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Oil and gas traffic troubles residents

Even for those who see the need for getting natural gas out of the ground, living with the industry has been a bit like having a 300-pound gorilla in the bedroom.With the oil and gas boom in rural areas of Garfield County, narrow country lanes are throughways for big trucks that take up most of the road. More traffic means more accidents.Nancy Jacobsen lives on Dry Hollow Road about seven miles south of Silt. Over the past few years, the rolling sage-covered hills in the Dry Hollow and Divide Creek areas have bristled with drilling rigs where neighbors raise horses and graze cattle on their modest ranchettes.”When I first moved here almost 10 years ago from Four Mile (in Glenwood Springs) … the first thing I noticed was there were no shoulders (on the road) … and everybody took their half of the road out of the middle. There are a lot curves on the lower part where you can’t see, so it’s a real problem if you get bigger industrial vehicles that can’t stay in their lane they’re so long,” Jacobsen said.She has seen her share of accidents.Around Halloween in 2001, Brandy Willhite was killed on Dry Hollow Road in a head-on collision with an SUV driven by a surveyor working for an oil and gas company.In July of this year, a truck carrying condensate – waste product from gas drilling containing petroleum components – overturned on Dry Hollow Road close to Jacobsen’s driveway. The truck spilled 85 barrels of condensate into the ditch, and the material came within 500 feet of a stream and a shallow water well.”I’m very sensitive to road issues,” Jacobsen said. “I’ve been in a lot of near misses. … Generally the industry vehicles don’t speed. It’s not a problem with the larger vehicles, but fact is they don’t stay in their lane. I’m from Iowa, and we would have called this a farm to market road.”It’s unclear just how many oil-and-gas-related accidents there are on county roads.In the last three years, according to Colorado State Patrol records, the number of crashes on the roads west of Silt to the Garfield County line, where most oil and gas activity takes place, has actually declined.On the Interstate 70 corridor, CSP responded to a total of 309 accidents in 2003. Of those, two were fatalities, 81 were injury accidents and 226 were crashes without injuries. The following year, there were 287 accidents reported, with one fatality, 61 injury accidents and 225 non-injury accidents.CSP has logged a total of 226 accidents so far in 2005. That includes two fatalities, 56 injury accidents and 168 non-injury accidents.However, the majority of the accidents CSP investigates occur on county roads. In fact, “all but one of the fatal crashes were on county roads,” said Sgt. Dave Kucera, of CSP in Glenwood Springs. The agency does not track whether or not those accidents involved oil and gas company vehicles.On county roads west of Silt, north and south of the I-70 corridor to the county line, CSP reported a total of 150 accidents in 2003, compared to 125 in 2004 and 88 so far this year, Kucera said. In 2003 there were two fatalities, 34 injury and 114 non-injury accidents. In 2004, CSP reported 125 accidents with one fatality, 29 injury and 95 non-injury accidents. As of this month, CSP reports a total of 88 accidents, one fatality, 21 injury and 66 non-injury accidents.CSP has a plan to reduce injury accidents in the county that focuses on Highway 82 and Glenwood Canyon, where the majority of accidents occur. “For the most part it’s been working. We’re seeing a trend downward (in the number of accidents),” Kucera said.While Garfield Creek Road just southwest of New Castle may not get the truck traffic of Dry Hollow, increased drilling in the area has caused some concern among the people who live there.Kyle Holt, a fishing guide, and his wife Cynthia Wallis, a veterinarian, live about eight miles up Garfield Creek Road. When they moved in last year they were not prepared for the gas activity that has burgeoned there recently.”The whole gas thing was a shock. … Our real estate agent wasn’t straight with us” about the gas activity, Holt said.Holt said he doesn’t oppose drilling, but he does worry about its effects.About three weeks, ago two trucks went off the road within a few days of each other and closed off the road while they were hauled out of the ditch, he said.”In April or May the road was pretty much perfect. In a few months the mega-trucks destroyed it,” he said.Kucera, who was familiar with the accidents, said the problem is the road itself. “There is no way the road could handle trucks that size.”County roads traveled by oil and gas rigs, both large and small, are a dilemma for the county road and bridge department. Marv Stephens, the road and bridge supervisor, explained that the department fixes the roads after accidents like those on Garfield Creek Road last month. The county sends a bill for the work to the companies responsible. Stephens sees an inherent problem in the county’s roads.”The county has talked about bringing some of the (busier) roads up to heavy-hauling standards,” Stephens said. But that would involve “completely rebuilding the roads,” including adding a four-inch overlay of gravel at a healthy cost of $1 million per mile. “The industry won’t pay to make them heavy-haul roads, and the taxpayers can’t afford it. It’s a dilemma.”Jacobsen believes industry needs to obey traffic laws, such as following posted speed limits, and adhere to safe driving practices. (See related story Page ??)”When you have a virtual bomb on wheels, you need to be careful. When you’re driving a bomb around the county you need to keep both hands on the wheels,” she said.”What’s key, certainly, is holding contractors to the same safety standards as we do ourselves,” she said. “I just keep hoping we can coexist and get the gas but not make it stressed out to live here.”Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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