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In Huerfano County, the possibility of a fracking boom has been on the minds of residents for a while now. While some have welcomed the oil and gas industry with open arms, others are worried about what this might mean for their communities. For this month’s episode of Western Skies, we told the story of a group of concerned citizens in Huerfano County, called the Citizens for Huerfano County, and the challenges they’ve faced in their attempts to be heard.

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As is always the case when putting together a short piece on such a big and complex issue, a lot of interesting material was left on the production room floor. So, we decided to compile some more clips that didn’t make it into the final story, but which help paint a fuller picture of the issue in Huerfano County.

Jack Yule, Jim McCain, Roz McCain, and Jeff Briggs look south from the McCains' property, toward Shell's Freeman well, where preliminary drilling took place in November of 2012.

(left to right) Jack Yule, Jim McCain, Roz McCain, and Jeff Briggs look south from the McCains’ property, toward a well site where preliminary drilling took place in November of 2012.

For Jim McCain, Roz McCain, and Jack Yule, residents of Gardner and members of Citizens for Huerfano County, the prospect of oil and gas development in the area is troubling. For these three, Gardner is a refuge, a place perfectly suited for contemplation and quiet living. As Jim McCain explains, the serene setting has attracted people to Gardner from all over the world:

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Huerfano County has long appealed to people seeking a simpler life. In the sixties and seventies, the area became an unlikely mecca for beatniks, hippies, poets, and intellectuals either visiting or living at one of several well known local communes. Roberta Price, a former resident at the Libre commune–which is just down the road from the McCains’–talks about the many countercultural experiments that took place in the region at that time:

Jack Yule has been building a house near the McCains’ for over a decade. He fears that oil and gas discoveries nearby could undermine the investment that he and his wife have made in their life out here…

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While Yule and the McCains are primarily worried about possible changes in quality of life brought about by oil & gas drilling in the area, Jeff Briggs raises another concern. He’s lived in the county for four decades, and has seen how it’s been transformed by drought. He wonders what might happen if the oil & gas industry is allowed to use substantial quantities of water for drilling operations in the region…

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Jeff Briggs Surveys the mountains behind the McCains' house.

Jeff Briggs Surveys the mountains behind the McCains’ house.

The Citizens for Huerfano County filed a legal complaint against Shell and the COGCC, claiming that they failed to follow the established procedure for public notification when Shell submitted its first drilling application for a well outside of La Veta. A judge ruled generally in favor of Shell and the COGCC in the case. However, even if the rules were followed, many members of Citizens for Huerfano County say that the permit application process is confusing, and that it can be difficult for citizens to figure out how to get involved. COGCC location assessment supervisor, Greg Deranleau, explains the process:

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Though each county has a “local government designee” appointed to update the public about new permit activity, members of Citizens for Huerfano County say that the best way to stay informed is to regularly check the COGCC’s website. New permits are listed in the “permit” section of the site, which is searchable by county.

 

2 Responses to Fracking in Huerfano County: A Closer look

  1. norma says:

    I was wondering if there is a place to follow up with drilling violations? I received an alert from skytruth
    for El Paso County, but haven’t seen any follow up.

    http://alerts.skytruth.org/report/7fd18bf9-d6d9-384a-b8b8-da98e544290b

  2. Keli Kringel says:

    Hi norma –

    You can find violation reports on the COGCC web site by:
    1. Going to http://cogcc.state.co.us
    2. Click on ‘Help’ (left menu)
    3. Click on “API County Codes” to find your county code(El Paso is 041)
    4. Click on ‘Database’ (left menu)
    5. Click on Inspection/Incident
    6. Click on ‘NOAV’, enter your county code, click on Submit
    7. Click on the Document number link to view the NOAV report

    (Easy as pie?)

    It says that on Dec 17 HILLCORP ENERGY COMPANY had a tank failure and 2-3 million gallons of water washed part of the pad into a nearby pasture. The company had not installed the required erosion controls which were part of their application’s “Best Management Practices”, and were in violation of COGCC rules.

    The COGCC requested an accident report and remediation plan in 10 days. That would have been due end of last year, but that document (a form 22) is not showing up there now with the NOAV. Some more searching (perhaps under the Images data) may turn it up if you are really talented, else, call the COGCC.

    Skytruth, now that’s an alert from a small non-profit relying on volunteers/citizens and citizen contributions? If not for things like that, how do people find out about accidents in their area or new well permits?

    The state would have you believe your LGD tells you. First, not all counties have an LGD; they are optional, not mandatory. Most counties currently have at least one, but not all, and it’s not required (Huerfano currently doesn’t). If there is an LGD, they should always, by COGCC rules, get notice from the COGCC of new well applications, but it doesn’t always work. It didn’t in the case of Citizens for Huerfano County even though they did have an LGD at that time. If the LGD gets a notice, whether he/she informs the public, and/or takes issues from the public to the COGCC at all, is entirely up to them and the officials they work for…

    Can you rely on your LGD? Give them a call and find out their position, policies, and practices on notifying about new well applications, violations, incidents etc. Their contact information is on the COGCC web site too. If you can reach them, you might be able to find out how real the “LGD solution” is for your locale currently.

    Otherwise, if you aren’t getting notified/heard, you currently have no choice but to learn how to navigate (like above) and then search the COGCC website regularly yourself for information, or set up a citizens group (like Skytruth, or Citizens for Huerfano County) to do it.

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