O&G industry protesters, supporters greet Gov. Hickenlooper

Staff Photo |

RIFLE — A blanket of haze obscuring the view of the Roan Cliffs from the mesa where the Rifle-Garfield County Airport sits provided an exclamation point for Grand Junction resident Lora Cat’s thoughts on Monday.

“I’m 67 years old, and we never used to see that,” said Cat, one of three anti-fracking protesters on hand outside the Garfield County Sheriff’s Annex who were waiting for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s arrival for a meeting with Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado (AGNC) members and other business and elected officials from the region.

“Now there’s always a haze in the air it seems, it’s sickening,” she said. “A lot of it is dust from fracking, or from the sand and gravel pits. I guess money talks.”

Fellow “Occupy Grand Junction” activist Kathy Slaughter and Silt-area resident Jacob Richards, who organized the mini-protest, offered their views to anyone heading into the meeting who was willing to listen.

“Can’t we have gas and grouse, too?” asked Silt Mayor Dave Moore, who wasn’t at all shy about engaging the group in a little debate.

Moore was speaking to a topic on the agenda for the governor’s visit, the proposed protections for the greater sage-grouse contained in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s draft Environmental Impact Statement that was recently released.

The AGNC and local governments in Garfield, Rio Blanco, Moffat and Mesa counties have called the proposal too strict, saying it would have severe impacts on the oil and gas industry in the region and that the science behind the effort to protect the bird’s habitat is flawed.

“Did you know 85 percent of the [tax] revenues in this county come from oil and gas?” Moore said, adding, “Where would our libraries and our schools be without that revenue?”

Richards, who held a sign referring to the governor as “Frackenlooper” and another saying “Grouse Not Gas,” responded, “When we can’t breathe the air, all that money is not going to do much good.”

“The AGNC does not speak for Garfield County residents,” Richards told a reporter.

As an avid hunter and fisherman, he said he used to see sage-grouse in the central part of Garfield County on a regular basis.

“I haven’t seen a sage-grouse in, forever,” he said of impacts to the bird’s habitat that he believes coincided with an uptick in natural gas activity over the last decade.

“Good governors don’t let species get pushed to the brink,” he said of Hickenlooper’s apparent willingness to side with Western Slope elected officials who stand opposed to the BLM’s proposed sage-grouse protection plan.

Down the driveway leading into the sheriff’s annex, another group of three protesters held their own signs supporting the oil and gas industry.

“The truth about fracking isn’t being given out as much as it could be,” said Judy Thomsen of Battlement Mesa, who said she believes the controversial process of extracting natural gas known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to be safe.

“My biggest concern is how many jobs have been lost in these small communities” since natural gas drilling has slowed down in the region, Thomsen said.

“I’ve had lots of friends who have had to move or are on welfare because they don’t have the jobs they used to,” she said. “Many of them have gone to areas where they can find work, and that hurts our communities too.”

Added fellow industry supporter Carrie Couey of Silt, “I would like for our governor to give a little more consideration to the jobs in our county.

“The bottom line is we need to improve the economy, and oil and gas is one way to do that,” she said.

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