County recommends uses for gas seep fine
EnCana Oil and Gas’s $371,000 fine should be used to fund projects researching the oil and gas industry’s impacts on groundwater and public health, and any remaining money should go toward educating citizens about the industry. That’s according to a 2-1 vote by Garfield County commissioners at their Monday meeting. But that’s just a recommendation, and not a final decision, which rests with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission at its Sept. 20 meeting. EnCana representatives Sher Long and Chris Williams attended the commissioners’ meeting. Although they weren’t part of the recommendation process, Long did say she was in support of projects addressing “air and water and health.” Commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown voted to recommend the money EnCana Oil and Gas was fined for drilling violations last spring be shared among projects reviewed by a citizen’s volunteer group, the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board. Commissioner Trési Houpt voted against the motion, not because she didn’t agree that the projects warranted funding, but because she thought the commissioners hadn’t been given adequate time to research all the proposals submitted, some of which the advisory board hadn’t reviewed. She also expressed concern that the proposals lacked solid budget information.”I think we’re moving a little fast,” said Houpt. “I’m in favor of holding the process until we can determine if all intervening parties in EnCana’s case feel comfortable with our recommendations.”Garfield County and the Western Colorado Congress/Grand Valley Citizens’ Alliance made up the “interveners,” that is, parties that were directly affected by EnCana’s violations. The WCC/GVCA had asked the COGCC for a continuance until October – a postponement of their decision regarding how to allocate the fine money – but with the vote on Monday, the Sept. 20 meeting apparently will go ahead as planned. A ‘rushed process’?The 13-member Garfield County Energy Advisory Board whittled 39 proposals submitted by the public and presented its recommended seven projects to commissioners at their Sept. 7 meeting. A cumulative impact study proposed by Western Colorado Congress wasn’t part of that review process. It asked for $250,000 for research on the environmental, economic and health effects the oil and gas industry has on Garfield County. DeAnna Woolston, energy organizer for Western Colorado Congress, attended Monday’s meeting and pitched the WCC study. Since WCC/GVCA is an “intervener,” the groups’ proposal bypassed the Energy Advisory Board and went straight to the commissioners for their review.”I applaud the recommended proposals,” Woolston said, duplicating Commissioner Houpt’s earlier statement, “but I feel this process is rushed. I would have liked for us to have submitted a united proposal package.” She was supported by several landowners who have been affected by Garfield County’s oil and gas industry. “We’re coming to you for help,” said Pepi Langegger, who’s owned land up Divide Creek for 20 years. “We have a problem. If we want to sell our land, there are no buyers out there anymore but EnCana, which might end up being the largest landowner in Garfield County. Does the short-term gain justify the long-term damage? We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to close our eyes. The danger signs are here. We need to heed them.”Hermann Staufer, a property owner south of Silt for 10 years, agreed with using the fine money to address larger issues.”I support the hydrological study,” he said. “But we also need a geologic study and an economic study. The bubbles are still coming up in the seep area. Something is happening to our drinking water. Expert witnesses say faults occur east and west in that area. There are dozens of them. We need a study to decide whether or not drilling should be done in that area.”
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