Residents concerned about drilling proposal in Whitewater
Comment period extended to Aug. 14
The BLM will accept comments on Fram Operating’s proposal to drill in the Whitewater Unit through Aug. 14. Comments can be emailed to BLM_CO_GJ_Public_Comments@blm.gov or by mail to 2815 H Road, Grand Junction, CO 81506.
The most beneficial comments are specific, not general, BLM spokesman David Boyd said.
To view the BLM’s Environmental Assessment of the project, visit http://www.blm.gov and click on map of Colorado, and then Grand Junction Field Office. Or, call the BLM office at 970-244-3000 and someone will walk you through it, Boyd said.
“It’s worth the time to take a look at the document (EA). It’s our analysis of their proposal,” Boyd said. “We’ve tried to identify all the potential impacts and how we would require they be mitigated.”
Editor’s note: Fram Operating was contacted several times by the Free Press, but no one was available to speak and calls were not returned to comment for this story.
Don Lumbardy raises natural grass-fed beef without growth hormones — “the way nature made it” — on his property north of Kannah Creek on Whitewater Creek Road. He’s partially disabled from an assistant physical-therapy job he once had with the state and depends on the living he now makes from the land he owns near Whitewater.
Lumbardy, 64, said he has a “good-producing domestic water well downstream” from where Fram Operating, LLC, an international oil and gas exploration and production company, plans to drill 108 oil wells on both private and federal lands, pending approval from the Bureau of Land Management.
Although the 600 acres Lumbardy owns with his brother has been placed in a conservation easement, the federal government owns the mineral rights on about half of the property.
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“My concern is that they will have two to three wells on my property above and in proximity of my (water) wells, Lumbardy said. “I’m concerned about chemical contamination. If I lose any of my water, it will be devastating.”
Even during the drought, there’s running water on his property, providing great wildlife habitat, said Lumbardy.
“There’s 90 head of mule deer, foxes, badgers, bobcats, lots of birds. It’s a safe haven here.”
Lumbardy said he didn’t learn until July about Fram’s proposal to drill 108 oil wells over a four-year period in what’s called the Whitewater Unit southeast of Grand Junction. The area is generally bounded by Palisade and Clifton to the north, the Mesa Plateau of the east, Kannah Creek to the south and U.S. Hwy 50 to the west.
The BLM’s original comment period on its environmental assessment of the proposal was to have ended July 31. However, after requests from the public for more time to respond, the BLM said it would accept comments another two weeks, until Aug. 14.
“Even a two-week extension is pretty short again,” Lumbardy said. “I wrote my comment and hand-delivered it this week.
“If something happens to my water like has happened in a lot of places where people’s wells have been ruined, it’d be like someone coming and doing something to your job. I don’t have another way to work. I can’t produce anything without water.”
ADDRESSING WATERSHED CONCERNS
When the City of Grand Junction received notice in 2011 from the BLM about proposed oil exploration near the city’s water supply system, two of the proposed drill pads were close enough to be of concern to the city. Fram was willing to move those two pads.
“The city has worked very diligently since the first gas wells were drilled in the vicinity of the city’s watersheds in 2005,” City Utilities Manager Terry Franklin said in an email to the Free Press. “We have developed a comprehensive watershed water quality monitoring program, developed a good relationship with the BLM staff, and have met numerous times on-site with Fram staff to review possible well locations and have had Fram move well locations on our request.”
“Another very important point about the city’s water,” continued Franklin, “is all the water comes from surface waters originating on top of the Grand Mesa. Fram’s proposed wells are located in the lower end of the drainage basins and all potential surface flows off of any of Fram’s proposed well pads will flow away from the ditches and canals that may carry our surface water to one of our diversion structures.”
East Orchard Mesa farmer Carol Zadrozny is concerned about Fram’s drilling proposal for other reasons. Zadrozny has farmed in East Orchard Mesa for 40 years. She and her husband, Richard, own property that runs along 33 3/4 and C roads. So when Zadrozny recently learned that Fram plans to use C Road to access their Whitewater well pads, she became alarmed.
Fram’s Whitewater Unit Master Development Plan shows the primary access road will enter the southern portion of the project area from Hwy 50 and Kannah Creek Road. However, Mesa County C Road will be used from December 1 through April 30, during sensitive elk and mule deer winter habitats along the southern route.
“We have worked so hard to get that Fruit and Wine Byway, to promote agriculture,” Zadrozny said. “Now this — my business will be severely affected. My property values will decline by $100,000 or more.”
“Agriculture is the backbone of this valley. People have no idea of the economic significance of agriculture,” she said. “Oil and gas has gone up and down, up and down, up and down. It has devastated this valley.”
Zadrozny said she’s also concerned about the road itself, where she said there have been three bad car accidents. There is farm equipment, school buses, lots of traffic, she said.
Zadrozny has called for an “emergency meeting” of neighbors and other concerned residents to discuss the issue 6 p.m. tonight (Aug. 9) at Z’s Orchard, 315 33 3/4 Road.
AIR QUALITY CONCERNS
Citizens for Clean Air and Western Colorado Congress of Mesa County have also attempted to inform and mobilize the community. The two groups scheduled a meeting Thursday night at the Mesa County Road and Bridge Building, 971 Coffman Road.
Karen Sjoberg of Citizens for Clean Air said the BLM’s environmental assessment shows prevailing southeast winds will likely head to Palisade and Grand Junction.
According to Citizens for Clean Air, oil and gas production is responsible for the majority of Colorado’s air pollution enforcement cases. And, “the U.S. Department of Agriculture says ground level ozone causes more damage to plants than all other pollutants combined,” Sjoberg said.
“Grand Junction is already suffering from air quality issues. We’re close to exceeding national ambient air quality standards (for particulates and ozone).”
IF YOU COMMENT, BE SPECIFIC
“We’re trying hard to make people aware of the project,” BLM spokesman David Boyd said. “That’s why we’ve added an extra comment period.”
Thus far, the BLM has received about 26,000 comments associated with an action alert sent out by the National Resource Defense Council, said Boyd in an email to the Free Press. “We have also received approximately 70 other individual public comments. Areas of comment include wildlife concerns, air and water quality concerns and the access routes,” he added.
Boyd stressed the importance of being specific in making comments.
“One comment that brings up substantive issues, or something we haven’t considered; additional information we didn’t know, is more effective than 1,000 people saying something very general,” Boyd said.
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Richard Miller and Allison Marcus were sentenced to 45, days in jail, 1,500 hours of useful public service and $100,000 of restitution on June 30, 2019, as their sentence for starting the Lake Christine Fire the prior year. They have made significant strides in fulfilling their debt to society, according to the district attorney’s office.