Lisa Bracken’s Journey

Lisa and I are members of a mutual admiration society. We admire each other’s work and viewpoints and have exchanged emails and phone calls over the past few years. We’re also cyber-neighbors. Even though we both live here we’ve never actually met for coffee or lunch, which is more likely a testament to the fact that we’re both writers so we’re always busy writing!

We recently reconnected over the article in the GJ Daily Sentinel, New wells near gas seep concern nearby residents, where I discovered she has a new blog, Journey of the Forsaken. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, you are really missing something. I cried like a baby over her wounded buck story. Hunting season can be so awfully cruel.

So for those of you who have been following along thus far, here is my much anticipated interview with Lisa Bracken.

Me: Okay, let’s get to the big question first – the same one I get asked all the time. Why do you stay? I have my own reasons. What are yours?

Lisa: I am deeply connected to this land – as is my family. This land has given us so much over the last twenty years. The flora and fauna that populate this place make it extraordinary. They give it life, character and a dynamic force which invites not only our observation but participation. They teach me, and their life-force nourishes my physical form and spirit. They have built me – sustained me. I owe this land more than just a debt of gratitude. It continually provides for my very spiritual substance.

When the life force of this mountain is threatened by those who neither see nor comprehend the impacts of their actions, how can I possibly walk away from it? How can I allow it to fend for itself when its voice is alien to those who transgress upon it? I consider it my honor and obligation to defend this land, the air above it, the waters that flow through it and all those who call it their home. This is not a fight I went looking for. It is a fight that came to me, and I’m not one to run.

Some of our neighbors have fled the area and have suggested we do the same. But this issue isn’t brought on by local policy altered by the good will of a handful of people bound together in common defense of either the land or an ideal. This problem is caused by federal policy. State and local policy must bow to its greater authority. The belief that there is somewhere to run is a modern myth. As a resurgence of industrialization flourishes, the threat upon our wild lands and private lands is tremendous. From corporate farms to energy development, the heavy footprint of mismanaged resource use falls upon us all.

Like the old song says, I believe we each should live in the place where we stand. I won’t forsake this place for the false allure of another which carries its own latent ill fate – regardless of how removed it may seem today. To me, all land is sacred and worth defending.

Me: I share that same feeling of spiritual attachment to this land. And I’ve also become aware in my own travels how bad government policy is impacting public and private lands and peoples’ lives no matter where I go.

In the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article, Pepi Langegger said the West Divide Creek seep is still bubbling. I’ve heard this before and it scares the crap out of me. Langegger added: “I guess I wonder why they’re starting something new, and they still haven’t taken care of this existing problem. I guess time will tell.” But that’s all that was said. How do you feel about this?

Lisa: The seep is still actively discharging into Divide Creek. The thing is, the state has permitted the drilling of 40 new wells without, in my opinion, sufficient study of the area. The very fact that restrictions have been imposed as a condition of continued drilling attests that this geology is something of an anomaly. And certainly, events that occurred right up to the seep itself may have contributed to a geologic shift – including the Arbaney “kick” that occurred on March 09, 2004, and which shook the ground up to approximately a mile away.

Now we are seeing activity which mirrors that which we observed during the height of the Divide Creek seep in 2004. But, again, it is being down-played. To their credit, and despite their apparent assumptions that the new observations point to biogenic activity and nothing more, on 11-02-07 EnCana sampled the area of the creek where the new observations are occurring. I worry that if insufficient study is put behind what I consider an early indication that something is amiss, we may see yet another situation which devastates the environment. And fracing might make it even worse.

I and my family are very apprehensive about the intensity of the proposed activity – that is 40 new wells within a fifteen month period. It seems like both EnCana, by pushing so hard, and the COGCC, by allowing it, are simply disregarding lessons which have already been learned the hard way. But the resource is desired, and they’re going after this resource (and the money it represents) like a junkyard dog on a pork chop. That industry attitude forces everything into a difficult position.

Me: Well that doesn’t put my mind at ease, but at least I know you’re keeping an eagle eye on the situation and I’ll keep watching your blog for updates.

You state in your essay at Journey of the Forsaken that you will be objective and look at all sides as Encana embarks on this – what I consider appalling – drilling plan for 40 new wells in an area determined to be geologically sensitive. But you’ve been impacted by gas well drilling for several years already. I have a feeling you have a pretty good idea what you’re facing down here. One thing you haven’t mentioned in your blog entries is the truck traffic, which everyone complains about. What it’s like on any given day?

Lisa: I can only speak to what occurred during the development of three wells back in ’04. Then, the truck traffic was pretty rough to deal with. I think it poses serious dangers to other vehicular and pedestrian traffic, as well as contributes significantly to dust problems – to which there is NO environmentally sound answer. They also carve new roads over trackless land and fracture contiguous habitat. And they are quite noisy. Their weight further degrades farm-to-market roads and private lanes that were never designed to handle that kind of impact. They also tend to drag in noxious weed seed that further jeopardizes the landscape by contributing to the degradation of native species and forage.

The truck traffic really does create more than just a nuisance. New pipelines for the transport of water are apparently intended to curtail some of this kind of impact. Other ways of coping with it include the development of less pads and the use of improved, shared road-ways. William’s Production is using Flex rigs which reduce truck traffic impacts by clustering numerous wells on one pad. While that is a boon in traffic reduction, it can unfortunately create VOC hotspots. What the development of 40 wells within a mile of our home will lead to is anyone’s guess.

Me: You and your family have lived in the West Divide Creek area for more than 20 years. I imagine you have observed the impacts of the increasing gas well development on the wildlife over time. Can you share some of those observations? Do you see the impacts on wildlife as any kind of warning to our human population?

Lisa: The impacts to wildlife from this industry are enormous – but as humans who share that habitat we are imperiled also. While people tend not to think of themselves as wildlife, we are in fact, a part of the landscape. We are in every sense as invested in the land we occupy as are the deer, elk, eagle and others.  In rural areas of Garfield County we literally share the same air, water and soil. We live, work and recreate upon the land like any other creature. The continued sacrifice of our lands for short-term gain will have far reaching effects. Our Earth can only sustain so much disruption to a very intricate and evolved ecological structure. Given the presence of plastics on every shore, the mass die-off of vast bird, butterfly, frog and now polar bear populations, the hole in the ozone – I’m afraid we have brought ourselves and every other living thing on this planet to the brink of extinction, and the brink is crumbling.

This is where we stand – largely because of a consumer’s culture. A selfish culture defined by ‘me’ and ‘now’ and ‘more’. To this we add petty bickering, national posturing, wonton corporate greed, and religious and racial intolerance. Give me a break. We are a vast zit on the ass of Mother Nature. And nature has a way of cleansing herself. It is just such a shame, such a genuine tragedy to not recognize the value of all we destroy every day.

Imagine a view of our selves from space. Now, run time-lapse footage from the dawn of man to today, you’d see the same kind of behavior a virus exhibits toward a host under a microscope. Consuming. That’s it. Nothing else to see here, folks. And for all our technologically evolved ‘brilliance’, we continue to multiply and consume with no friggin’ idea where we’ll go next. We just stand around with our paper coffee cups in one hand and a cell phone in another looking like the dumb asses we are – while the whole world implodes under our feet. We are so beyond zit. We are verified virus.

But … there is hope. In my heart I know that there are many people who are aware of their impacts and strive every day – even more than me, to lessen those impacts and do what they can to preserve this treasured planet. It is a miracle planet, so incredibly stunning in every way. And these are the minority who can collectively reshape today and tomorrow, giving us a shot at survival. So many people believe that as long as they can pump gas into the tank Monday morning, and pick up a steak at the store on the way home from work everything in hunky dory. Not so. But, by the time we realize the magnitude of our own threat to our own survival, it may be too late.

Alternative fuels is job one. Particularly solar. More solar power falls to Earth every day than the total amount of energy the planet’s 5.9 billion inhabitants would consume in 27 years. Fossil fuels and the greed they inspire and the devastation they cause in their production and combustion are a big part of what is destroying this planet – and of course all your synthetic chemicals are the spawn of such benevolence.

It is ok to consume as long as you give back and maintain balance, honoring Earth’s fragile harmony. The oil and gas industry tends to pillage, they don’t so much tend lovingly the garden of their glorious gain. And it’s all tied into profit. But profit can occur without pillage. We need to foster true stewardship and stop behaving like a virus.

Me: I totally agree. The impacts of energy development that we live with here are part of a larger, global issue of consumption – and bad government policy – and we should be looking closely at the condition of our wildlife all over the world to understand what it means for the human race.

Which brings me to, I have mixed feelings about the changes in the makeup of the COGCC and Governor Ritter’s emphasis on and attention to air and water quality related to gas well drilling. I worry that it’s too little, too late. What do you think?

Lisa: I think it’s a damn good start that should have happened years ago. The delayed restructuring of this commission illustrates the unconscionable and detrimental effect politics can play in matters of pubic health and safety. I herald Governor Ritter’s efforts, and I say: “kahoniism over cronyism!”

This industry brings out the best and worst in people. I’ve seen the worst of the snivelers roll over, jump ship and bite one another on the back. And I’ve seen a few others (very few others) stand up regardless of personal cost. It takes fortitude to stand up against an industry so accustomed to bullying their way around – and with a bottomless pit of subsidized financial recourses to back it up. Like any great advance it begins by someone putting one foot forward. History tells us that such industrial empires last only so long.  Just one foot forward and, if conditions are finally right – which they finally are. Others will follow. Governor Ritter and Harris Sherman are both champions, and I hope for them the strength to withstand the tempest gale to come.

Me: Thank you so much, Lisa! I am uplifted by your intellect and courage. I share your strong convictions toward protecting this land and all of its sacred treasures. Your blog is a diamond in the wilderness.

I hope this will be the first of many conversations we share with our readers. And hey, let’s do lunch – or least coffee one of these days. Really! I mean it.

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