Citizens vent concerns at gas meeting

Lynn BurtonPost Independent Staff
Jim Noelker/Post Independent Photo

It took just a few minutes for Western Garfield County residents to rattle off their complaints against the natural gas industry Saturday afternoon.”Losing a water well,” shouted out one man in the back of the Wamsley Elementary School gym.”A severe reduction in property values,” countered a man near the front.”Safety for kids,” said one mother.”Noise,” another woman quickly interjected.Nearly three hours later, approximately 75 residents had written down a list of changes they want made in Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission regulations, including:-A requirement for natural gas exploration companies to submit annual master plans to the Garfield County Commissioners.-Increasing from 30 days to 90 days the time landowners have to respond once energy companies post plans to drill their land.-Water well monitoring before, during and after natural gas wells are drilled.Mary Ellen Denomy, a member of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, moderated the four-hour forum, which was co-sponsored by the Western Colorado Congress and held in Rifle. The forum follows similar sessions held in Mesa, Delta, San Juan and Los Animas counties. Western Colorado Congress will take the recommendations to the oil and gas commission in a few weeks.Denomy said it may take some time to convince the commission to change its regulations, but it can be done. “You don’t have to be a scholar to do this,” she told the crowd. “We will go fight with the commission director and assistant director to see these are enacted.”Natural gas exploration activity is increasing in Western Garfield County, as demand continues to rise nationwide, and pipelines are put in place to transport Colorado gas to the West Coast. Much of that exploration and production takes place on private land. Many landowners do not own the mineral rights below their property, but the gas can still be legally extracted by energy companies.On Saturday, the crowd sat on folding metal chairs, and nibbled on cookies and quiche.”There’s no financial reparation for surface owners,” one woman told the knowing crowd. Another woman said gas drilling, which takes place within sight and sound of hundreds of western Garfield County rural property owners, causes stress to residents. “And stress causes disease.”

Ray Enright, a retiree who once directed the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, lives on 49 acres 12 miles south of Silt. For Enright, the oil and gas industry’s intrusion on parts of rural Garfield County could be a Constitutional issue. He cited the Constitution’s “pursuit of life, liberty and happiness” section and told the crowd, “I feel this might be fought on a Constitutional basis. … Go down to Mamm Creek and ask if they are happy.”As the crowd listed its concerns, Western Colorado Congress organizer DeAnna Woolston scribbled them on a large easel. Then the crowd broke into smaller groups to solve nine problems, such as: pollution, lack of respect from the industry, well spacing, surface use, regulatory enforcement and reclamation.While the groups talked among themselves, longtime Silt area ranchers Jeanne McPherson and Bobbie Rowe chatted. Rowe, a Louisiana native, said she supports gas drilling in Garfield County. “We need it for the rest of the country,” Rowe said. “We are dependent on foreign oil, so we need this.”McPherson, who has lived with her husband, Dale, in the Silt area for 47 years, briefly addressed the crowd. “Most of you are newcomers,” she told them. She said new property owners should have read their land titles or abstracts, and understood the mineral rights were severed from their lands. “You had the option to take it, or leave it,” McPherson said.After the smaller groups wrote their notes on easel paper, they brought them to the front of the gym, where each list was presented to the entire group.Steve Clay, La Plata county’s oil and gas industry liaison, explained how his county started addressing residents’ concerns several years ago. La Plata eventually appointed residents to meet with state and federal agencies, the county commissioners and oil and gas industry members. From there, proposed changes to county-level oil and gas codes were presented to the La Plata planning and zoning commission, and finally to the county commissioners.Clay said “it was a long process,” but La Plata County finally enacted changes to its codes to regulate the oil and gas industry. “The county has the right to govern itself,” Clay said.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext.

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