Reflections on an Unusual Earth Day

Antero’s Earth Day announcement cancelling the Community Development Plan meetings came as no surprise to those of us who attended the first meeting. Antero reps, Kevin Kilstrom, Jon Black, and Lars Inman, et al, weren’t openly hostile. They were, however, less than enthusiastic. I expected the cancellation.

What I didn’t expect was this, from Kilstrom’s letter:

“… Antero has an existing undrilled well permit on Silt Mesa that would potentially be drilled in 2011.  We further advised we were looking for alternative sites for this well so as to defer any further near term activity in the heart of Silt Mesa, and as a result of our efforts, we believe we have found an alternate site to meet our near term drilling needs.  As such, and to give time for further discussions between the community and Antero prior to the resumption of activity on Silt Mesa, we no longer anticipate drilling any well originating on a well pad located north of Highway 6 during 2011.”

The RSPN Alliance calls it “a small victory” on their Facebook page.

I have tried to stay away from war-like or battle-oriented terminology when writing about this issue, though the irony in the whole Battlement Mesa thing does not escape me. The problem is, if this is a war we are waging with the energy companies, we lost a long time ago.

Yet we call the invasion of a small, defenseless, oil & gas rich country by a super power the Iraq War. There are some comparisons to be made then. My friend living in Kuwait once asked me to describe western Colorado. I wrote back that I sometimes call it “Little Iraq.” From 2001, and on, the energy companies and Halliburton invaded western Colorado and took over. They didn’t need an army. They had Governor Owens, the Colorado legislature, the COGCC, the BLM, and the GarCo BOCC on their side. The people and the environment never saw what hit them. When municipal governments balked they were appeased with schools and Walmart – and jobs. Gas wells as far as the eye can see, “top-secret” comings & goings of VP Cheney, Halliburton, explosions, gravel pits, unbelievable truck traffic, and, well – Halliburton. Shock & awe.

So in that sense – invasion – this must be a war.

Except those of us who defend the environment, public health, and property values are far from insurgents.

I do agree with the RSPN that Antero’s decision to halt further drilling activity on Silt Mesa is indeed a “victory” – albeit small. A victory for common sense.

Members of the RSPN Alliance – especially Fiona Lloyd, Dave Pegg, Nikki Fender, & Sandy Pickard – proved that community organizing works. They got people’s attention. They showed the BOCC, the COGCC, and all of the energy industry – not just Antero –lots of people really do care about public health and the environment. The RSPN Alliance deserves an enormous amount of credit for their hard work and perseverance. They also got Antero to the negotiating table, which was in itself a major achievement.

But let’s face it, we all know the Strudley lawsuit – and the possibility of more – is the real reason behind Antero’s decision to back away from the table. Kilstrom says so in the second paragraph of his letter. The message is loud and clear:  If individuals are going to lawyer up and file lawsuits, we won’t negotiate with the rest of you.

So what – if anything – have we lost by this belligerence?

I supported the negotiation process and the idea of a Community Development Plan. Four active wells remain on Silt Mesa and Peach Valley. They currently impact public health and the environment. I still believe it is important to talk about those impacts. On the face of it then, we have lost the ability to talk about those impacts and negotiate safer drilling practices with those existing gas wells and any future wells. But that would imply we had that bargaining chip to begin with.

I have followed this issue with a microscope since last summer. I have gotten to know what’s going on from the inside. In my opinion, Antero never had any intention of doing anything except talking to concerned citizens and listening to their ideas and complaints politely. As I observed the process evolve between the BOCC, RSPN, and Antero, I saw a PR campaign in progress – on the part of Antero. They were controlling the board and manipulating the players. But they weren’t fooling everybody. That’s why the lawyers showed up. Something didn’t smell right.

So anyway, you can’t lose something you never had. We never had a fair fight. Yes it’s true, Antero backed off the 10-acre well spacing permit – for now – with no guarantee they won’t submit the request again tomorrow. Now Kilstrom says no further drilling activity on Silt Mesa this year, but that’s what he said a year ago. If all we have is Antero’s word – well – you get the picture.

Nonetheless, we did get their attention. We will always have that.

Most important of all – thanks to the Gasland movie – fracking has gained national attention. Don’t believe me? Look at the All Things Gasland links on the left. This is much bigger than Antero, or Silt or Battlement Mesa, or western Colorado.

Finally. This is what we have been waiting for.

In Texas, where they’ve never seen an oil or gas rig they didn’t love – up till now anyway – peoples are protesting.

Resistance to Gas Drilling Rises on Unlikely Soil

There’s definitely something in the air – besides benzene and radiation. Feels like a brand new Earth Day  …

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