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Gas panel meeting draws hundreds

RIFLE With Power Point presentations, graphs and charts, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was well prepared for its quarterly northwest Colorado public meeting late Monday afternoon. But by the looks of things, the commission wasnt prepared for the more than 200 landowners, ranchers, environmentalists and concerned citizens who crowded into the Garfield County Fairgrounds South Hall to attend the commissions public forum and voice their concerns. I think we need to invest in a sound system, said Doug Dennison, Garfield County oil and gas auditor, as presenters strained to speak loud enough to reach the back of the hall.Third largestOver the past year, Garfield County has become the county with the third-largest number of producing natural gas wells in the state of Colorado and the regions residents are feeling it. And according to Dennison, higher production levels are expected this year. He told the crowd there are 1,600 active wells in Garfield County, and projections indicate more than 500 new wells will be approved in 2004. A sea of heads wearing cowboy hats, ball caps or no hats at all listened intently during the first part of the meeting as six of the seven oil and gas commissioners introduced themselves. Commissioner Peter Mueller, senior director of Oil and Gas Services for R.W. Beck, was not able to attend the meeting. Following the commissioners introductions, representatives from two of the largest natural gas producers EnCana Oil and Gas, and Williams Production quickly read off their companies current drilling activities and projections for 2004. Steve Bennett of the Glenwood Springs Bureau of Land Managements resource area office followed. He said that as of the first of the year, 113 new wells have been approved by the BLM, and that the BLM is considering expanding EnCanas territory from 1,200 acres to 3,900. Bennett also said that the long-anticipated BLM Roan Plateau management plan was still at least two weeks away from public release. The plan will help in determining how much of the Roan Plateau west of Rifle will become available for lease to natural gas industry interests. ComplaintsDennison also reported that the most complaints coming into his office regarding natural gas industry activity focused on industry odors. Citizens also complained of increased industry traffic, facility location and size, private property damage, water, noise, gas leaks, lighting and trash.Dennison said local citizens are seeking a Garfield County Energy Advisory Board to address some of these concerns. But both Brian Macke, deputy director of the oil and gas commission, and Garfield Commissioner Larry McCown said they oppose such a board.We all have enough meetings to go to, said McCown. Why cant we work within this format?Garfield County Commissioner Trsi Houpt disagreed.I think its a perception issue, she said. Im not taking away from this forum, but I truly believe that allowing for a separate energy advisory board could create the opportunity for more neutral discussion.Peggy Utesch of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance agreed with Houpt.We want to create a neutral place to address these concerns, she said. At these meetings, we feel as if youre setting the agenda. Bruce Bertram, a local governmental designee from Delta County for the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, offered his perspective. Delta currently has only four wells in production.It seems insignificant, he said, but weve been able, as a citizens group, to instigate a lawsuit against operators to address issues like water quality. Weve now completed water quality studies and have stipulated levels that we find acceptable. Open forumOil industry representatives had their production facts in a row, but so did citizens when it came time for the public forum near the end of the three-hour meeting.Lisa Bracken of Divide Creek south of Silt has started the Center for Environmental Integrity. She gave a presentation regarding air quality levels, and the need for more stringent controls on particulates that come from natural gas production. Scott Brynildson of Rifle gave perhaps the most impassioned plea. Brynildson and his wife Linda, a Rifle native, own B&B Plumbing, and Brynildson said he owns land in every direction out and around Rifle. As landowners, we need someone to go to with concerns about drilling, he said. Who is it? Who do we go to? My daughter is nine months pregnant, and our grandchild is going to be born in Garfield County. Who can we turn to?These oil companies back individual landowners into a corner. They divide and conquer. They make them sign their contracts, they pay us nothing and they destroy our property values. We need to bond together Republican, Democrat, independent with one voice. Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518cclick@postindependent.com


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