My testimony

Silt resident concerned about gas-well flaring
Trustee says town-funded monitoring might be needed

Well ain’t that a pisser? I did not want this to be about me. I am the messenger – not the message. This is about Bill Barrett’s flare stacks on Mineota Ridge and what’s happening to the air quality in Silt. But it’s really unavoidable in this county. If you complain, you’re against oil and gas drilling. If you’re sick, you’re just one person.

I happen to believe my health is my own personal business and not open to the public. But I opened my big mouth. I complained. So let me spell it out for you. Call me extremely sensitive, call me a canary, call me a liar, call me crazy – this is my testimony.

Let’s go back to the week of August 12. Sometime during that week the flare stacks went up and began flaring – a lot. Ema came down with an upper respiratory infection by the end of the week. I told her I didn’t feel good either. I felt like I was fighting the flu, but I couldn’t get a handle on my symptoms “because they come and go.”

She told me about the flaring. At that time she thought there was one flare stack. She didn’t say specifically where it was, she just said she could see it at night. She said she thought it was making her sick. To be honest, I figured it was probably the flu. I said, “With all the increased drilling activity so close to town and the fire smoke, our air quality has been really bad all summer. So when you get a virus, it makes it worse.”

I mean, come on people. The air quality in Silt sucks. How is this news to anyone?

Ema’s “virus” did get worse. I didn’t feel better either. As I reported two weeks ago, on Wednesday, August 22, I saw the flaring in action. I had no idea it was so close. The next morning I visited my health care practitioner Dr. Spevere. His office is in Rifle and has a closed ventilation system. Within ten minutes in the clean air environment, my head exploded. My eyes oozed and watered and my nose ran like I had a bad cold. I coughed up fluid from my lungs. It was a religious experience. Dr. Spevere and I discussed the well flaring and the declining air quality in Silt and how it could be affecting our health.

On Friday, August 24, I felt horrible – headache, nausea, sore throat, swollen glands, fatigue, etc. Around 6:00 p.m., a hard rain fell for about a half hour. Almost immediately afterward I felt better.

I started paying closer attention to what was happening to me. Actually it’s easy to describe. Read Health Effects of H2S exposure, specifically the paragraphs on low and moderate concentrations. I experience most of those symptoms to varying degrees at different times of day, even on different days. It depends on the weather. Seriously. Especially wind speed and direction and how much time I spend outdoors in Silt.

I am an active person I spend a lot of time outdoors, walking my dogs, gardening, playing with my grandkids – you know, life. When I’m outdoors in Silt proper – not up on the hill – the first sensation is a sour, metallic taste in my mouth. My mouth goes dry. My nose senses a pervasive acrid odor, which gradually makes my eyes, ears, and throat burn. The longer I’m outdoors, the worse it gets, eventually I can’t smell anything. I become congested and my glands fill up with fluid and ache, followed by nausea and headache.

I know I’m not suffering from indoor air pollution because I closed up our house and turned on the air conditioners. I have been keeping our house closed up for two weeks, unless it rains, but it doesn’t rain much. When I’m indoors the symptoms gradually lessen, but they never go away completely. It depends on how long I’ve been outdoors.

Sort of sounds like asthma. But I’ve never had asthma. Why would I all of sudden get asthma? Could be allergies. I do have a history of allergies. But my symptoms lessen and I gradually recover when I leave Silt, even when I go to Glenwood Springs or Grand Junction for just a few hours. When we went up to the Flat Tops over Labor Day weekend, I recovered completely and experienced no symptoms. I can only deduce that whatever is causing my “allergies”, it’s somewhere in Silt.

Mornings are the worst. It doesn’t matter that our house is closed up. I wake up most mornings around 4:00 a.m. with a slight, nagging headache in my eyes and forehead area, and nausea. I have no appetite. I’ve lost 5 pounds in two weeks, which is great for my vanity, but probably not-so-great from a health standpoint if it continues or if the weight loss increases rapidly. We’ll see. Tod has never had asthma or allergies. He wakes up with congestion and a headache. He, too, feels better when he leaves town. He’s a cyclist so he often rides on Silt Mesa. He claims the air quality is noticeably better up there.

River Park – aka Dogland – where I walk my dogs is interesting. The air quality is better along the riverside trail and worse on the interior trail, which makes sense because the moving river water would tend to naturally cleanse the air, whereas any chemical toxins, like H2S, would tend to hang in the open, low-lying swampy area between River Park and Divide Creek Animal Hospital. That area is probably the lowest land in Silt. If you want to experience the stark contrast between good ozone and bad ozone, I suggest paying a visit to River Park sometime in the morning, but not after it rains, because the air quality improves after the rain.

Why am I affected? Why are Tod and Ema affected? Tod, Ema, and I live and work in Silt, not up on the hill but down in town. We spend a lot of time here. Ema claims the air quality is worse on our end of town, which is one block east of Cactus Valley Elementary, a low-lying area at the base of Cemetery Hill. She said the air quality isn’t as bad in the mornings on her end of town (near 16th St) as it is on our end of town.

Why aren’t other people affected? Maybe some people are affected but they think they have allergies or the flu. Maybe they spend most of the time indoors and don’t go out much. Maybe they work at jobs outside of town so they spend less time here. Maybe they live up on the hill or the mesa where the air quality is better. Maybe some people are affected but they don’t want to say anything because they’re concerned about their own reputation, or Silt’s reputation, or declining property values.

Okay, so I assume other people are either unaffected, coping, or in denial. Since my condition isn’t critical I should be able to figure out how to cope with this. It’s a work-in-progress. I use recreational oxygen in a can (RO2), nasal spray, eye and ear drops. These help. I take vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I drink lots of water. I stay indoors more than usual. I watch the weather, especially wind speed and direction. Stagnant air – zero wind speed – means bad air. If there is any wind at all out of the N/NW, the air is better. I use my nose and taste buds. If I have a sour, metallic taste in my mouth and the air smells acrid, that means the air is bad. Sometimes I have to be outdoors even when my nose and mouth tell me the air is bad. The RO2 comes in handy when I return. Breathing oxygen from a can helps me recover more quickly. Dr. Spevere said I should consider an actual in-home oxygen setup. I might have to resort to that eventually. But I’m working on mitigating the impacts first. I have to admit, the nervousness, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating are the most difficult to deal with because this affects my ability to work. I don’t really have a handle on all of it yet. When all else fails, I get out of Silt.

I may be a “critic of the gas drilling industry” but I, and my family, have lived with the steadily increasing oil & gas drilling activity in western Garfield County for 16 years. We have learned to cope with truck traffic, light pollution, noise pollution, air pollution (especially when Antero was drilling on Silt Mesa in 2010), and bad water (we all drink bottled water since 2010). There has never been this much drilling activity so close to Silt and the residential areas directly south of Silt. There have never been flare stacks so close to Silt and the residential areas directly south of Silt. My health has never been this drastically affected by the air quality before. Concerned? Of course I’m concerned. Why isn’t everybody concerned?

So there you have it. This is not political. It’s not performance art. I want to feel good. I want to breathe clean air. I want everybody in western Garfield County to breathe clean air. This does not seem like a lot to ask.

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4 Comments on “My testimony”

  1. Laurie DeMent Says:

    You are NOT alone. My family also has these symptoms the last couple weeks. My son told me “everyone” at Coal Ridge High School is sick, which I hope is an exaggeration. I appreciate all you have done and continue to do to bring attention to this very important issue. I am not an “activist” , I am just a concerned Mom that has lived in Silt for the last 12 years.

  2. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    THANK YOU LAURIE!!! We all really need to keep talking about this. If nothing else, I hope I’m opening up the dialogue so others will feel comfortable talking about how they feel.

  3. Richard Schwabe Says:

    I live at the end of Dry Hollow on the river and the foul smelling air floats down towards me every evening with the cold air inversion. I have to keep my windows closed at night or else the house fills with the stinking air. I believe my bad air is from the dumping of used fracking water they dump down the dry wells at Miniota,Antera wells. The trucks dump at least one and hour 24/7.

  4. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    Richard, thank you for your comments. Please come to the citizen candidate forum at the Silt Community center on September 18 at 7:00 p.m. We need your voice.

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