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Drilling can bring residents together

Dennis Webb

Advocates for people living in gas drilling country are suggesting that residents of Peach Valley and Silt Mesa seek to negotiate a communitywide development plan with energy companies moving into that region.Well over 200 people turned out at Rifle Middle School Friday night at a meeting organized by residents to discuss the impending arrival of drilling north of the Colorado River between New Castle and Rifle. Peggy Utesch, of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which lobbies on behalf of residents living in drilling country in western Garfield County, said the energy industry’s plans to expand to the north offer a “tremendous opportunity” for residents to become partners and give the community a voice in how drilling takes place. She said a community development plan could require such things as use of quiet rigs, no flaring of gas, mitigation of noise, protection of air quality and reports by companies about their annual drilling plans. “It’s something that’s never been tried, but we think it has merit and we think it’s worth pursuing,” Utesch said.But she warned residents that implementing a new approach to gas development won’t be easy.”It’s up to every one of you to get involved, and it’s up to this community to get it changed,” she said.Lance Astrella, a Denver attorney who represents surface owners who deal with the energy industry, said the best way residents north of the river might be able to negotiate a community development plan would be to hire a full-time person knowledgeable about the industry and its environmental consequences. A paid staff member could facilitate credible air and water quality testing programs, and gather data on health impacts in a manner that would carry some legal weight, he said.Mary Ellen Denomy, a certified public accountant in Garfield County who works to make landowners aware of their rights, warned owners of mineral rights to carefully analyze the language of leases that energy developers are seeking to have them sign.”You have to keep in mind, we own the minerals. The companies don’t have a product to sell without us letting them use our minerals,” she said.She said if mineral owners aren’t careful, they may unwittingly sign agreements that allow companies to build compressor stations on their land, result in use of their water, and provide them less money from royalties than they had expected to receive.Ralph Cantafio, a Steamboat Springs attorney who helps landowners negotiate surface use agreements, said he advises clients to “have courage, because the companies want to make you feel small and little”; be patient, because companies try to create crises and deadlines that don’t exist; and arm themselves with knowledge.He said companies may threaten to come onto a property without an agreement, but that’s just bluffing, and residents should not feel pressured to sign one before they are comfortable with it. Most companies would rather have an agreement in place than face the chance of being taken to court later over a dispute, he said.”At the end of the day, there’s really nothing to fear. There’s no real crisis as long as everyone is vigilant, but to be vigilant, it takes an investment in time,” he said.He advised people living on less than 10 acres in residential areas to “sleep well at night,” because energy developers are more likely to drill where it’s not only legally allowable, but realistic to do so.Doug Dennison, Garfield County’s oil and gas auditor, urged those in attendance Friday to consider attending the county’s Energy Advisory Board meetings on the first Thursday of each month.”I’d love to see this kind of crowd at our EAB meetings,” he said.The EAB is seeking to add government members from Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Carbondale and the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District because of increasing gas industry interest in the eastern part of the county. For the same reason, it is seeking to expand by adding citizen representatives from Silt Mesa/Peach Valley and Carbondale/Glenwood Springs. It also is looking for someone to represent the Una Bridge/Wallace Creek/Spring Creek area in western Garfield County, and to replace a departing representative from Taughenbaugh Mesa/Rulison/Morrisania Mesa.Dennison offered some advice of his own to those attending Friday’s meeting.”My big caution is be very careful who you get the knowledge from. There’s a lot of rhetoric out there from all sides of the issue. Get things verified two or three times before you believe it.”Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516dwebb@postindependent.com


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