Task force members tour local gaspatch

Well pad along the Colorado River in Parachute. [Photo courtesy EcoFlight]

Well pad along the Colorado River in Parachute. [Photo courtesy EcoFlight]

Today the Daily Sentinel reported that three members of Governor Hickenlooper’s task force visited Battlement Mesa and Parachute on Thursday (10/16). Task force co-chair Gwen Lachelt and members Sara Barwinski and Russell George were treated to “a tour that included an Ursa well pad just outside Battlement Mesa and two WPX pads inside the nearby town of Parachute to hear about measures being taken to reduce impacts on neighbors.”

A short meeting was held before the tour. The meeting included several public officials however it was not publicly noticed. The task force members did not take public comments.

Was this a violation of the Colorado Sunshine Law?

The public wasn’t notified or invited to the meeting and tour. Apparently the task force members were guests of WPX Energy, Ursa Resources, and West Slope Oil & Gas Association (WSCOGA) because oil & gas industry employees packed the meeting. The media was also invited.

Panel seeks to bridge gaps on energy issues

… oil and gas workers turned out in force for the event, many wearing stickers reading “Oil and Gas, the Western Slope Way, the Right Way.” Nearly 200 people, mostly industry supporters, attended the meeting portion of the task force members’ visit.

… Leslie Robinson of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance told task force members that while the mantra in real estate is location, location, location, “ours is setbacks, setbacks, setbacks.”

Colorado recently increased minimum setbacks between drilling and homes to 500 feet, but Robinson said that’s still close enough to result in light, odor, traffic, dust and other impacts, and she pointed to health, water and property value concerns as well.

She called for greater setbacks and requirements that industry use proven technology to keep production activities outside community boundaries.

But Don Simpson, vice president of business development for Ursa, told task force members as they visited Ursa’s pad just outside Battlement Mesa that it would be detrimental to revisit the issue of setbacks after just having gone through that process.

In an interview, he also said Ursa tried to use horizontal drilling to produce from the commonly targeted Williams Fork sandstone formation in Garfield County, and the effort was unsuccessful. Wells that go down and then out horizontally can tap formations miles away and thus be moved farther from homes. Garfield directional wells targeting the Williams Fork reach out a lesser distance at an angle but then enter the sandstone vertically.

At the Ursa pad, company officials noted the sound wall they say helps minimize not just noise but light and odor complaints. They erected the wall voluntarily, as did WPX at a new drilling operation it has begun within Parachute limits, just 1,100 feet from a senior center. WPX spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said the company conducted extensive outreach with nearby residents ahead of time.

“A lot of people really appreciated it,” she said.

WPX also will be hydraulically fracturing the wells on the pad via pipelines running from a site a half-mile away, eliminating the noise and other impacts of fracking within the town.

[Sara] Barwinski, who is involved with the Weld County citizens group Weld Air and Water, said Thursday’s tour was a chance to compare oil and gas development in Weld and Garfield counties, and she was struck by practices such as the local use of remote fracking as a means of reducing the impacts of oil and gas development.

“I think anything we can do to make it better is important,” she said.

She thinks it’s important to have appropriate analysis of where to locate oil and gas activities, and also use of state-of-the-art mitigation.

“I think we need both things. I don’t think it’s either/or,” she said.

Gwen Lachelt, the task force co-chair and a La Plata County commissioner, said she would have liked to have visited one of the proposed Ursa pads within Battlement Mesa because of the issues the task force must address. But she said companies are showing they are conscientious about their impacts on neighborhoods and have pursued a number of mitigation measures.

“I think these kinds of things are critical and necessary during the heaviest drilling and fracking periods of well development,” she said …

… Task force members also heard from Garfield County Commissioner John Martin about how the county has addressed oil and gas development, including through air and water monitoring.

“We really want to know what’s going on. We want to know what’s in the air, we want to know what’s in the water,” Martin said.

He urged his listeners to smell the air.

“Is there a great big haze like Denver? No,” he said.

John, John, John – the air quality monitors in Garfield County measure particulate matter and ozone. That’s it. They don’t monitor for BTEXs or any other chemical emissions. The air quality monitor for Battlement Mesa/Parachute is a mobile unit so in case of bad air quality, they can move it out of the cloud. And for the millionth time – THERE IS NO AIR QUALITY MONITOR IN SILT.

He claims there’s no haze in western Garfield County. Then why is it when we look west from Silt the sky is gray, and no longer blue? Anyone who has lived here longer than 4 years remembers when the sky was blue – not gray. But then, how would John Martin know? He doesn’t live here.

… Robinson said later Thursday that residents were concerned about the public relations tactics of the industry, “who chose to overwhelm the meeting with their presence. It was like bringing a cannon to a Sunday afternoon picnic. Maybe it wasn’t ignited, but it was loaded.”

David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said he thinks the heavy turnout by industry workers reflects the passion they have for jobs they fear might be at risk due to continuing regulatory uncertainty.

No Dave, it just proves that oil & gas industry workers get paid to go to meetings.

The full 21-member task force will meet in Rifle on December 10-11, at an as yet undisclosed location. Public comments will be part of the agenda.

Task force schedule

Task force members

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4 Comments on “Task force members tour local gaspatch”

  1. Tod Tibbetts Says:

    The task force should drive from DeBuque to Rifle on I-70 in the late evening as I do. Starting from around a couple miles East of Parachute, the air stinks and makes my eyes water. Obviously Commissioner Martin has not.

  2. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    Yeah well, this dog & pony show was scheduled like 10+ days ago so they had plenty of time to clean up their act

  3. B Says:

    When I moved to Battlement in 2006, a brown haze hovering against the Roan Plateau could easily be seem traveling wb I70 from Silt. I thought I was moving away from the air pollution in Denver. When I asked long-term locals, several genx, I was told it was from the O&G traffic. Yeah, the smell can be bad. When the 2nd drill was installed on the hill just south of Stone Quarry, it was so bad I had to wear a bandana covering my mouth while out jogging on the dirt road next to the drill. Stupid, I know and not sure why I did this when I could smell it driving down SQ to home, before my jog.

    Other locals talk about water areas, creeks ? burning. There’s more, but you already know. Aside from the billions that Encana & WPX make, it blows my mind the amount of billions that people have made from now popular drill sites asking I-70. While a small group of home owners in Parachute are only getting $150 a month.

    And what about the cancerous fatalities from cleaning out the fracking wells? One case I followed just got swept under the rug. There is no accountability from O&G when people are having health issue from close by fracking, or dying from fracking related cancer.

    The only time I hear of O&G taking accountability is when they boast about jobs & donating monies for the new fire station, new middle school & remodeling a section of the Rec center. Other than this they denounce any accountability for ill-will that people experience living in this drill site.

  4. B Says:

    Better yet, Tod, the Task Force needed to live here to experience all that happens.

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