[the following caveat was included with the original report] This 30 page report represents months of research conducted by myself and many others. The information herein has been corroborated to the greatest extent possible in light of the critical time constrains placed upon land owners by an industry largely unrestrained by what I and many others see as a lack of suitable regulations and altogether lack of public input. Although believed to be accurate to the best of this author's ability, it is intended to be an educational tool with the understanding that it may contain flaws, and will be updated as new and evidentiary information is brought to bear. For now, let it serve as a point of departure upon which the concerned citizen may take further steps to verify accuracies and conduct their own research. I present this report to my friends and neighbors as a means of keeping open the critical channels of communication at a time when, without adequate opportunity to exchange opinion and ideas, we all stand to lose so much. Thanks to everyone for their input, let's keep the information rolling! New information will be added with an asterisk and date of addition, while also being presented as extracted material at the bottom of the report.
[Note: 10-02-07] There are several dated references in the following text: such as state and local government structure; regulatory changes, improvements to best practices, and changes in industry leadership and community relations initiatives. I will make every effort to draft an update as soon as I am able. For now, this can be considered a historical account. It is interesting to see how things have developed since I wrote this report.
Except where otherwise credited, this report is Copyrighted February 14, 2003 by Lisa Bracken All Rights Reserved
As a Real Estate Broker and land owner in
this valley, I was and still am increasing appalled by what can only be seen
in my eyes as complete and total disregard for land owner's rights. Not to
mention human rights, by an industry who seems all set to bust the
proverbial cookie jar on the floor and gobble up all the cookies for
themselves. Having seen hopes set before me by individuals scrimping and
saving and sometimes only able to dream of buying a place in the country,
and some succeeding, I feel a deep responsibility to share what I have, in
recent weeks, been horribly fortunate enough to discover. I say horribly,
because what I have seen is so utterly depressing - but, I say fortunate,
because given what I can only thus far perceive as layers of bureaucratic
double speak and legalese, given the fractured nature of regulatory
authority and my own level of ignorance as a professional, I am unendingly
grateful for those few who have been willing to point me the way. Grateful
am I, also, for the stream of materials I've been able to gather and the
plethora of information available on-line by grass roots organizations
taking a stand against what many see as overwhelming industrial abuses. I
shudder to think of what first-time home buyers, and even seasoned investors
may not know.. since we often don't know enough to even know what to ask.
An Introduction It is now relatively common
knowledge that our public lands are essentially under siege by an
aggressive, pro-industry approach to a national energy policy forwarded by
the current administration in Washington, D.C. Under the common perception
of an evolving energy crises in the United States, even benchmarks in
preservation, such as the National Environmental Protection Act; The Clean
Air Act; the Clean Water Act; and, the Endangered Species Act stand
vulnerable to attack in the flurry of what appears to be corporate treasure
hunting. Currently, it seems every conceivable and often unconscionable
'regulatory' effort is made to protect the financial interests of the
mineral owner and industry operator - sadly, however, at what many have
perceived to be the overwhelming disregard for every other living, breathing
entity. Fortunately, many non-profit organizations and private citizens are
taking up this charge - diligently, and with some very hard-fought progress.
What is not so commonly known, is that lands held under
private ownership by citizens are being seen by many as being threatened as
well. Unfortunately, these lands seem, to many, largely unprotected, and
further largely unqualified for protection, except for private law-suit,
which is sadly, in the face of this massive and entrenched industry, far
beyond the reach of the average citizen - particularly should such activity
happen to occur in less affluent counties.
The private lands I am referring to, are those which
are identified as being physically located within a "Federal Unit". If you
have recently discovered that your property - whether 1 acre, 2 acres, fifty
acres - exists within a Federal Unit, you may be particularly interested in
the information provided below.
From all sources I and others have consulted with, the
underlying presumption seems to begin with the fact that all lands in the
U.S. were once owned by the federal government. Any other type of ownership
or interest either had to be gained through a patenting process or a leasing
process from the federal government. Early in the 1800's, mining claims were
filed by those seeking to develop mineral interests beneath the surface.
Some minerals were, and still are, referred to as locatables, leaseables and
saleables. Locatables might include coal, gold, silver or similar vein
deposits. Leaseables may be minerals such as oil and gas and others.
Saleables might be considered rock or similar aggregates. In fulfilling a
national policy of land disposal, securing an early mining claim for
sub-surface resources often meant procurement of the surface as well. In
some cases, some oil and gas deposits were granted to private parties. In
other cases, the state claimed certain rights. In most cases, however, oil
and gas reserves were reserved by the federal government. Apparently, even
in private ownership situations, a certain percentage of royalty is obtained
through a leasing process by the federal government in the form of a federal
lease. It is important, at this point, to realize that the nature of oil and
gas resources remain largely irregular and sometimes unfixed, within
boundaries which are not easily drawn on a map - especially in the early
While mountain men and miners began to speculate on the
riches of the west, the north and the south struggled with slavery issues,
fueling militia and building greater infrastructure. Indian wars went on the
back burner and mineral wealth continued to be exploited throughout the
Later, after the Civil War, during Abraham Lincoln's
term as president, western lands became acquired through the Homestead Act
of 1863. This Act allowed people to file on quarter sections of free land
under certain stipulations intended to prove homestead use: fencing,
occupation for five years, building a home, etc. 'Westward Expansion', and
the big land grab which accompanied it, lead to the establishment of farms
and ranches. Throughout time, various entities, such as the federal
government, state governments, and private owners (either as human entities
or corporate entities) came to possess the wealth both above the ground and
beneath it. Conflicts increased as subdivision of the surface began to
occur. Today, ownership continues to transfer as new sub-surface resources
are located and/or identified as technologically feasible for extraction and
consumption. In addition, ownership continues to transfer as surface
acreages are subdivided and re-combined.
Again, to illustrate the complexity of this issue, we
must recall that reservoirs of "resource" (that is, in this case, oil or
gas) create its own natural boundaries beneath the man-made boundaries of
the mineral ownership and on top of that, overlay the man-made boundaries of
the surface owner - which, over time, increased in number as parcels were
divided smaller and smaller. Suddenly a parcel of land may embrace any
number of owners and often conflicting interests. This has lead to a
volatile situation equal to or greater than that of water wealth - an
incidentally related issue by implication due, in part, to it's extraction
during certain drilling procedures.
It can be surmised, that as the federal government
sought to industrialize the east and build greater infrastructure, mineral
discovery and development were paramount issues - surpassing that of
populating the "wild" west. From a domestic policy point of view, populating
the west with adventurous pioneers could help insure the continual flow of
mineral resource back east. For a while, as 'taming' the west remained a
priority for 1) the government seeking mineral development and transport 2)
a railroad - seeking wealth and hanging on the coat-tails of expansion, and
3) pioneers seeking inexpensive or free land - this interdependent system
supported one another's interests.
Once land acquisition became more wide-spread; the
railroad finally crossed the country shore to shore; and, major mineral
deposits had been secured and developed, the mineral patenting system began
to be abused and utilized as a means of securing surface estate through
mineral patent acquisition. Laws allowing what was once considered a
valuable enterprise, now began to allow for misuse. This, unfortunately and
historically is often the case with many antiquated laws.
Over a hundred and fifty years have since passed, and
with it, a new national dynamic has arisen. Today, with public lands reduced
to isolated pockets often open to multiple uses including industrial
exploit; with private ownership proliferating throughout the American
interior; Native Americans contained within a sprinkling of reservations
and every form of activity and inventory, from people to wildlife falling
beneath some regulating/governing body, our priorities and national needs
have become redefined. Today, our government is no longer eager to dispose
of surface lands as a freebie 'bonus' associated with sub-surface discovery.
And, as surface owners, we certainly don't acquire it as such.
As usual, an early government eager for revenue and
population expansion, got a little over-zealous; and, what began as a policy
to alleviate the effects of slavery and reduce the Native American threat of
resistance to European settlement has become an opportunity for, yet again,
even in this modern era, what many have come to view as unchecked pillage.
Mining laws, dating as early as 1866 and including the
Mining Law of 1872, the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, the Colorado Oil and
Gas Act, and all their many amendments addressing support of the oil and gas
industry - have, unfortunately, and in many opinions, not kept up with the
times. As such, all seem grossly inadequate to meet the needs of our current
social responsibilities and evolving priorities.
Since the ecological movement of the 1970's, Americans
have gained awareness of the devastating potential of unchecked industrial
wastes in land, air and water-ways. Our own and Amazonian rain forest
destruction have taught us to value our forests over the short-term
economics of clear-cutting. And likewise, we now recognize the destructive
capacity of strip-mining. Though we often perceive ourselves as an advanced
culture of the 21st century, current federal law seems to be opening the
gateway to exploitation of our Western Rocky Mountain region, becoming the
potentially irrecoverable ecological inheritance of our children five, ten
or twenty years from now.
The Bureau of Land Management is the federal agency
tasked, through the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, with the management of
mineral resource owned by the federal government, as well as certain surface
acreage. The BLM currently manages over 262 million surface acres of federal
lands and more than 700 million subsurface acres, more than any other
federal agency. And yet, so much of the discretionary authority to properly
balance and encourage the multiple-use mission set before the BLM, rests
with one individual, the authorizing officer or (A.O.) within a given field
office. Currently, of the lands under management by the BLM in the state of
Colorado, an estimated 1,236,405 "case acres" as defined by a serial number
ending in "x" lie within "federal units" or are, in other words, "unitized
lands". Unitized lands may encompass any number or combination of ownership
The easiest way I can think of to describe some of the
issues surrounding a federal unit, within my limited base of understanding,
is to simply list them. Obviously, many questions arise with each. Please
realize that these same issues may apply in a broader sense to exploration
and recovery of resources on public lands. Some specifics about federal
units (unitized lands), below:
2) The federal Unit is implemented via a bidding
process, in which a mineral tract is offered by the BLM for lease, and "unit
operators" or drilling companies bid on the right to host drilling
operations within the unit. Current bids run around two dollars per acre.
Once a federal unit lease is secured, an operator must diligently pursue
operations and pay the federal government a royalty, based on extraction. In
the absence of diligent extraction, a rental fee is exacted. Royalties are
currently around twelve and one half percent, based on extraction, a portion
of which, end up back in county coffers.
Theoretically, the federal unit is created as a means
of unifying mineral interests, allowing for participation in the collection
of the resource and therefore royalties associated with its extraction,
which are then distributed to participating mineral owners. The creation of
a federal unit also, theoretically, dramatically reduces the 'need' for
more wells in order to achieve extraction, thereby reducing potential
surface owner conflicts and surface impacts. Its creation also allows an
operator some flexibility in 'diligent pursuit', since an entire lease area
(federal unit area) is able to be secured, without worry of diligently
pursuing multiple wells on multiple surface sub-leases, which, regardless,
may actually be in effect and still lie within a federal unit.
3) To aid in comprehension of this unusual
configuration of ownerships and interests, visualize a jelly doughnut.
Imagine score marks around the doughnut, and a center impression as if you
were to share four pieces with friends, reserving the center for yourself.
You now have a total of five possible pieces.
The doughnut itself represents land (surface) -
theoretically encompassing the whole doughnut around any mineral resources,
which in this case, is the filling... or natural gas. (In 'reality', you can
only own a wedge shaped piece of land all the way to the center of the
Earth, but for purposes of visualization, let's just keep it simple, forget
for a moment about the other side of the globe, and focus on the doughnut.)
Remember that mineral ownership can be severed from the
surface, and so may be owned separately as in a [Fee "B" - Surface / Fee "C"
- Mineral] situation, or [Fee "A" - Surface / Fee "A" - Mineral] situation.
Let's suppose that the filling (and we all know this happens) only extends
so far into the doughnut. Somebody is not going to get any jelly filling.
Let's suppose that one fifth around the edge of the
doughnut is owned this way: [Fee "D" - Surface / Federal - Mineral].
Let's suppose that the next segment around the edge is
thus comprised: [Federal - Surface / Federal - Mineral].
The third segment is: [Federal - Surface / Federal -
The fourth segment is: [Fee "F" - Surface / Fee "F" -
You own the center surface estate, but Fee "G" owns the
mineral wealth beneath.
The BLM oversees the creation of a federal unit and
certain activities having to do with a federal unit, particularly anywhere
federal minerals are involved. If the jelly or natural gas reserve is owned
by the federal government, a federal lease can be formed and whether you
like it or not, you're in the middle - and, unless you are also the mineral
owner - will likely not be informed of a lease being formed, and as things
currently stand, have little influence - if any - when a derrick is set up
in the middle of the doughnut to extract all the jelly beneath. Even though
oil and gas reserves beneath two parts of the doughnut are owned by Fee "F"
and Fee "G", they will likely participate in the federal unit extraction,
because, otherwise all the jelly is going to be tapped out and they will be
left with zip.
[Note added: 11-23-07] For a visual representation of federal unit and split estate structure, please click here.
4) Prior to the BLM authorizing a lease, two primary
documents are consulted. These are the Resources Management Plan (which
the public may choose to participate in the development of), and the area's
subsequent Environmental Impact Statement. Both are designed to show
proposed land use allowances and their associated potential impacts to an
area through foreseeable use. Together, these documents form the basis of
what is considered a "stipulation" to the lease; or special drilling and
production requirements. Most of these documents are revised only on a ten
year +/- rotation, unless by special and formal request. This is generally
attributable to insufficient BLM staff and budgetary constraints.
5) The BLM and other Federal agencies rely upon
certain indicators of foreseeable use, among them, an "operator's" Annual
Operating Plan. These are difficult to obtain by the public as they may
contain proprietary information as well as 'trade secrets', which the BLM is
under a legislative responsibility not to disclose. Since the information
(both drilling operations and overall intended use for an area) is combined,
and the BLM does not possess ready resources to extract and categorize the
information for public redistribution; and, without a special and
time-consuming formal request based upon the Freedom of Information Act,
the public must guess at what an operator has in mind with regard to
development of a federal unit, within which the surface owner may reside.
Given the vague and grossly inadequate nature of an Annual Operating Plan
(according to what I've learned from a number of sources), and given the
fact that the plan can change at any time, for apparently any reason (upon
approval) throughout the year, this would seem a very poor tool to utilize
as an indicator of potential or foreseeable impacts.
6) Other federal units may occur within the original
federal unit, each created for the purpose of developing a separate
underground resource which may lay above, below or beside an existing
identified resource already within a federal unit.
7) Within the federal units, lay "participating
areas". Participating areas are those which are apparently comprised of a
certain percentage of mineral owners who are invited to 'participate' in an
overall extraction of resource. Again, recall that boundaries of a resource
'pool' may extend beyond a single owner's legal boundaries, therefore,
participation is encouraged, so as to avoid a resource which may lay within
their mineral estate ownership being extracted from the point of another
surface location and eventually becoming depleted.
8) Only a certain percentage of mineral owner's
acceptance is required to establish a federal unit. In other words, a
federal unit may be created even without the consent of various mineral
9) A federal unit is a governmental lease, which may
effect an encumbrance against the property as a whole, including the surface
estate, and for which the surface owner is, to some extent, responsible and
10) Surface owners, who do not own the mineral estate
or at least a portion thereof, are apparently not notified of the intent to
create a federal unit or participation area, nor are they consulted, nor are
they notified of the federal unit's eventual creation or expiration.
11) The boundaries of the original federal unit may be
static for a certain period (from 5 to 10 years +/-) during which time it
must be "proven" or diligently developed in a manner prescribed by the lease
and in a manner which yields sufficient profitable product. Although
relatively fixed for a predetermined period of time, the federal unit may
contract or expand at given times, under certain circumstances, as may the
boundaries of participating areas.
12) Once a Federal Unit is established, under the
authority of the BLM, it may or may not be 'locally' recorded, or otherwise
made a matter of public record in the county in which the property is
located. This can create a serious situation for a buyer or seller/owner of
surface property, who may proceed essentially unaware of such a possible
encumbrance, which may affect future buyers/sellers. Mortgage lenders, title
insurance and home owner's insurance providers may likewise be affected.
13) The lease, on occasion, will list stipulations
which govern how the recovery of underground resource may be obtained.
14) There is wide discretionary latitude for the BLM
field office Authorizing Officer to waive certain stipulations or otherwise
allow for broad variances within the terms of the federal lease in the event
an operator demonstrates operational or other factors which contribute to a
need for such a wavier or variance.
15) Because of statutory 'dominance', a mineral owner
cannot be kept from developing their mineral resource, and therefore the
expense and wealth associated with it. Degrees of technological feasibility
associated with recovery, such as directional drilling have been thusly
imposed by concerned and sometimes opposing interests. There is a broad
range of what is thought to be 'reasonable' impact to the surface, by as
many surface owners who have requested (some successfully, some not so) a
no-surface occupancy in their surface use agreement. This type of
arrangement is complex and is still being argued in the courts.
Historically, the push onto surface estate has been aggressively pursued by
the oil and gas industry. Recently, however, as issues of health, safety and
habitat impact become more widely known, surface owners are taking a more
defiant and unified stand against such apparent transgressions. The average
cost of a well can vary by surface constraints and subterranean conditions,
but estimates have put the cost to drill into the Mesa Verde formation in
the Western Garfield County region at around one million dollars.
Conversely, a well, over it's lifetime, may produce as much as
seventy-eight million dollars. At an investment/yield ratio of even1:50,
most investors would be drooling. And they are.
16) Should the surface owner not wish to allow the
development of resource extraction (wells) on the surface, there is some
argument as to the authority of the operator for pursuing such endeavors.
Although encouraged by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission a 'surface use
agreement' with the surface owner is not apparently required. An operator
may, instead of such an agreement, post a $25,000 blanket bond, issued for
state-wide operations which is supposedly intended to provide for surface
damage reclamation in the event the operator fails to do so. There is
frequent discussion among resident surface owners regarding historic
insufficient reclamation of surface acreage. Abandoned wells are an
increasing occurrence, the burden of which falls to the state to reclaim.
There is a $250,000 fund ear-marked for environmental repair and reclamation
of abandoned wells, yet, in a game of anticipated high profit yields,
over-leveraged corporations can easily fall victim to fickle market
fluctuations, leaving a wake of unchecked development in their path. As well
as a wake, equal in breadth and depth, of environmental degradation.
17) A surface owner pays an approximate average of
nearly 98% of the taxes on their property, maintains mortgage payments, and
is required to maintain insurance on the property - only in so far as
required by the mortgage institution. A surface owner further maintains and
invests in surface improvements, often with the desire to preserve the
ability to potentially resell the property.
18) Given the recoverable longevity of certain
resources (even if only at a trickle), reclamation may not occur for as long
as half a century or more. Generations can pass without benefit of surface
use or enjoyment and without what some surface owners argue is proportionate
compensation (excepting that associated with 'crop loss'). Once early
profitable extraction takes place, the well interest may be sold to a
company with less ability to manage the long term recoverability of the
resource, encouraging poor reclamation practices. Meanwhile, the surface
area has been essentially lost to the surface owner, for use by a corporate
entity seeking profit from its use, while the surface owner continues to pay
taxes while potentially being subjected to a number of impacts to they and
their family's health and safety.
19) Within a federal unit, there appear to be no
surface well density spacing restrictions, other than perhaps those imposed
through possibly waivered lease stipulations, so as to afford an operator
every flexibility to extract a resource as profitably as possible.
Therefore, on a tract of 40 acres, a pad site, housing multiple wells, could
conceivably be drilled every ten acres or so. Compound this loss of land
with road construction; and, a surface owner could be left with a very
limited number of acres for his/her own use (presumably a distance equal to
one and a half times the height of the derrick around their residence.) This
rule was established by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission purportedly in
the event that should the derrick (rig) fall over, the residence would be spared.
This situation is compounded by diminished enjoyment due to potential
emissions, visual impact, noise pollution, vibratory pollution, dust and
emissions pollution which could contribute to a direct threat to the health
and safety of the owner.
There is on-going and often heated debate taking place
on the lands of the surface owner, in the offices of oil and gas companies
and within the court system regarding who has dominance over land use - the
surface owner(s), or the mineral owner(s).
The Question of Inconsistency and a Perceived Lack
of Public Representation Why is it that a residential or commercial land
developer must go through a lengthy, county-level, public-input approval
process in order to propose less or at least equal impact to the environment
and roads and infrastructure than oil and gas development; yet, the oil and
gas industry has only to communicate with a limited number of offices
(possibly removed from the interests of one another) and so much authority
lies with the authorizing officer of the BLM to authorize broad
discretionary authority over waiving various stipulations, even written
within the body of a federal unit lease itself. One person. Far removed from
you or I.
This type of seemingly unbalanced federal protection
given to the holders of the mineral estate, who may be absentee owners (and
sometimes the operators themselves) and operators who commercially extract
said wealth, seems contrary to even Articles Six and Seven of the Bill of
Rights of the United States, which guarantees every American:
Article the sixth [Amendment IV] ["The
right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and
Article the seventh [Amendment V] ["..... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."]
And let us not forget the Preamble to the
Constitution of the United States:
"We the People of the United States, in
Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic
Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do
ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Current laws and regulations also seem in direct
conflict with title 42 (the federal code title which protects human health
and safety), as well as other titles regulating the protection of wildlife
and the environment. This does not even begin to address potential conflicts
between these mining acts and state statutes regarding title ownership and
land use. Usually, if it looks like a slap in the face, and it feels like a
slap in the face, it's because it is. And somewhere, if it's contrary to the
laws of humankind, it is written as such. Such actions simply have rarely
been challenged. Until now. Currently, a multitude of citizens and several
counties who serve them are standing up and asking for moratoriums until
laws can be sorted out, asking that the rules be more clearly written - and
determining that the apparent plunder of our environment and broad disregard
for the rights of private property owners and their properties cannot be
conducive to the health, welfare and stability of our ecology, societies and
The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC) will be
quick to tell you that they are not in the business of protecting ways of
life or property values. Well, yes, that much is clear - but many realize,
that such factors fall together with the protection of our health and safety
and welfare, and that of the environment. The material issued from the COGCC
regarding their duties and obligations of "conservation" of resources
illustrates a general tendency to facilitate economic and fruitful
extraction for the the producer or operator. Considering that a gas well in
Western Colorado can cost around a million dollars to develop, together with
80 trips up and back of diesel-fired 75,000 to 150,000 pound (only when
empty) rigs, 160,000 gallons of water to 'stimulate' per occurrence -
(perhaps requiring 6 or more), one would think that even in terms of
industrial bottom-line corporate decision-making, the fewer wells to
construct, the better. Why would a corporation make a decision to create
denser well spacing? Only if doing so was made economically viable, and even
encouraged by tax benefits and laws written overwhelmingly in favor of their
exploration, exploitation and production.
There is one prevailing reason for introducing more and
more wells upon the surface. Money. There is a factor known as "Time-Value"
which is brought to bear in aggressive markets. Why wait forty years for one
well to extract the wealth, when the money is hot and four wells can extract
the same and greater volume in one quarter the time. This seems the only
corporate justification for turning a blind eye to unwarranted destruction
of the environment for an undetermined and unforeseeable period of hot
market gains. Federal units, could be utilized as a means of reducing
surface impact. Now, the laws which once seemed to encourage this type of
conservation seem directly facilitating private, commercial gain at the
expense of other, environmental and private property ownership
considerations, as reflected by permitted activity allowed by the BLM and
Colorado Oil and Gas Conervation Commission.
One Garfield County commissioner recently acknowledged
that the oil and gas industry will be with us for the next forty or fifty
years. I think a more accurate prediction might be this: The first wave of
corporate exploitation is upon us. EnCana, Williams and others have come to
drill and in-fill in an effort to capitalize immediately on what many land
owners perceive to be lax and inappropriate regulation. They will be
diligently working to tap off the bulk of resource and gaining high returns
while the market is hot. Later, in perhaps two to three years, relatively
marginal interests may be resold to lesser players, who may then continue
such activities until perhaps forced to resell or abandon efforts due to
financial constraints. This could leave a devastated environment to the tax
payers of Garfield County. The effects of which, if less than fifty years,
would be a relative blessing.
Public relation representatives often tout the surface
advantages of directional drilling. True, this technique has been a gracious
advance in technology, however, fewer well pads is not the magic answer.
Although the surface 'foot-print' is less, the traffic and polluting impacts
are not. Multiply the trips above, and the water injection, and the toxic
pit waste accumulation with the numbers above, and what might you have?
Devastation. The unknown effects of which could last, perhaps, forever.
We are not all that far removed bureaucratically from
1863, westward expansion, and plans for western land disposal. As far as
I've been able to find, few politicians and even regional, non-specialized
attorneys know what to make of all this mess. One look in the local papers
will tell you that it's a situation finding its way to court, or worse.
Discovering lines of jurisdictional authority can be very difficult, and may
require weeks and months of research that most of us don't have the
resources to pursue. Even if we did, many of us don't possess the technical
knowledge to broadly comprehend the fragmented information we may find. (I
am certainly a party of this majority).
What Might Be In Store? I believe there is a
place for industry, but not at the expense of remaining Rocky Mountain
wild lands and critical ecologic integrity. I believe there is a place for
profit, but not at the expense of health and safety. As current state and
federal law seem to allow for and even encourage broad disregard for surface
owner's rights, we must be diligent in our pursuit of knowledge and strive
to contemplate the potential future of our county. Only then can we affect
educated and meaningful involvement. As a friend of mine stated recently:
"We do not wish to stop oil and gas development altogether, we only wish to
shape it." As residents and land owners, I feel that this is a serious and
Gwyn Morgan is CEO of Encana, a Canadian corporation with an enterprise value of around 30 billion dollars, which has centered one quarter of its assets around the growth of its North American, Rocky Mountain "play". EnCana and its people have this to say about the American Rocky Mountains: [note: these statements are sited directly from EnCana's website at http://www.encana.com and reflect "forward-looking" statements as disclosed within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. For more information regarding these regulatory requirements and more "forward-looking" statements, please visit encana.com.]
2002 News Releases - Title: EnCana increases position in U.S. Rockies "As an acquisition of an operated asset, this transaction represents an excellent consolidation and further solidifies EnCana's position as a leading producer in the region," said Roger Biemans, President of EnCana USA. "We now have a greater interest in a world class asset and greater influence over how it will be developed."
"Through predecessor companies, EnCana first became involved in the Jonah in 2002, with the acquisition on McMurry Oil Company et.al. At that time, the company's production from the field was approximately 135 million cubic feet per day; in recent months it has averaged approximately 270 million cubic feet per day."
"EnCana is driven to be the industry's best-in-class benchmark in production cost, per-share growth and value creation for shareholders." Home>Operations and Projects>Onhore North America by Randy Eresman, President, Onshore North America: "We have become the most successful exploration and producer operator in the U.S. Rocky Mountains and Western Canada through our large, concentrated land blocks, high working interests, low operating costs, low royalties and well-developed infrastructure." "We're also accelerating EnCana's knowledge and capture of North American coal bed methane opportunities, both within and in addition to our current operating regions."
In a September 04, 2002 letter to The Right Honourable Jean Chretien, PC., M.P., Prime Minister of Canada, arguing for what can be surmised as the abstainment from the Kyoto Accord, Gwyn Morgan CEO of EnCana states: "The creation of EnCana exemplifies the terminology used in a recent speech by your Deputy Prime Minister, John Manley: "If we want to become the northern dynamo, we've got to be not only as good as the U.S., but better. Another challenge is to build global enterprises with a Canadian base."
In a July 16, 2002 statement form Rebecca W. Watson,
Assistant Secretary for Land and Mineral Management, United States
Department of the Interior, she states, [note: EIA refers to the United
States Energy Information Administration. "Tcf" commonly refers to trillion
cubic feet.] "The Rocky Mountain states of New Mexico, Utah, Colorado,
Wyoming and Montana hold an estimated 30 to 48 Tcf of undiscovered natural
gas resources associated with coal. This represents the second largest gas
resource in the United States behind the Gulf of Mexico. The EIA refers to
this area as a 'possible Persian Gulf for natural gas' While many areas of
the U.S. are experiencing declining natural gas reserves, the Rocky Mountain
resources are largely untapped and the amount of newly discovered gas in the
area is increasing on a daily basis. The majority of coalbed methane in is
the federal mineral estate. As good stewards of these domestic natural gas
resources, we should develop these resources in an
environmentally-responsible manner to sustain our nation's quality of life
in the face of our increasing demand for natural gas." Some of us,
consider ourselves "stewards" of our many and finite natural resources
without having to extract, pollute and destroy everything around us.
Apparently it is under the auspice of compliance with the "Clean Air Act"
that all of this scramble toward natural gas is occurring now, as coal
plants switch to natural gas for the bulk of their production. Natural gas
is often touted as a cleaner fuel. And, perhaps in comparable
combustibility, it burns cleaner than coal. However, after one factors in
the environmental destruction levied for it's extraction and production, the
idea of and argument for "clean" largely disappears.
The Broad and Complex Economics of Extraction
According to a study produced by the EPCA, an estimated 138.5 trillion cubic
feet of gas lay beneath the Rockies. What is not as commonly discussed,
however, is the economic recoverability of these resources. How technically
feasible, in other words, is it to extract gas from pockets which are
largely fragmented and require special stimulation in the form of hydraulic
fracturing of substrata (the negative effects of which are currently hotly
debated). If money were no object, and I think everyone can agree that it is
- even with the federal government wanting to award thirteen billion dollars
in tax credits and other incentives to the already arguably fat-cat oil and
gas industry, it is estimated that the most gas recoverable - both known and
undiscovered - would last America six and a half years. Experts, however,
argue that the actual, economically recoverable amount would be more in line
with only twenty percent.
Over ninety-five percent of BLM lands in Colorado,
Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are available for oil and gas leasing,
including, importantly, split-estate lands (lands where the surface is owned
separately from the mineral estate). 8.3 million subsurface acres in
Colorado, alone, are open for mineral development. It has been debated at
the highest levels of the federal infrastructure, that BLM has woefully
insufficient man-power to manage this enormous task, given to them by the
Department of the Interior.
It is estimated that by 2015, natural gas energy usage,
and therefore demand, will increase to 31 trillion cubic feet per year.
Based on this presumption (and ruling out any advancement toward alternate,
clean and renewable sources such as solar and hydrogen), it is estimated
that our currently available resources, estimated at 1,351 trillion cubic
feet, already tapped and draining, would leave us with nearly forty years of
supply. So then, why the urgency? Could it be that industry sees a political
situation worth exploiting? An 'energy crisis', spurred by media and public
perception in the Persian Gulf? The new U.S. energy plan? Insufficient
manpower at the discretionary level? State regulatory authority which seems
to favor industry needs? A lack of public knowledge and access to
information? Antiquated and weak laws perhaps worth and ready for the
tweaking? Can one really blame the actions of a profit-oriented industry for
striking while the iron is hot, when billions in revenue strut around like
blind chickens in the corporate courtyard?
Natural gas prices are way up - and the outlook by
economic forecasters point to the sky. The four largest factors, in order of
least purported importance are as follows: 4) It's winter and the
temperatures are cold. This is simply a seasonal fluctuation, an appetizer,
if you will. The entrée is yet to come. 3) Venezuelan oil workers have gone
on strike - Venezuela being the United State's 4th largest oil supplier.
This has a heart-racing effect on our own local producers. *[the strike has
since ended - 03-03] 2) This simultaneously produces a panic-effect on
industry, many of whom implemented alternate fuel usage (natural gas) after
gas prices shot up in 2001/02. Like any opportunist, the natural gas market
trails close beside the oil market: In the event oil prices rise and all the
teeth fall out of the oil market, the natural gas market stands ready to
cull the herd. Now, are you ready for the thing that makes mouths water? 1)
War in the Mid-East, of course. Any kind of political unrest is played in
the market to its maximum leverage. The stage seems set to devour the west.
What effect might this feast have upon the rest of us?
There are currently around
4500 wells located in Northwestern Colorado, and a total of two
individuals are assigned the arduous task of inspection via the Colorado Oil
and Gas Conservation Commission. On average, one-thousand wells out of the lot are
inspected each year. One could reasonably presume, then, that, without the
addition of new wells, each existing well is inspected on about a four year
rotation. In 2002, of the 1000 inspected or so, there were around 40
reports of violations, including illegal dumping. There is, in my estimation,
a fairly broad latitude given to operators and otherwise environmentally
untrained employees and contractors in reporting certain spills,
particularly those in an amount under five barrels and further ascertaining
potential negative impacts to wildlife or their habitat. These are
individuals who are exposed on a daily basis to the grit, grime and
potential toxicity associated with these endeavors. These are the
individuals deciding, based on the scope of their knowledge, whether a
'minor' spill poses any real threat. Given the nature of the potential for
industrial pollution in stream beds, water sheds and other sensitive
wildlife areas, I, personally, take little comfort in the process of
inspection and self-reporting.
In Wyoming, the discharge of subsurface waters, often
saline and containing other compounds, have increased dramatically in recent
years with an estimated billions of gallons tapped and discharged from coal
bed methane (CBM) wells. What is a CBM well? Gas deposits are recovered from
coal bed seams and must be separated from the vast sources of under-ground
water in order to be recovered. Compared to traditional or conventional
methods, the industry admits that CBMs volumetrically and economically pale.
Yet, at a typically lesser drilling depth, these wells are being pursued.
Yet, at what cost?
Not only must we consider the potential for coal-seam
fires, the likes of which ravaged Glenwood Springs in 2002; and, the
potential for surface collapse into sub-surface, water-depleted (and thus
de-pressurized and un-supported) caverns disrupting watershed areas and riparian
(wetland) zones; but, The United States Geologic Survey is concerned for the
health and sustainability of our ground water supplies, in the Western
United States. In an on-line Connections publication titled Geological
Mapping the USGS states: "Rapid population growth and urbanization in
the Desert Southwest has resulted in the region's ground water resources
being among the most overused resource in the United States. Much of the
Southwest depends on ground water for municipal, industrial, and
agricultural supplies. Natural recharge to the aquifers is low and pumping
in many areas has resulted in lowering of water tables. The consequences of
large-scale removal of water from storage are becoming increasingly evident.
These include subsidence; loss of springs, streams, wetlands and associated
habitat; and degradation of water quality. Ground water also supports
diverse riparian zones that are highly valued. Riparian habitats have
been disappearing in the Southwest as a result of human influence since the
turn of the century. Residents and natural resource managers are now seeking
better ways to manage ground water resources."
How healthy can the draw-down of billions of gallons in
sub-strata be? How long will it last? This is a terrifying spectacle which
reaches across all socio-economic lines. As one resident recently stated when
an oil and gas employee noted that gas was more important than water: "What
good is being warm, when you are dead from dehydration?"
There is also common concern for the practice of
re-injecting drawn-off waters, along with introduced drilling contaminants
(which the Safe Drinking Water Act was ironically designed, in part, to
protect against) back into subsurface water formations. How much can we
really, feasibly, currently, technically know about what we cannot 'see'.
Even a "play" on an oil and gas resource is considered a reasonable guess.
With an increase in discharge onto surface areas or through evaporative
ponds (presuming that salinity is not a factor), one cannot help but
logically question the potential threat of West Nile Virus, a disease
advanced through the populating of mosquitoes and increasingly finding its
way into our Rocky Mountain states. Perhaps it is only coincidental that
Weld county, Colorado, blotted under from red well indicators on a map, had
the highest incidence of the virus in 2002. Should we spray, as some towns
and counties would suggest, more harmful petro-chemicals around our homes to
control the spread of the infectious insects. Colorado is now the 2nd
largest producer of CBM wells in the nation. Natural gas production from
federal lands in Colorado has increased six fold in the past 25 years. Based
on these numbers, industry appears to have every intention of exploiting
this new-found method.
Public health concerns are not limited to those issues
mentioned above. We must consider, also, the often down-played issues of
erosion and other soil disruptions which contributes to the spread of
noxious (or invasive) non-native weeds. These weeds threaten the bio-culture
by edging out native species which then threaten the stability of
interdependent plant and animal species. The 1994 Colorado Weed Law makes
private property owners liable for the proliferation of noxious weeds on
their property. Industrial truck traffic contributes to the spread of these
weeds, as seed is carried in on tires from other contaminated areas. Soil
disruption is fertile ground upon which these weeds may spread.
Another threat is that of Valley Fever - a respiratory disease most notably found in arid soils of the Southwestern United States. The disease is brought about by an air-borne fungus, released via disruption of soils and has been found to be generally treatable, both in humans and in pets and livestock; however, the very young, the elderly, certain ethnic groups, and anyone with a history of respiratory illness could be at added risk. As asthma grows to become a largely misunderstood, yet epidemically national concern [ in 2002, 17.7 million adult sufferers alone, with 4,487 deaths, as reported by the Center for Disease Prevention and Control], compounded by increasing nation-wide toxic air emissions, we should be aware of the incredible amounts of dust introduced by industrial activities, including pad site and road construction and traffic. Once the well is in place and the traffic slows to a minimum or stops altogether, does anyone suppose that the area will continually be maintained to control dust or other migratory (fugitive) particulate pollution? Unfortunately, this industry has repeatedly shown itself to be less than concerned with the process of proper reclamation - leaving those in its wake to correct, manage or live with such oversights.
As we approach an era of what many experts predict to
be global warming, and the frequency of El' Nino increases to once every
other year or so, we must also be aware of the danger we may face with
regard to climate change and fire potential. Last year saw the continuance
of an emerging pattern of unusually high winds, drought conditions and more
pronounced seasonal and heavy monsoonal rains. The practice of
maintaining/reclaiming drilling waste pits (the contents of which seem to be
officially, largely unknown) near well sites and often residential occupancy
poses a potential threat to human health and safety; for, what, if anything,
can be done about degraded liners, overflow or leaching from monsoonal
rains? Where will the overflow go? Into the yard? Onto the ground? There is
a reason that these pits are lined, yet often left, after production, to be
buried beneath soil. Under current law, land owners can be held responsible
for clean-up of toxic pollution occurring on their property - even if the
source is far removed. A land-owner can apply for funds under the federal
'superfund' program; however, if the type of pollution is exempted (and it
is my understanding that these pit wastes may be exempted). the land owner
may end up paying the cost of clean-up which can run into hundreds of
thousands of dollars. How reasonable is that? Especially if such activity is
unwanted and unauthorized by the land owner, who is typically in no
financial position to reciprocate.
How many citizens realize that pipelines (or gathering
lines, as they are referred to in the industry) are largely unregulated as
they cut through or are simply strung across miles of open ground? The
Public Utilities Commission is involved to some vague degree, but, only as
far as I've been able to ascertain, there seems to be no one greatly
accountable for these activities. Although presumably outfitted with some
degree of safety measure, pipelines are pressurized and have the potential
for gradual structural decay. Should one fracture or break apart, and the
winds and barometric pressure are just so, an inversion could occur,
trapping gases in a valley pocket. This type of event happened in India and
killed hundreds of people. On some winter days, you can look up and down the
valley and see smoke, from fireplaces and wood stoves, gathered between the
ridges of nearby mountains. These types of weather conditions occur. Let's
just hope not together with a break in a line or explosion. As I recall,
the Rifle area is relatively near a seismic zone. It isn't all that
difficult to look around and find pipeline, sometimes quite a lot of it,
exposed above the ground in this area. Think that's in anyone's best
interest? At least as far as the health and safety of citizens?
It is my opinion that the single most comprehensive
threat to our bio-diversity of contiguous lands, both private and public is
the largely unchecked development of oil and gas. The US Fish and Wildlife
Service estimates that half of the species listed as federally endangered or
threatened have eighty percent or more of their habitat on private lands.
It is the goal of federal agencies tasked with the protection of these
species to encourage their conservation in an effort to keep them off of the
endangered or threatened lists, by enlisting the assistance of the private
land owner, and in such a cooperative manner, encouraging their
proliferation. There are programs available through the federal government
to aid in the implementation of this goal. As with most efforts aimed at the
protection of a species, however, there are exceptions allowing for
"permitted taking" or the killing of species. The arid region of the western
United States, with scarce surface water and thin, poor topsoil is still a
diverse area; but, one which recovers slowly, when at all. The footprint of
industry doesn't only leave an impression; it has the high potential to
devastate wherever it may fall. Current and proposed oil and gas exploration
and extraction directly threatens overdue, critical, base-line environmental
studies. As the bio-diversity of our once beautiful homeland becomes
segregated and pocketed into tiny "national treasures", entire species face
the threat of genetic endangerment, through the isolation of populations,
which weaken genetic diversity. Without in-house filtration, wildlife
suffers directly from the pollution of both air and water, including a
reduction of ground water sources. Acid rain is thought responsible for
changing metabolic absorption of essential nutrients, leading to die-offs of
once strong populations. Threats of wild fire and surface collapse; bisected
migratory routes; disturbed nesting areas, winter range and calving grounds,
noise pollution; tactile or vibratory pollution; dust; all of these dangers
which we can hide from, for a while, in our homes and offices directly,
right now, imperil entire species of plants and animals. These beings need
the protection of wild places. Our children deserve and need the protection
of these wild places. So do we all. In the words of conservationist, Aldo
Leopold: "I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young
in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?" We
must ask ourselves, what kind of legacy are we leaving?
It is estimated that the tourism and recreational
industry contributes a whopping seventeen billion per year to the economies
of the western states. You can bet that most of this revenue is a result of
direct application to multiple land uses and all the many and varied
ancillary activities which accompany them. The multiple land-use concept is
one which BLM and other federal agencies are supposed to be providing for
and advancing. Some bold strokes have been made in the protection of species
and habitat; but, they are typically isolated events brought about by
far-seeing visionaries who have, in some cases paid for their actions in
ways which seem to have affected their career longevity. Let me state here
and now, that there is a clear sense of genuine fear for job security
pervading every industry and sector into which I and others have made
inquires (including that of oil and gas), and it is for this reason that
many of my statements are not referenced with a source. I feel a deep
obligation toward each of these individuals and a gratitude as well. Many
employees in the field or behind a desk are simply trying to make a living
like anyone else. They, too, see an imbalance in this system, an are quietly
rooting for change. They, too, have families and share this planet and its
future with us all. This should give any industry pause. The foundations of
any sustainable system must be solid, not ruled by fear, but encouraged and
nurtured by justice and ethical actions. If wildlife and unspoiled scenic
areas disappear, tourism may disappear, and with it - tourism related
industry and jobs. Industry, residential growth and wildlife cannot co-exist
with one unfettered at the expense of the others.
Aggressive oil and gas development introduces enormous impacts upon infrastructure, including roads, emergency response and social services. Oil and gas field workers tend to 'run with the operation' and typically rent until they move on to a new field, or 'play'. This leaves a gap in property tax revenues. While the money may flow to various establishments frequented by contract laborers or employees, much of it goes back to the state in which the employee or contractor's family resides. Certainly, the profits of multi-national corporations are dispersed back to the country of headquarter operations. This creates a locally de-centralized economy, during which time, locals bear litter along the roadways, pollution, crime and infrastructure strain. All this, while the money trickles - for maybe ten or fifteen years. After the operations move to a new play, it is still the locals who may be left holding a big, dirty bag of clean-up costs and possibly, a ruined ecology. Wyoming is a state, not unlike our own; and, it is one the oil and gas industry seems rather proud to have ravaged and scarred. In a corporate sense, Perhaps this type of opportunistic activity is supposed to show prowess. I see it as the pillage of a politically undefended environment.
Our Government Has A Handle On All Of This.. Right?
Doubtless, many people point to the efficiency of regulatory energy,
environmental and human resources agencies to oversee this daunting task. I
have found, however, these agencies and their mandates amount to what seems
like a broad collection of fractured regulatory authority and management
with insufficient funds and personnel. With the nearly exponential growth of
our government in the last two-hundred, plus years, a new body of
legislation introduced every two years, and existing and newly created
commissions, agencies and offices faced with sometimes conflicting missions,
responsibilities and methodologies, it is easy to understand how so much has
gone astray of perhaps its original intent. This is the climate in which big
industry flourishes. Doubtless, within the oil and gas industry, there are a
majority of companies which operate under ethical mandate. However, what
about those opportunists which don't? In a competitive economic environment,
there is much opportunity for debate over whether evolving 'ethical'
operations outweigh or even compare with operations just within the limits
of existing law.. in any country of operations.
I don't believe that it is the intent of regulatory
bodies to be evasive or deceitful; but sometimes, simply by composition, the
opportunity for abuse can occur. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation
Commission is the state agency which issues permits to drill. Essentially, a
permit is filled out by an operator, who then submits it. It is reviewed,
and then issued. Or not. Except no one in recent memory can recall one being
rejected. The seven members of the Commission are legislatively appointed by
the Governor, who are then ratified by the state senate. Of the seven, five
must be individuals with substantial experience in oil and gas industry and
who, when possible "shall be appointed taking into account the need for
geographical representation of other areas of the state with high levels of
oil and gas activity or employment." The legislative regulations go on to
say that no more than four out of seven can be members of the same political
party. A number of citizens have voiced concern that this type of
arrangement simply does not seem conducive to a healthy system of checks and
Currently the burden of proof of damages or harm, in protesting a proposed well, rests with the public - a public generally far removed from any actual technical knowledge of either drilling operations and/or environmental dangers. Helpful governmental guides are printed, however to assist the questioning public. As printed in the COGCC's publication titled: Typical Questions From The Public About Oil and Gas Development in Colorado published April 9, 1999:
Answer 2.b.: "The law empowers the COGCC "to
regulate oil and gas operations so as to prevent and mitigate significant
adverse environmental impacts... resulting from oil and gas operations to
the extent necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare, taking
into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility." Because of
the statutory requirement that the COGCC take into consideration
cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility the COGCC has to consider the
costs of any condition imposed for environmental purposes. In some rare
instances the COGCC has required directional drilling or pitless drilling
systems. Generally, the COGCC does not impose these requirements because
there has been no showing that the requested method is cost-effective,
technically feasible, and necessary to protect the public health, safety and
welfare. A surface owner may file an application for Commission hearing to
make a showing that directional drilling or pitless drilling systems are
necessary to protect the public health, safety and welfare taking
into consideration cost-effectiveness and technical feasibility."
Now, I ask you.. Why should the burden of protecting one's own safety fall to the individual to prove technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness, when even corporations employ huge divisions of employees and bastions of attorneys to determine such things? The time-frame within which notice to drill is received, and such an application must be discovered as a remedy, let alone filed and physically heard, coupled with the inability of the average citizen to attend distant hearings; obtain information which may be considered at least partially trade information; interpret this information; possess the capacity to even investigate the discovery process on their own, or be able to afford an attorney or attorneys for the purpose of such research illustrates how this industry and its supposedly governing regulatory agencies inadvertently operate to remove the average citizen as far as possible (or legally permissible) from the ability to become effectively involved in a process that clearly, in every way, affects their well being. The COGCC, in the same publication, however, goes on to reassure us at the bottom of page 8:
"Compared to other forms of land use, such as rural
residential development, oil and gas development is relatively benign in its
impact on wildlife and agriculture."
A Public Land Management report published in
1991 by the United States General Accounting Office, for the Honorable Alan
Granston, U.S. Senate notes historic deficiency in resources allocated for
the protection of wildlife regarding considerations of land use. Under
Principal Findings, the report, in effect, points out that legislation does
not specify a level of consideration for wildlife, or any other use, that
would be considered appropriate - leaving, then, each agency broad
discretionary authority to assign priorities among various uses, provided
that they not authorize levels of use which permanently degrade the land's
capacity to provide for future generations. There is hope that these trends
will eventually turn around; however, the flexible discretion afforded to
mineral estate holders beneath privately held surface lands corralled within
federal units as established by BLM, and which seem to enjoy little or no
protection with regard to surface well density or county zoning, seem to
point to here-to-fore lacking requirements which would further the
protection of bio-diverse species (including human habitat) within a broad
area, of both private, and perhaps state or federally owned lands.
The Colorado Department of Natural Resources - the
Executive Director of which is appointed by the Governor - is the state
agency which oversees a number of other state agencies, boards and
commissions, some of which are listed below (again, many members or
directors of which are appointed by the Governor - a former oil and gas
industry lobbyist): Colorado Division of Wildlife / Colorado Division of
Forestry / Colorado State Parks / Colorado State Land Board / Board of Parks
and Outdoor Recreation / State Trails Committee / Colorado Wildlife
Commission / Wildlife Public Education Advisory Council / Colorado Ground
Water Commission / Colorado Water Conservation Board / Colorado Oil and Gas
Conservation Commission / Colorado State Land Board / Colorado Mined Land
Reclamation Board / Minerals, Energy and Geology Advisory Board / Coal Mine
Board of Examiners / Colorado Natural Areas Council / Colorado River
Advisory Council / Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority
/ State Board of the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund. Based on comments
from a recent Glenwood Springs Post Independent letter to the Editor, by a
former Division Of Wildlife employee, there seem to be strong differences in
management opinion at the state level between various agencies, with
potentially conflicting missions and goals, which are attributable, perhaps
to appointments to office which may seem to, in the end, simply further
political interests to the eventual detriment of otherwise balanced
Allowed to progress, unchecked; it only takes one
rotten apple to spoil the proverbial bushel. Think any rotten apples in the
oil and gas industry care about you or me, or anyone but their shareholders?
Check out the plethora of human rights and environmental violations which
have occurred in recent months in Equador; and, how citizens, there, view
the loving arms of corporate concern. The International Association of Oil
and Gas Producers, of which a number of our own American corporations are
members, recently produced a handy report titled
Firearms and the Use of Force (report No. 6.94/320
August 2001), which outline rules of engagement and other considerations
for security personnel including body-guards. Of course in and among the
disclaimers and urgings of restraint, we can be further comforted by these
statements: "Although companies should try to avoid the need for employees
or security contractors to be armed, there are situations where firearms are
appropriate. In such circumstances, it is important that clear instructions
are given on how firearms and force should be used." and "The use of
firearms should be exceptional, and proportionate to the legitimate object
to be achieved." Regarding an industry who has expressed collective concern
over encouraging its own ethical behavior in countries where laws are lax,
the very existence of this report speaks volumes.
It is my opinion, that in America - a modern, globally
influential, super-power - many of our mining laws, through a lack of
prudent and timely re-assessment, have become woefully and frighteningly
lax, leaving many western land owners feeling, in many ways, as vulnerable
as any citizen of a third world country.
I am only grateful that we have simply been thus far been spared a catastrophe of our ignorance. We are ignorant no more, at least as far as the potential, serious and comprehensive threat to our well being and that of our environment is concerned. This much has become genuinely evident.
So, What Choices Are Available For Us And Industry?
One new means of alternative energy is 'hydrogen cell technology' initiated
by the tiny unassuming algae plant. It has been reported that one small pond
can fuel up to ten cars. And all this without harming the algae. How does it
work? The algae plant is deprived of sulfur and oxygen to create a normal,
alternate, metabolic reaction which then produces hydrogen rather than
oxygen, the only by-product being pure H2O, which can then be recycled in
order to proliferate more algae. After the hydrogen is spent from the plant,
the sulfur and oxygen-rich environment is re-introduced, allowing the plan
to implement it's initial metabolic reaction of releasing oxygen - thereby
restoring itself for later hydrogen production.
Let's talk about good old solar technology; as in the
new-style, and truly much improved "roof tile technology". According to
Solar Energy International: "each day more solar energy falls to Earth than
the total amount of energy the planet's 5.9 billion inhabitants would
consume in 27 years." Photovoltaic cells can now be manufactured in a roof
tile format, with greater efficiency than ever before, and in a way which
can be connected to a conventional grid, contributing to electricity caches.
Roof-tile projects are underway around the world to install and observe the
productivity of this type of solar collection. The United States has
announced plans to implement the system atop1,000,000 roofs. At last, a
little good news.
Even without the broad immediate embrace and
application of alternative energies, there is much which the oil and gas
industry can do to become more responsible co-tenants of our planet. There
exist a number of implemented measures (which are not widely advertised)
designed to mitigate impact. Here, then, is a brief list:
1) Submerged or recessed drilling operations. This
technique amounts to placing well pad sites and associated operations into
an excavated area beneath the ground surface. Initially conceived over
thirty years ago, theses types of techniques can be found in use in areas of
California and even Northwestern Colorado. The cost of implementing the
added measure of excavation can run around $250,000 (Two-hundred and fifty
thousand dollars). The benefits of reduced visual, noise and vibratory or
tactile impact are vast. The premier advantage of containment in the event
of an industrial catastrophe is priceless. Compared to the expected yields
of product over the life of a well - the costs are negligible.
2) Noise is an immense environmental impact, easily
overlooked except by those in proximity. The effects of prolonged noise
pollution upon human beings, pets and wildlife are still under study. It is
important to note residential reports of vibrating walls and rattling
windows during drilling and even sustained pump and compression activities.
An aid to the mitigation of noise pollution involves the use of containment
mufflers (as used on jet engines) and berms.
3) Open venting systems, on natural gas wells,
contribute to the death of protected migratory birds and ecologically
critical bats (both declining without adequate known cause). This can be
partly mitigated by simply screening the open cavities (which may only
intermittently be flared) preventing the nesting, or 'huddling' during cold
weather, of these birds in the seemingly opportune cavities.
4) Surface occupancy of a well pad site can be
mitigated by implementing the often heralded method of "directional
drilling". While it is true that directional drilling reduces surface
occupancy, all other associated impacts remain the same and multiply with
each new well introduced from the same pad.
5) Currently, technology is available to dramatically
curtail the occurrence of flaring practices.
6) Currently, 'pitless' technology is available to
reduce or eliminate the need for drilling wastes. In the event a "pit" is
used to contain wastes, a land owner would be prudent to request that the
materials, along with the pit liner be removed from the site upon completion
of actual drilling activities. Additionally, secondary containment measures
should be implemented whenever pits are used.
7) As a means of curtailing the deadly threat in tapping an H2S ( of hydrogen sulfide ) pocket, a vessel (similar in concept as an in-line fuel filter) can be installed. The vessel amounts to a large tube packed with fine iron wire (like a gigantic, dense, metal kitchen scrubbie pad). Apparently, the gas makes contact with the iron, creating a chemical reaction which converts hydrogen sulfide to common iron pyrite. (A pretty clever and inexpensive means of control.)
8) [added 06-06-08] Though they are not in use in
Western Colorado, EnCana is using giant mats on pads sites in their Jonah
Field, Wyoming play. The mats can be removed and taken to the next pad when
site development is finished - all of this helps limit disturbances to soils
like the proliferation of invasive seeds, protecting the soils from
spills and preserving the integrity of microbial life.
Doubtless, there are other technological advancements I
am simply not privy to. One such innovation should be the ability to bury or
at least recess fuel or 'condensate' storage tanks underground, separate
from static interference of other operations [11-04-07 as a fire safety
measure]. Equally, a secondary
containment measure should be implemented around the tanks to catch
overflow. Pipelines also, contribute to an elimination of this important
safety issue. Students are often encouraged to develop new techniques -
which, in practice, may never be implemented; and, industry awards are
annually presented to innovative applications of socio-ecologically friendly
techniques - although in practice minimally implemented. Our knowledge of
these innovations is critical in consumer demand for compliance with law.
Added Consumer Issues of Zoning, Title Insurance and Home Owner's Insurance If you've read this far, and I congratulate you on possessing the fortitude to do so, you may be thinking that you are afforded some protection at least under your zoning or perhaps title policy.
What Role Are Counties Playing? Our own Garfield
County is a member of the National Association of Counties (NACo)- whose
official platform to congress states in the 2001-2002 Resolutions -
Agricultural and Rural Affairs / Resolution to encourage the exploration
and development of fossil fuel supplies on federal lands. Re: Adopted Policy
"NACo urges Congress and the Administration to reduce America's dependence
on foreign oil and increase domestic oil, gas, and coal production by
opening more public lands to the exploration and development of fossil fuels
reserves on federal lands in an environmentally sensitive manner. All
affected federal agencies who provide administration and stewardship of
federal lands should streamline their permitting process to prevent any
unnecessary delays." Re: Fiscal/Urban/Rural Impacts "Increased exploration
and development of domestic fuels on federal lands will provide economic
benefits to both our rural and urban areas. Exploration and development will
provide economic stabilization and growth in rural areas..." "...Increased
production on federal lands will provide added mineral royalties to the U.S.
Treasury, part of which is distributed back to affected counties."
Although the NACo did argue, to some degree, for more authority at the county level as well as county participation in National energy policy - given the threat our federal lands are facing under the apparent dismantling of regulations designed to protect its longevity; given the federal jurisdiction surrounding private land ownership fitted within a federal unit - this type of policy seems to be an authorization for less regulation and more pillage of our private and federal lands.
In doing so, Delta County recently won for all Colorado Counties an opportunity for greater voice and participation at the county level in the permitting process. An ultimate concern, of course as citizens, is for greater input between ourselves and the counties who represent us - this in addition to a newly proposed, formalized process between our counties and the state. The new regulations are due out March 30th. We'll see what kind of progress is made. We can all take heart, however, that this is yet another small step in the actualization of land owners rights, thanks in no small part to a collection of strong, organized and verbal citizens, as well as bold commissioner's seeking to truly and more equitably represent the citizens who elected them to office. I, among many, herald your efforts!
How Can This Be Happening? I'm going to digress
just a bit, as I am reminded of a cartoon I've not yet drawn. The first
frame shows a picture of an Native American standing on the ground with his
hand around a spear. He is looking at a cowboy astride his horse, and saying
with a sweep of his hand... "We are a proud and independent people; and,
this is our land." to which the cowboy just grins and says.."mm hmm." The
next frame shows a cowboy atop his horse looking at a developer sitting in
an S.U.V. The cowboy says.. "I am a rancher. We are a proud and independent
bunch. I own this land." To which the developer (while on his cell-phone)
grins and says.. "mm hmm." The next frame shows a developer and his
sales-lady standing in front of a sign which says "Welcome to Shmuckville"
They are facing a giant front-end loader with this burly-sort of guy, with
an oil rig tattooed on his head, kind of leaning out with his cigar. The
developer (still holding his cell-phone) says.. "I'm a developer. We are a
proud and independent Association; and, I own this subdivision." To which
the heavy equipment operator grins and replies.. "mm hmm." [End Strip] See,
this is our greatest challenge here in the 'West". Do we ever see ourselves
as united beyond our next acquisition? Well, for the benefit of future
generation, we'd better start looking at things a little differently than we
have over the past hundred and thirty or so years.
Most people involved in the recent citizen's movement
toward better regulatory control over the oil and gas industry are not those
who normally think of themselves as 'activists'. In fact, many are simply
seeking more balanced representation and safe methods of extraction. The
current apparent imbalance of rights, power and political representation is
so extreme, however, as to make reasonable requests seem as equally extreme
- in the opposite direction. Many of us are not roundly opposed to oil and
gas extraction, given our national dependence upon the resource. However,
many of us seek not only development of alternative, renewable,
Earth-friendly sources of energy; but, also, innovative, Earth-friendly
methods of resource extraction - so long as we are bound to it. If activists
this makes us, by caring and creating greater awareness of this ugly
situation, then activists we are.
There are a number of non-profit environmental
organizations fighting to protect our public lands - and they are a long way
from adequately protected. But, those of us in a "Federal Unit" seem to be
largely on our own. As concerned participating citizens and grass-roots
organizations - most notably, Western Colorado Congress and Grand Valley
Citizen's Alliance, work to draft proposed rule changes (at the state level)
for oil and gas activity in Colorado, those of us in a federal unit, may not
enjoy any implemented changes until they are addressed at the federal level.
Recall that federal units are fluid concepts which can
be formed in an effort to conserve a particular resource, and have the
theoretically intended potential to eliminate a need for well spacing
density, thereby curtailing conflict between land owners, mineral owners,
and industry; yet, seem to be currently misused and abused in what appears
to be the interest of corporate and shared mineral ownership gain. For those
of us who are attempting to comprehend how federal units are allowed to
affect our use and enjoyment of our rural land, we recognize that we are
struggling to protect more than our lands and ourselves. We are protecting
not just a quality of life, but a way of life which should ensure the
protection and proliferation, not of a finite, wealth-belt of belching oil
and gas wells, but a diverse and fragile, never-more-vulnerable, life
yielding legacy for our children. It is strictly my opinion, that though we
may share use of our rural lands with mineral estate holders and industry,
this is still our country, our county, and our homes - and our concerns
deserve to be heard and met with fair resolution. Our right to enjoyment is
no less than any other.
An aggressive push for dense oil and gas development,
and a seeming lack of regulatory control and protection for surface owners
in this county and many other Colorado counties has driven this issue to the
fore, demanding the attention of our citizens, business owners and political
To quote a visionary and drafter of the Declaration of
Independence, Thomas Jefferson:
"Rightful liberty is unobstructed action
according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of
others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often
but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the
Though I and many others feel that there is a gross
lack of representation for rural land owners who happen to reside within a
federal unit, I am enough of an idealist, perhaps naively so, to believe
that such an imbalance in moral integrity within our legal system is not
intentional - but simply overlooked. I am enough of a capitalist to believe
that these industrial actions are not sinister - only leveraged and allowed.
But, I am enough of a humanitarian and scientifically and aesthetically
slanted conservationist to realize that, without immediate action to halt
this degree of devastation until some balance can be found - we risk losing
our very humanity and the substance of ourselves.
Nothing so protects truth than the sharing of it with
others. Take ten minutes and tell someone - who you've elected and are
paying to listen - how you feel.
All contents of this site, unless
otherwise noted are copyrighted by Lisa Bracken, 2007. All rights are
All contents of this site, unless
otherwise noted are copyrighted by Lisa Bracken, 2007. All rights are