Residents decry plan to drill on Silt Mesa |

Residents decry plan to drill on Silt Mesa

John Colson
Post Independent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Apparently swayed by citizen anger, the Garfield County commissioners will hold a special meeting on Nov. 9 in Rifle to talk about gas drilling on Silt Mesa.

A half-dozen or so residents of Silt Mesa appeared before the board of county commissioners on Monday to object to a plan by Antero Resources to vastly increase the density of drilling in their neighborhood.

The company has applied to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to step up the density from its current level, one well per 160 acres, to one well per 10 acres.

The company has stressed repeatedly that the increased density deals with bore holes underground, and does not indicate plans for one gas-drilling operation per 10 acres on the surface.

But those speaking at the meeting indicated skepticism about the company’s claims that the increased well density should not cause them concern.

“I’m scared to death,” said Sandy Pickard, pointing to a recent stop-work order that the county imposed on an Antero pipeline project near Silt, amid charges that the project was being done in a sloppy and hazardous fashion.

If the company has such difficulties laying pipe in shallow trenches, Pickard asked, “we’re supposed to have confidence that they can drill over a mile deep into formations that have never been drilled before?”

She said she is worried about chemicals used in the gas drilling process known as “hydraulic fracturing,” or “frac’ing,” in which huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected into bore holes to break up deep rock formations and allow gas and oil to flow more easily to the surface.

“If they won’t tell me what’s in it,” she said of the makeup of the frac’ing fluids, “I can’t feel it’s safe for me.” Some of the chemicals used are carcinogenic, although industry representatives have argued that the quantities involved are too small to affect human health.

Industry sources also have consistently claimed that information on frac’ing chemicals is available, although studies have concluded that the information referred to is incomplete.

“We’re most concerned about protecting our water,” said Nikki Fender, another Silt Mesa resident. “Increasing the well density will affect all who live up there, not to mention Rifle’s watershed.”

She said more well bores, regardless of whether they’re drilled from a central well pad or not, will mean more frac’ing and more potential for contamination of the area’s groundwater.

Nina Sonnier, another neighbor, told of growing up in the “gas lands” of Louisiana, with a well a quarter of a mile away from her family’s home.

Her sister, while in high school, developed lung cancer and died within a year of being diagnosed, she said emotionally.

“That personal experience,” she said, “alarms me, living on Silt Mesa.”

Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who sits on the COGCC, conceded that the neighbors’ concerns have not made much of an impression on the COGCC so far.

“Most of my colleagues still look at it as a technical question,” she said.

The Nov. 9 meeting is to be held at Colorado Mountain College’s West Campus, near the Garfield County Airport, starting at 8 a.m.