Houpt: Gasfield residents will be heard | AspenTimes.com

Houpt: Gasfield residents will be heard

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Coloraod

RIFLE, Colo. ” Thomas Thompson doesn’t buy the talk that things have improved locally for residents living in areas of natural gas development.

They haven’t for him.

Thompson and his wife built a home on Porcupine Creek Road southwest of Rifle about six and a half years ago, and have dealt with drilling impacts much of the time since then.

“Our lives have been turned upside down. Our quality of living is miserable,” he told Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board in Rifle Thursday night.

The Thompsons suffer from breathing dust and fumes, and from lightheadedness and nosebleeds.

“We cough up mud, we cough up blood,” Thompson said.

Worst of all, nobody seems to be doing anything about problems such as his, he said. He said if few people are complaining about drilling these days, it’s because they’ve given up after being ignored for so long.

But Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt says there’s reason for them to have hope.

Houpt is a newly appointed member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which regulates the industry. Her appointment follows passage of legislation that increased the COGCC’s membership from seven to nine, and reduced representation on the COGCC by industry-oriented members.

The law also has revised the COGCC’s mission to require that energy development be balanced against protection of public health, the environment and wildlife.

Houpt told the Energy Advisory Board Thursday that she thinks the legislation was passed because of situations such as Thompson’s, and acknowledgment of impacts on quality of life and wildlife.

“There is a recognition now. It took some time for that recognition to move to the state level where these decisions are being made,” Houpt said.

Houpt’s assurances came as good news to Thompson and to Scott Brynildson, a citizen representative on the EAB who also owns a home up Porcupine Creek and agrees that the odors up there can be bad.

Brynildson was glad to hear from Houpt about the changes on the COGCC since he tried to raise concerns with them four years ago.

“That’s great news because I spoke to them and it was like talking to a brick wall,” he said.

“Well, you will find that our meetings are probably longer,” Houpt said to some laughter Thursday. “We have a lot to talk about, we have a lot of questions for people.”

“I’m glad to have you on there,” Brynildson told Houpt.

“We worked hard to get you there,” added Sam Robinson, an EAB member representing the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, which promoted passage of the legislation making changes to the COGCC and its mission.

Houpt said the COGCC is working on a revision of the agency’s rules to try to reflect its revised mission, and is trying to allow for ample input for everyone during that process.

“We all want to make sure that the rulemaking process is very transparent and user-friendly,” she said.

At issue for Houpt is how to proceed with natural gas development in pristine mountain areas that people moved to so they could live a peaceful life.

“I think the focus is to see that balance, so that people can have a life while this is happening,” she said.

In an interview Friday, Thompson said he’s had experiences similar to Brynildson’s when he has talked to the COGCC in the past.

“Those people were just completely unresponsive to any issue that we had. They weren’t interested in hearing it,” he said.

He had as little success at numerous other meetings he used to attend to seek action related to drilling impacts.

“The only things that changed at any of those meetings were the names of the victims,” he said.

Thompson said Houpt agreed to visit his home next week.

He said energy companies are very accommodating when it comes to offering tours of their facilities to public officials.

“Of course, they take them to the sites they want them to see. I’ll show her the ones she needs to see. It’s a very different thing,” he said.