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Citizens get drilled when there’s money to be made

Peggy Utesch

I’m confused. In an article that appeared in the Post Independent on Tuesday, June 4, about approving landfills in ARRD zoned areas in Garfield County, Larry McCown is quoted as saying, “Allowing this use to occur in the ARRD with the vastness of this district, to me, is not in the interest, health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Garfield County.” I’m trying to understand how a few landfills are not appropriate, but gas drilling on 20-acre spacing in the same zoning is OK?

Residents of Garfield County, including former County Commissioner Arnold Mackley, have been negatively impacted by natural gas drilling. Rigs, with their diesel engines that run 24/7, can be placed as close as 150 feet to residences. There are many documented cases of personal property damage to fences, gates, landscaping and roads done by oversized trucks that drive narrow roads meant for noncommercial vehicles, damage which industry neither reimburses nor repairs.

In May, a large truck used to haul drilling waste overturned while descending from Grass Mesa near Rifle. The accident was not reported by the drilling company or the truck driver even after the driller was contacted.

Finally, after several days and many phone calls, the State Patrol and Bureau of Land Management investigated, including the spill of diesel fuel into a gulch where it may leach into water supplies. If this accident had happened on a state highway, a haz-mat team would have been dispatched to clean up the spill.

To my knowledge, no cleanup of this spill has been done. In the process of surveying the accident site, human fecal contamination on a large scale was found – left by drilling employees who chose the trees over the port-a-potty. This is all on private land. Unfortunately, this also is not an uncommon occurrence around drill sites.

Over a recent weekend, I reported a well near my home that has been leaking gas all spring. (I only recently found out that there is a number in Parachute to call to complain.) The cloud of fumes it creates is clearly visible and odoriferous at 1/4 mile away. There are at least seven homes within 1/4 mile surrounding this leaking well, and depending upon the wind direction, one of these families is breathing raw gas. In addition, when the leak was investigated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, a spill at the site was found that had not been reported. Many of the water wells in this area are not deep- ours is less than 150 feet. Now I worry that my water supply may be at risk.

Larry McCown, however, continues to extol the virtues of gas drilling in this county because it brings jobs and millions of dollars in revenue. But at what cost to the landowners who have lived here for generations and who pay taxes? Is any of the money collected from gas impact fees used to help impacted residents mitigate the damages they have suffered? And what about our health, safety, and welfare? My cynical take on all this is that the well-being of citizens matters little when there is money to be made.

Landfills don’t put millions of dollars in the county coffers, but because gas drilling does, it’s too darn bad for the people whose lives and livelihoods are in the way of profit.

Drilling can be done without these negatives, but there is nobody to hold the industry accountable. Some counties in Colorado have a staff person who oversees well permitting, provides public information, handles complaints, and monitors land use, water use and reclamation. Garfield County needs to take a more proactive approach to an industry that now has over 1,100 wells in the county – a number that may double in the next two years. In case you aren’t aware, the federal government has painted a bull’s-eye on the West with the intent of punching as many holes in the ground as possible in order to extract every drop of natural gas. What you don’t hear on the news is that much of the targeted land in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico is private land. We’re not talking ANWAR, Forest Service or BLM property. We’re talking wells in people’s hay meadows. There are now three within the city limits of Parachute!

The rural residents of this county need to come together as a strong voice, asking not to stop drilling, but that drilling be done in the least invasive way possible to protect surface use and property values as well as minimize the impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

Peggy Utesch lives in the Silt area.


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