I decided that the most reasonable position is an intermediate one. I'm talking about increased regulation of the drilling/extraction process so that our public lands are preserved for future generations. If a well is to be drilled, biological restoration following extraction should become a larger part of the extraction process. Also, additional precautions are needed to prevent impacts from spills of harmful chemicals and salty water. These suggestions, of course, won't solve all of the problems, but together with increased cooperation between conservationists and oil and gas developers, it could change the way we think about fracking. What we really need to do is work together, conservationists and oil and gas industries, so that we can extract energy resources and at the same time, conserve the fragile ecosystems that could be threatened due to development. It's a basic principle: Take care of your things and they will last. This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter.Tyler Hutchinson is an office assistant at the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.
WATER LINES: CMU student reflects on oil, gas impacts following aerial tour
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