Salazar listens to concerns about energy industry
U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., on Friday promised to address concerns about local energy industry impacts, saying that some have called the Western Slope the Saudi Arabia of North America for its oil.In a stop at Rifle City Hall on a three-day tour throughout the Western Slope, Salazar listened to representatives from Garfield County, the city of Rifle, the towns of Parachute and Silt, and EnCana Oil & Gas USA. “The energy boom is here and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Salazar told the crowd. “But let’s use it to our benefit and for the benefit of the community. Let’s do it in a responsible way.”The congressman’s Rifle visit came on the heels of Salazar’s vote to pass the Energy Conference Report bill on July 28. The bill promotes what Salazar calls the “responsible use of our natural resources” – which includes developing the natural gas and oil shale reserves of western Garfield County. Salazar voted against the bill in April, but approved the revised bill, which in its final version also encourages the use of agricultural crops as renewable energy resources, and makes companies responsible for any groundwater contamination they may create. Impacts to local communitiesLocal government leaders expressed to the congressman the development of natural resources affects people living amid the gas production areas of western Garfield County. Rifle, Silt and Parachute representatives voiced many of the same concerns about energy development – mainly increased traffic and increased use of roads. Concerns about infrastructure, water and socioeconomic impacts were also discussed. “We are experiencing a great deal of growth and we attribute that to several factors,” Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert said. “But the primary factor is the energy-related industries coming to the community.”Lambert said the city is building roundabouts to handle increased traffic. He said Rifle has to make improvements to its water and wastewater treatment plants – all to handle the impacts of growth from the gas industry.Not only are local communities dealing with the impacts of increased natural gas development, a resurgence in oil shale production is also looming large on the horizon.”We know that oil shale is coming back and we’d like some kind of legislation to promote the research and development to level that out,” Lambert said. “The boom-bust cycles are not healthy for this community and not healthy for this county. (The bust) hurt, and it hurt for about 20 years. Any direction on the federal level to help offset that would be certainly welcomed in this area.”Infrastructure lackingWater is one of the main concerns of the town of Silt, according to Silt Town Administrator Rick Aluise. He said town officials are concerned that the oil and gas industry was exempt from the federal Clean Water Act. “If there is no contamination, why are they not abiding by the regulations?” Aluise said. “Frankly, sometimes we’re at our wit’s end. We’re at a loss as to how to deal with this.”Parachute officials know what it’s like to live through the oil shale boom of the late 1970s. Because no infrastructure was in place, workers were forced to live in culverts and under bridges due to lack of housing and services when oil shale employees came to town.”We’re still recovering from the last big boom,” said Parachute town clerk Juanita Satterfield. “They advertised that jobs were there, and there was a huge influx of people.” Garfield County inputHaving adequate infrastructure to handle increased numbers of oil and gas workers includes planning for transportation, affordable housing, economic development and immigration. Garfield County Commissioner Trési Houpt said the county has not been able to keep up with traffic issues, a direct result of the energy industry’s increased work force here. “We need to look very closely at our transportation system and not just the highway system,” Houpt said. “CDOT needs to recognize the impact communities are facing with the energy industry and other industries.”Randy Russell, senior long-range planner for Garfield County, pointed out that communities such as New Castle, Silt, Rifle and Parachute-Battlement Mesa, have historically provided affordable housing, but now face dramatic growth as a result.Bring it back to Congress”That EnCana is part of the problem is a moot point,” said EnCana’s Sher Long, who’s in charge of surface owner relations in western Garfield County. “But EnCana is absolutely dedicated to be a part of the solution. I’m very familiar with your issues and concerns.”When asked what he would do with the information he received during the meeting, Salazar replied that he would bring the concerns back to Congress.”We need to start addressing the needs and the specific needs,” Salazar said. “We have to bring this to Congress.”
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