|Week Twenty-Eight Mar 31 - April 6|
Dead deer litter the side of Airport Road in South Rifle. Along this approximate two mile stretch, I photographed fourteen deer, all on the same day on April 2nd - each in varying stages of decomposition, but many appeared recently deceased. Lying along the road, in the ditches and obscured by weeds, this is the type of scene that may go unnoticed by busy motorists. But with nearly one dead animal occurring the length of every two football fields, this was something I couldn't' ignore. My heart breaks for this loss of life.
Two of the deer were found lying within feet of a "35 mph" road sign.
These deer were pretty clearly smashed by vehicles, yet, I seldom see dented fenders. How big then are the vehicles which are hitting these deer? Are they small efficiency cars or larger trucks with grill guards, or are they industrial vehicles? Along this road, enterprise includes: the airport, the college, the county road-and-bridge department, and a trucking company. There are also two pads along this road. You can see a rig (in the photos above) near the windsock at the west end of the airport. The other is a massive pad at the east end of the airport - that, by the way, perpetually reeks like a refinery.
I've never seen this level of road-kill before off of this road, or any other for that matter (even on the North side of the highway where there is a cement operation), but the Department of Wildlife should be concerned for the health of this herd - or what remains of it. Most herds (and this one is no exception) travel in bands of 12 to 15 or so.
Although the herd from which these dead deer have come have historically utilized this area as winter range, I don't recall seeing a sign up to warn drivers of their presence. I don't know how many of the herd will remain after this season. Doubtless at least some of these does are carrying this year's fawns. [04-02-08]
This is the massive pad at the east end of the airport (only a portion of it is visible in this photo).
|Entry - 04-02-08
Rig move scheduled for this Thursday.
Entry - 04-02-08
This week I was invited by the Colorado Environmental Coalition to attend the COGCC briefing at the Capitol building at which time a summary of the draft rules were shared by Dave Neslin (acting Director, COGCC) with the legislature, press and various organizations invested in this issue. It was wonderful to be asked to attend this conference and deliver comments from a landowner's perspective, and it was a particular honor to be within the capitol building itself.
I took a great picture of the Capital - all back-lit in a shrouded mist reflecting the golden dome. But I can't figure out how to down-load the blasted thing from my cell phone. Sigh. I also forgot my purple umbrella in Mr. Sherman's office. Whoever finds it will hopefully enjoy its nifty spring action instead of just pitching it in the trash. It's a good umbrella. It fetched Duke's cell phone out from under a parked car when he dropped it before our appointment.
So, anyhow, I attended the conference with Duke Cox, interim Director of the Western Colorado Congress, who was kind enough to carpool - and drive in Denver traffic... which was not without near GASP incident as we peered into the skyline to find the hotel where the first conference was to be.
What an adventure. Duke left his gloves someplace. Truth be told, we're both probably too old to be left alone in the big city. I'm sure Duke would say, 'speak for yourself.'
It has been twenty years since I've visited Denver, and, while I thoroughly enjoyed the charm of old downtown, the extravagance of the Adam's Mark, the architectural wonder of the glass and steel canyon that swamped the downtown sky, I, frankly, couldn't wait to escape back to my home in the mountains where I daily bask in the charm of a squirrel nibbling a pine nut, the extravagance of a Rocky Mountain sunset and the architectural wonder of Summerhawk Valley.
Checking out the prices at Sak's in the Cherry Creek Mall ($355.00 for a denim jacket) and wandering about through traffic and pedestrian congestion, I was grateful to come across a leashed black terrier with whom I felt an instant kindred connection. The only other semi-wild thing within ten square bocks, we gazed in each other's eyes with a knowing sense of condemnation. Oh well, I enjoyed a frosty something or other at an over-priced chocolatier and beat feet for the corner where I was to rendezvous with Duke.
During the course of our two-day jaunt, I appreciated the opportunity to stand beside folks with shared concern for our environment. Folks like Senator Gail Schwartz of Snowmass, CO; Elisa Jones, the Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Ivan James of the Colorado Bow Hunters Association and a small herd of hunters and anglers from (I think) the Colorado Wildlife Federation.
In my comments to the press prior to the release of the draft rules, I noted that I was half tree-hugger and half redneck. All that means, I explained, is that I irritate twice the people more of the time. Alas. All my life I've thought and acted independently - which is why I've been a registered Independent voter since I was old enough to write 'hell no' next to some names and initiatives on the ballot. It makes it hard for folks to classify me or categorize my thinking and align me with a specific political strategy. It makes me a challenge to some, I guess. But, heck, I think I'm pretty simple really. Basically, I stand for common sense - at least I think I do. I believe in the rights of individuals, but also the sanctity of society as a whole. Capitalism and environmentalism together. I'm of the belief that two interests - like democracy and social services; like profit and the environment don't have to be exclusive of one another. In fact, I believe that such concepts can actually compliment one another when a balance in brought to bear on the policies that govern each.
When I take a position on something, it's based on three criteria. 1) Is it right or wrong? 2) Does it make common sense? 3) Is it fair?
Listening to the summary of the draft rules provided by Mr. Neslin, I was heartened by the overall design adopted by the COGCC.
The moderators and COGCC staff did an outstanding job of distilling the commentary provided through some 2,000 comments, 250 stakeholders and 160 hours of meetings. Additionally, my thanks goes out to the Division of Wildlife for hammering down recommended guidelines in very short order. Given that the COGCC could have whittled and pared the pre-draft rules and commentary into a toothless facade, I was impressed by the sound design that prevailed and emerged as a draft document.
Overall, I felt the draft framework represents an efficient and high-performance vehicle to move both environmental protections and industry forward. It's an initial framework - an idea for design. But we'll have to wait and see what it will do when the proverbial wheels get put on - if it ever makes it out of the drawing room.
Immediately after the briefing, lots of folks filed out and began both posturing and reacting to the draft in such a really predictably human way that I couldn't help but be drawn in by the drama of it all: Great big dudes in cowboy hats hitching up their belts and talking loudly about how all these rules "are just a bunch of B.S." (kind of reminds me of my uncle and a few others in my family line); little skinny lobbyist dudes in black suits from both camps gravitating to opposing corners of the capitol building's lunchroom, whipping out their Blackberrys and cell phones and frantically whispering about shifts in strategy; politicians and association lackeys from both parties - some in slacks, some in skirts - pumping hands with their cronies and grinning that suspicious politician grin. I picked up a paper and browsed the funnies while sipping my V-8 and observing the obscene level of self-importance that coursed through the capitol carrying a lot of folks along on a current of hyper-ego, power-lust and the kind of hob-knobbing that I might normally associate with a Chihuahua in heat. Wow. So this is what it's like to operate at this level of policy making. In the unseemly struggle for power between two sadly and sometimes vehemently polarized parties, this thirty-minute snap-shot out of the course of a long, adversarial and arduous tango is a real and gritty part of our political process. And in the midst of it all, happily reading Zits and Garfield, an unfamiliar and anonymous face to those too consumed by the performance to be concerned by the players, I truly was the hick under the golden dome.
For all our hopes, and from whichever side we may advocate, we all have to remember that the draft is only a draft, an articulation of intent... a beginning. And industry as well as other stakeholders are invited to participate in crafting the final document. In fact, the COGCC has done an exemplary job of making this process not only inclusive, but accessibly so.
Still, from my perspective, the draft needs some major strengthening of issues that were left to dangle. From the get-go, I wanted to see comprehensive planning and best practices made mandatory, neither of which happened. Why do I want this? Well, for starters and enders, a comprehensive plan would be the best tool for sharing information across multiple agency jurisdictions and would also provide a guiding document for local land-use planners. Further, it would require industry to stand up and demonstrate some concern for the current environmental, social and economic state as well as future condition of a community. I suspect strongly that mandatory comprehensive planning and best practices would eliminate 80% of the problems we are experiencing from this latest energy boom.
Some in industry are quick to funnel public relations cash into certain projects, but folks who really live in a community and want to stay there for longer than the current job market dictates, tend to want to invest across the board in the long-range livability of a place, not just in a few pet projects designed to create good will, fuzzy feelings or cause verbal constipation in political discourse. Mandatory best practices are common sense - and required in other areas of the world - like Canada. By industry snubbing their noses at good environmental stewardship and pitching a fit about "cost" only demonstrates that while preservation of air, water and soil quality is important in other countries, America is just not worth it. Garfield County is just not worth it. Piss on that attitude.
So, I'm very disappointed that comprehensive planning and best practices are left as voluntary considerations while industry revs up to drill even more even faster, but, that said, COGCC did build in incentives into the draft to encourage compliance through a more rapid permitting process of 30 days.
Additionally, there are a whole host of other issues that bear strengthening.
Here we go....
Adjacent landowners need a broader avenue through which to approach the COGCC. Even if allowed to petition the local government, can you imagine the increased burden this will pose to even the most laze faire of commissioners? Just having to say "no" all the time is bound to become tedious and tiring.
Unlike urban areas where shared roads and water sources are governed by a municipality, in rural areas, responsibility for such infrastructure is often shared among neighbors. An absentee owner who is gung-ho for mineral development with a 'take the money and run' attitude can leave his or her neighbors to bear the burden of lost or damaged infrastructure, not to mention degraded or compromised resources of air, land and water. This is so not cool.
An interesting side note here is that in the Canadian Rockies, some twenty years ago, pine beetle infestations were the convenient catalyst and justification for clear-cut logging operations that took trees down all the way to the banks of streams and rivers. The numbers predicting the beetle-kill I noted above were generated and promoted by an insurance company. Certainly these folks could benefit from less forests in Colorado and therefore less implied fire danger. I just find that sort of correlation interesting.
Folks are flakin' off and breaking down and a lot of reasonable people are looking around and saying' "Huh... benzene in the air... huh. Ozone. Asthma. Rashes. Methane, fumes, passing out... two and two..." One study regarding air quality suspects that we may be underestimating the long-term effects of these kinds of exposures. But the money is hot. The sexy dope of development stuns a lot of folks right out their senses.
A neighbor said she went to a dermatologist with a weird rash on her arms and legs and they told her it was some funky thing associated with the gas patch, and brought in by workers who, themselves, get immunized against this stuff - but, of course, none of us do. I can't say whether any of this is actual fact - the whole story could be a load of malarkey, but it was shared with me, and while I don't like to repeat hearsay, the stakes are pretty high and there are big, organized and highly-funded barriers to slowing the growth of development. With thousands of wells in the area and a crap-load more loading into the pipeline we really need to develop an open discourse about what a lot of folks are talking about in private. The state health department should lead that effort.
I am less than impressed with the recent air quality meetings and the county health department's "Community Air Quality Program". Give me a frigging break. It is estimated that some 85% of the pollution now happening in Garfield County is due to industry. Yet, the county health department and the state health department are hinting ever more firmly that wood-smoke and vehicles are a source of air pollution which need to be stamped out. I cannot see taking home heating away from folks who may not otherwise be able to afford the high costs of energy just to keep their families warm when industry is allowed to belch out all kinds of toxic crap into the air. Hey CDPHE, how about let's not let industry be exempted from source pollution just because their rigs are "temporary". You should see some of the noxious black foul crap that blows from these stacks.
And here's a message for the county health department: you're targeting the wrong people and pointing the finger at families trying to simply survive. You need to be looking at a subsidized industry exempted from pollution-generation and raking in billions in profit at the expense of citizen's health. That's the real problem health department folks - in case you can't see the obvious.
I keep hearing that the county can't afford to conduct studies or cannot afford the equipment to monitor. You know what? I'm not buying it. Why is the county sitting on a rainy-day fund worth some thirty million dollars when people are begging to know what is in the air that they believe is making them sick? Where are the priorities? My guess is it's in not torquing off industry. Who are these weenies that proliferate throughout our region? Texans and Oklahomans and even Wyoming folk have stood up and said - 'here's where there's going to be a little balance.' I get so sick of gutless ignoramuses who are scared to death to offend an industry that has got them totally bullied and buffaloed. Grow a pair and stand up.
The state needs to be thinking about air quality. In the Northeast, acid rain nearly ruined old-growth and new-growth forests. There, they enjoy significant moisture and habit conditions which promote more rapid recovery of forests. We don't have that luxury here. Yet, acid rain and acid snow are real threats and the kind of pollution we are talking about can devastate the high country and other areas which act as airsheds. Recovery? Who knows when or if it will even be possible.
So, while the state doesn't want to be bothered with undertaking new health studies (or apparently even developing a system of logging complaints) the fire-hazard condensate tanks and all their nasty off-gassing toxic fumes are still outside of common sense consideration and regulation. Pits, the flotsam they spawn and their potentially toxic soil coagulants are still just sitting around evaporating. I'm just so encouraged I could puke.
Rig and Pad Setbacks from Homes
The fact that setbacks nor pad-site operations have not been addressed by rule-making folks? I can't even conceive of this failure to consider public health and human impacts, yet, these abuses have been going on despite public complaint for the last five years.
Here's the simple bottom line: Industry, bring your
stuff, do your thing, be a part of Colorado's economy; but do it while
demonstrating genuine respect and concern for our people and our environment
- including your own workers and their families - by using best practices
and common sense to protect our precious and finite resources of water, air,
soil and wildlife. If you can't see the value in doing so - get the hell
out, because in the end - long after the gas is gone - we have no choice but
to rely on the very environment we've sold down the river for the last
half-decade. That's what I would say to any houseguest who chose to
misbehave at my family's expense. Five years of living with Jaba the Hut is
long enough. Shape up or ship out. And as for those in industry who are
committed to doing the right thing - why should you be penalized by those
who don't? We want you to stick around. Leveling the field brings a standard
- a higher standard - for all participants and helps everyone keep their
competitive edge. That helps ensure jobs and that helps the economy
There's a good summary-comparison table the COGCC put out on some of this that makes the whole proposal very digestible (it's like two and a half pages).
Here's the link to the "Comparison of current rules, initial proposal and draft rules" If this link doesn't work, you can get there through the COGCC home page and then click on "links to rule making activities"
Man Camps - additional comments by way of e-mail
I sent a letter today, submitting additional comments I hope the county commissioners will consider when considering whether and how to allow for man camps on private property. My initial comments were contained in a letter which was read into the minutes on April 10th, 2008 [Week 25].
The letter follows:
April 04, 2008
In preparation for next week’s Commissioner meeting I’d like to send this e-mail, as I will be unable to attend. It is in regard to your on-going consideration of man camps on private property.
I am still grateful that Garfield County is considering regulations where the rules are silent in providing for these camps, and I believe this action stands to lend a great deal of accountability to this controversial industry practice. I believe if man camps are allowed at all, local regulation is essential.
However, after attending the draft rules briefing and press conference in Denver on Monday past, (and observing the political wrangling in the capitol building cafeteria immediately after) I am convinced that industry’s request for man-camps on site is more of an abusive practice than one of safety concern. In the habit of pushing extremes, rather than supporting a balanced approach, there seems to be a pattern of demanding excess within this industry - and the push for man camps on private property seems to be one more effort on the part of industry to lessen their own inconveniences at the expense of powerless landowners.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to fathom why a small battalion of workers must reside on a landowner’s property, housed in a clutch of several sizeable modular-type homes (not just single-wide trailers) throughout the drilling process. Because of this industry’s tendencies toward abuse, I urge you to reconsider this request from industry as a whole; require a demonstration of why it is necessary; strongly limit the number of workers in the event this practice is allowed; and, implement not only sound standards, but most importantly, devise a mechanism for landowner approval.
I understand and am quite relieved that not all operators are myopic and selfish in their approach to energy development, but of course regulations are intended to curb the abuses of those that are. As a landowner, we must depend upon your insight, vision and leadership to defend best practices and prevent abuses which are rampant in this climate of accelerated permitting.
As well pads grow to sometimes 8 acres during the spudding of multiple wells, I only hope you can conceive of the burden this places on a nearby family. The duration of this activity and its physical and emotional impact is real and broad. The amount of land it claims from a 35 acre parcel is boggling and unreasonable. To add man camps to this scenario opens a whole new level of industrial activity which is already allowed to occur at increasing density and within 150 feet of one’s home. The burden is becoming too great and the rules are heretofore insufficient when considering it is the landowner who absorbs insurance and taxes to support their property – not the energy industry which enjoys an ever-expanding right to take it.
Thank you for taking these comments into consideration during your careful deliberations of this issue.
Video of this event is now availabel on YouTube through this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzdgIqJslGU
This is another photo enlarged to show detail. I see scenes like this and I think about how EnCana and Cordilleran tell me how beaver ponds normally experience bubbling like this, and one word comes to mind - bullshit. There is a bog on our property (and it's been there for the twenty years we've lived here). This bog is about the blackest, richest, most organic spot you can imagine, full of decaying reeds, and newly sprung greens. Frogs and snakes live in it and beaver hang out in it too. Guess what. No bubbling. None. None that we've ever seen in twenty years. So what the hell? I know it would take a crap-load of vegetation to break down at a rate that would yield a constantly streaming flow of bubbles like we're now seeing in the pond . This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy. To be told by people, who really do presumably possess the training to make such a determination - whether or not it is accurate - that these kinds of bubbling events are "normal" or this place is full of seeps and they've been here forever, and this is nothing new or completely natural. One word... and you know what it is. I give them the benefit of the doubt that their tests are accurate, by it sure seems to me that somewhere, there is a variable not being taken into account. Structured ignorance is a tactic used to reveal select results. I don't know enough about hydrogeology to surmise what may be going on - but I'm not a blind mushroom either.
Negotiating an Oil and Gas Lease with a Big Dog Operator
EnCana continues to hammer us pretty hard to negotiate the lease of our mineral interest - which is only a small fraction. However, we are not currently, apparently, in a unit. Whatever that means. There are evidently, a couple of types of units, and the thing I know the most about them is that if you don't concede to leasing, you can be force-pooled and industry can drill anyway. While that is true, doing so would mean that EnCana would have to pay double royalties - something they don't necessarily covet. Plus, a friendly agreement is generally preferred too and much less messy than a hostile takeover.
They hit us up to lease back in January, but we had been in discussions since fall of 2006, when they said they were serious but then dropped talks. Now, suddenly, they want to drill and have to do it now now now! "Yesterday!", they shout. This is pretty par for the course in working with these guys, though. However, this time I suspect they may want to get their permits in and filed before any of the new rules take affect.
You should have seen the lease agreement. It was, according to our attorney, standard boilerplate - something generated and rarely modified from way back in 1940 probably. It vastly favors industry in every meaningful way, and after we gagged and got our blood pressure under control (which took a couple of days), we did what we always do when working with EnCana. We laid it all out on the table and weighed the pros and the cons. Then we assessed our strengths and vulnerabilities, identifying where we may have leverage in negotiations.
What did EnCana really put on the table? Well, beyond the standard, "you can have this - no wait, only that..." the real carrot (which we see as a crown jewel) is a no-surface use agreement. This means that, should EnCana strike it rich, they would not develop our surface for any purpose in any capacity for as long as the well was producing - which is in fact as long as the lease would last. In other words, they would only directionally drill - drilling under the property but not drilling from the surface. Weirdly enough, they want to split the two proposed bottom holes physically between us and the property to the North -smack on the property line. Something in me suspects a sinister intent, but I am trying to quell the tendency to mistrust these people. To stakeholder relation's vast credit, they dispatched a lovely person from Denver to spearhead talks. And truly, this lady really is very nice and friendly and I strongly suspect even human. I respect her and she and I have parleyed significantly over the last few weeks.
Because of EnCana's intense rush to cut some kind of deal, we are seizing this opportunity to secure at least some level of testing for our water well which is down stream from the seep and draws directly from the surface and subsurface waters. Our water well isn't among the monitoring stations being sampled, though there are two others on our property that are. We asked for monthly testing, but were turned down flat. So, I asked about quarterly. No dice. Okay, then, we said, what if we swap one of the other monitoring wells which is being tested on a quarterly basis for the testing of our water well. If we had to choose, we'd much rather they test the water well than another monitor well.
We have great concern that once the well is pumping again - and at full capacity, the plume could migrate downstream toward the well. We have filters in place to help clean the water, but no one is really willing to bet it is sufficient to keep all the toxins from the seep out, should they surface there - though we are obviously hoping the system is adequate. What other option do we have? Finally, EnCana came back with quarterly testing through 2010, then, if nothing shows up in the water, it goes to annual. This is something we are taking under serious consideration.
Ditch Company Blues
It's that time of year again when the ditch companies dig out their ditches, scrape away rocks and debris and prepare to whip open the head gates and (for some) steal water from one another.
Years ago we had this neighbor 'lady' who used to feud with another neighbor 'lady' over water. Truth be told, both of them tended toward the shady side when it came to water use, and one always threatened to chop up the other one with her irrigating shovel while the other one said she packed around a machete' for 'defense' purposes. They had interesting names for each other, too, like, "She-lies Bin Laden". Good grief.
Other neighbors (none of which are still here, by the way) fell out on property lines with guns drawn - one saying he owned all the water because his property came first on the ditch (not the way it really works...) and the other because someone else came along and filled in the ditches with dirt (also not the way it's supposed to work).
I wrote a song about this madness back in '95. Maybe I can get the Good Old Guard Gospel Singers to perform it sometime. Here's how it goes:
The Water Beggar's Lament
I sit here at de headgate
Why, it bring a tear right to my eye,
Cause I beat 'em to de water!
I gots it all! I gots it all!
Yess in deedy... right on through.
I got to water eighty acres --
I'll be shovelin' an divertin'
She done been stole!
Yes, water makes people crazy in Colorado and it isn't just because of benzene swirling around in it.
What is the matter with people? The ditch company's contractor came by last week and took liberties to store his equipment here for over a week - without permission. Then, proceeded to clean out the ditch and in the process tore out a huge old cedar tree, and significantly damaged several other healthy trees. Not only did he do that, he dumped the silt from the bottom of the ditch (which they have a right to do) onto the ditch bank. Problem is, this particular guy dumped it all over the place, up to ten feet out on the lower bank and covered a lot of the vegetation that otherwise acts to secure the ditch bank soils and prevent erosion. He either doesn't realize that the silt can suffocate the vegetation and kill it off, or he doesn't care. Our guess is that he doesn't care since he also tore out part of the inside of the ditch and didn't bother to repair it. Good grief - they're own ditch! Smooshed in.
We've never experienced this level of disrespect and unprofessional behavior from the ditch company, and we're hoping a letter will be met with some kind of acknowledgment and restitution for the destruction that we feel was unnecessarily caused through this driver's evident inability to control his machine. For the last twenty years, guys from the ditch company have been driving through here on machines much bigger than this guy's and they've never torn out any trees. Charlie Lewis used to do a lot of the work for the ditch company, and he was awesome. Charlie is just genius with his machine and even competed in (and won) heavy equipment rodeos. I wouldn't hold anyone to his standard, but even other guys that used to do work for the ditch company didn't take out our trees. I guess some guys have big stuff and know how to use it - other guys have little stuff and still can't handle it. So, anyway, I called the afternoon of the incident and asked the secretary to please have the ditch president return my phone call so we could discuss the issue. So far, no call back. I am really disappointed in how this had been allowed to progress. We'll see how it resolves. You know, you work to protect your property and try to maintain friendly, cordial, and respectful relationships with your neighbors and associates, and then something like this happens.
Take a look at the tree that was taken out (middle top
pic) and some of the other stuff...
This happened on April 06, 2008. By the way, the area where the ditch has been damaged is across from the other two areas pictured second and third from the left on the top. The level of destruction in this area is pretty unbelievable.
This week I took the opportunity to flop down in a fat recliner and watch something other than the news or weather. Glory be. Guess what I found on the boob tube? Only the Electric Horseman which has, in my opinion, the most outstanding chase scene in Hollywood history. A pretty darn good "Go get 'em boy..." scene at the end too. Here's a timely quote from a song in the movie.
"At a time when the world seems to be
-- from Hands on the Wheel by Willie Nelson
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