Conflicts, critics are always around
Rick Roles sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. And he seems to know his subject pretty darn well, too.
That subject is something longtime residents have heard — or discounted — many times before: the energy industry’s “dark side,” you might say.
I didn’t intend to meet and listen to Roles on Monday morning. I was at Creekbend for a breakfast with a colleague and we had commented on the fact that we had not been allowed to go on a natural gas drilling rig visit organized by the Middle Colorado River Watershed Council. WPX Energy had decided to not allow any media folks on the visit. That’s their right, it’s their property. But it did make both my colleague and me wonder if there was something we weren’t supposed to see or know. That’s what reporters do. (Full disclosure: I since received a personal email invite to visit the WPX water management facility. Still mulling that over …)
At any rate, Roles heard us talk about that, as he was sitting at the next table. He struck up a conversation that focused on what he said were health problems caused by wells drilled near and on his ranch south of Silt and the Colorado River. Roles also recounted several problems his goats and cattle had suffered when trying to give birth. Which he also laid at the door of the gas industry. And he doesn’t hold the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in very high regard, either.
It wasn’t the first time I’d listened to, and reported on, Roles’ issues and claims. Many years ago, I visited his ranch, and he took me around to see what was going on. This was back when the gas industry was booming in the county.
I’m not saying Roles is right or wrong in his claims. Like most, probably a little bit of both.
But after listening to Roles this week, along with two other developments related to the gas industry, it just had me wondering if the gas industry has maybe just as many, if not more, critics these days than during that last local “gas rush” of about 2000-2008.
One of those critics that caught my eye is a Colorado congressman, Jared Polis. The Boulder Democrat recently recounted that the gas industry had — unbeknownst to him or his family — drilled a well on a neighbor’s property in Weld County, next to where Polis’ family has a small farm and where family members live.
Polis, who has pretty deep pockets, even filed a lawsuit against the company, but then withdrew it to gather some more facts, according to a story I read.
Then there was an Associated Press story that quoted a high ranking Shell executive as saying some in the energy industry may have an “arrogant” attitude when it comes to how they operate and relate to everyday citizens who have concerns over their activities.
I have to say I was kind of surprised to listen to Roles and read about Polis and an energy exec call some in his industry “arrogant.” For some reason — probably because the number of drilling rigs and related activity in Garfield County has dropped so much in the last three or four years — I had the impression the industry was doing a better job of working with their neighbors. In some ways, I’m sure they have, and I do appreciate the jobs they’ve provided so many of our local residents over the years and decades.
It’s been some time since I wrote a story about gas drilling, so maybe I’ve kind of lost some perspective. I do realize the process of drilling and developing a well is an industrial activity by its nature. I doubt it will ever be done without some kind of repercussion, just as all industrial activities.
Rick Roles, Jared Polis and a Shell executive who spoke up just all caught my attention in a short period of time. They reminded me of conflicts that seem to always be around.
What’s always been important is how we handle and try to resolve those conflicts.
It will be interesting to see how — even if — any future resolutions lead to lasting change for the better of all involved.
Mike McKibbin is the editor of The Citizen Telegram.
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.