Thursday, November 17, 2011

Huerfano County Oil and Gas Regs Not Enough

Walsenburg, CO – The Huerfano County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted unanimously yesterday to adopt oil and gas regulations following a boisterous public hearing in which dozens of residents expressed concerns that the regulations don't go far enough to protect the citizenry from the harmful effects of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

“These regulations may have been the best in Colorado in 1997, but are they adequate in 2011 to protect citizens from fracking in a high risk geological environment for drilling like Huerfano County?” asked Sandy Borthick, a member of Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC), a 400 member strong group that recently formed to watchdog new oil and gas activities in the County.

Huerfano County initially adopted the regulations in 2009 after Coal Bed Methane (CBM) drilling caused widespread problems  including explosions, contaminated drinking wells, water depletions and decimation of a local dairy farm. 

At the time the commissioners titled the regulations to only apply to CBM.  According to County Planner Steve Channel, the BOCC didn’t want to apply the regulations to “deeper drilling that had been operating for years in the county without incident.”  Those drilling operations included several natural gas wells and a large CO2 gas well complex. 


Commissioner Roger Cain said the County "can't afford a lawsuit so we have to use regulations, like La Plata County's, which have already been proven in court", but the BOCC has already used county funds to join a lawsuit on the side of defendants Shell and the COGCC against plaintiffs CHC.

With a new wave of oil and gas development gathering, citizens concern is mounting.   Since 2009 almost 40,000 acres of BLM mineral rights have been leased for oil and gas development in the County.  

Earlier this year, the County granted a conditional use permit to Shell Western Exploration and Production, Inc. (SWEPI), a unit of Royal Dutch Shell, to drill a 14,500-foot-deep, hydraulically-fracked, multi-zone exploratory well near the town of La Veta despite widespread objections and calls for a moratorium on drilling.


 On Oct 11th, the County Planning and Zoning commission passed a motion to "recommend that the existing Oil and Gas Regulations be reviewed, additional questions (for example: performance bonding) or other applicable issues be investigated and the regulations be amended at a later time, if applicable."  When CHC President Keli Kringel reminded all present at the hearing of that, Commissioner Scott King stated, "for the record, no decision has been made about that."

Ranchers, biologists, health professionals and others voiced concerns about road and water impacts, wildlife, health impacts of unregulated toxic emissions and the need to protect the areas tourism and recreational values, but La Veta resident Ken Saydak spoke for many when he said, “We don't want our communities to become another industrial sacrifice zone.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Coal Bed Methane vs Deep Shale Gas/Oil: Is Deeper Safer?

Shell says deep drilling – as far as 14,500 feet below the surface is much safer than coal bed methane (CBM).  Citizens for Huerfano County reviews the scientific and empirical evidence below that suggests deeper is NOT safer.

In 1998 Petroglyph Energy, Inc. began developing the CBM Little Creek Field near the River Ridge Ranch subdivision between Walsenburg and La Veta, eventually completing more than 50 wells.  Wells depths ranged from  1,300 to 3,900 feet deep.  Fewer than 10 non-CBM wells have also been drilled by Manzano, LLC since that time.

Shawn Fiorentino inspects his mother's well after a methane explosion
CBM disaster 

Contrary to the industry’s repeated promise of jobs and prosperity, CBM ushered in an era that, in 2008, Rep. John Salazar described as “appalling and dire.”

The disastrous details are all too familiar to the residents of River Ridge Ranch and other rural Coloradans who live with oil and gas development. According to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) records, the state agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry:
  • Petroglyph produced huge amounts of water but very little gas, drawing local water tables down more than 2,000 acre feet per year (Colorado Geological Survey, 2007). 
Broad industry exemptions to the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund Act and other laws, have allowed the release of untold amounts of contaminated CBM production waste into regional air and water sheds.

In 2007, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission issued a rare Cease and Desist Order to Petroglyph until it could operate "in a manner that protects [the] public health and safety".  Earlier this year, Petroglyph announced it was pulling out of Huerfano County, leaving the problems outlined above and a mountain of unresolved questions about the long-term health, water resource and environmental effects of CBM extraction, in its wake.

Enter Royal Dutch Shell 

Just as Petroglyph is plugging wells and preparing to leave, Shell Western Exploration and Production, Inc., (SWEPI), a division of Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s second largest petroleum company, began leasing  mineral rights and conducting seismic testing in Huerfano County.

In Spring 2011, Shell proposed a 14,500-foot deep exploratory well near the town of La Veta.  If an economically feasible discovery is made, this could usher in a new wave of oil and gas development in Huerfano.

Shell insists it will avoid the problems of CBM by drilling thousands of feet below ground and drinking water sources.

Is deeper safer? Or could Shell’s 14,500-foot deep natural gas drilling result in the same kinds of problems (or worse) as Petroglyph’s 2,000-foot deep CBM wells? 

A clue to the movement of methane gas (and other frack-related substances) into the water wells in River Ridge Ranch lies in the areas unique and complex geology. Dramatic 100-foot tall radial dikes extend broadly from the base of Spanish Peaks down into the valley to the east. Both the dikes and the Spanish Peaks were formed when hot magma pushed up through the layers of sedimentary rock that contain oil and gas shales and water.

The result, according to hydrologist Thad McLaughlin, an expert on Huerfano County ground water, is "shale that normally has little or no permeability may be highly permeable where it lies adjacent to the intrusive rocks [i.e. dikes]”.

Thus, the dikes create conduits between geological zones, otherwise assumed to be isolated (Fig. 4 below illustrates how dikes cross through different strata).

Worrall, 2004. Figure 4. Cross-section of Oakdale field, depicting a felsite intrusive body along a shallow thrust (pg. 6).
How deep the dikes go is unknown, but because they are derived from magma, they are certain to extend several miles down. In 2009,  Spoon Valley Energy lost control of the drill-head when it struck an intrusive dike 6,200 feet below the surface while drilling for gas near La Veta.

"Leaky dikes" (McLaughlin, 1966, Barkman, 2004), previously undetected faults (USGS, 2001) and sand channels (Denney, 2007), are three types of conduits that could allow contaminants and fracking fluids to migrate in unexpected ways.  Without a better scientific understanding of the risks of drilling and fracking in Huerfano's complex geological environment, Shell's claim that "deeper is safer" is unfounded.

The potential for oil and gas drilling to dislodge and release naturally occurring, but highly toxic substances like hydrogen sulfide (known seeps occur on Middle Creek Road, Indian Creek and Sulphur Springs Road west of La Veta) and radioactive vanadium and uranium (there are 11 known radioactive occurrences in Huerfano County, Minedat.com) is also troubling, especially since the EPA and COGCC don't require monitoring of radioactive substances in flow back or production fluids.

Many impacts from oil and gas activities occur on the surface, irrespective of the depth of the well. Deep drilling and fracking require enormous water and chemical inputs that must be trucked over rural back roads increasing the danger of surface spills and accidents. A 2008 ProPublica investigation found more than 1,000 documented cases of contamination in the US, including cases in Huerfano County.

Pollution from flowback and open production water pits leak and are subject to flooding. Even worse, they release harmful chemicals into the air we breathe. 

On top of all this, fracking uses an average of 5.3 million gallons of water per well.  What impact will a new gas and oil play have on Huerfano's already stretched water resources?   This important question will be the subject of a future post.

Researched and written by Ceal Smith, Terra Consulting (ceal @ theriver dot com)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This Saturday: Occupy Alamosa & "Talk Straight to Adams State"


Two events in Alamosa this Saturday, Oct 15th could mark a change in the usual quiet tenor of small-town southern Colorado!  

Starting at 10 am, join the solidarity march for the occupy wall street protests! Meet at Cole Park in Alamosa at 10am, and march to campus from there. Bring your signs, chants, and enthusiasm! Everyone is welcome to come! The more the better! To find out more about the occupy wall street movement, see http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/occupywallstreet. (posted by Emmo L├╝tringer on Facebook)

Then at 1 pm, join in on a community discussion hosted by ASC Community Partnerships: "Talk Straight to Adams State" - “Oil and Gas Drilling: A Winning Proposition or A Risk We Can’t Afford to Take?” Key note speakers include Lance Astrella, Travis Yee, and Gilbert Armenta will start at 1pm with a panel discussion following, allowing for audience interaction.

Mr. Astrella concentrates his practice in the area of energy and environmental matters. He was named as one of Colorado’s “Super Lawyers”.

Mr. Yee graduated from Colorado School of Mines with a bachelor’s in economics and a masters in international political economy of natural resources. Mr. Yee is employed by Colorado's Oil & Gas Association.

Armenta, a fifth generation Hispanic and Native American (Cochiti) rancher, has lived with the industry in his backyard for more than half a century in Bloomfield, New Mexico.

The free and open to the public, event will include music by Wildwood Sounds. Key note speakers will join other panel members, from a variety of perspectives, including Christine Canaly, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council director; Gopa Ross, La Veta property owner, and Sierra Club director; Dr. Ed Lyell, Adams State professor of finance and economics.

For more information contact ASC Community Partnerships at: (719) 587-8209.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Citizens for Huerfano County in the news

Shell’s natural gas play in Colorado raises issues of local versus state input, control

Citizen advocates in Huerfano County fuming over state permit
By David O. Williams | 10.03.11 | 11:23 am
For decades, Royal Dutch Shell – Europe’s largest energy company – has been known in Colorado as the king of oil shale research, spending an estimated $200 million on an experimental and controversial extraction process that has yet to be proven commercially viable.

But Shell and its American subsidiaries have increasingly been moving into natural gas drilling in the United States, including a well permit pulled in southern Colorado that has touched off a firestorm of debate over state versus local control of drilling operations and just how much public input should be allowed.

The company also acquired natural gas leases in northwestern Colorado when it purchased Pennsylvania-based East Resources for $4.7 billion last year – a move Shell CEO Peter Voser said fit with company plans to “grow and upgrade” its shale gas holdings in North America. Because while oil shale remains years if not decades away from viability, shale gas is quite lucrative right now.

“We do have additional leasehold in northwest Colorado – Moffat and Routt counties, specifically,” Shell’s Kelly op de Weegh told the Colorado Independent. “We’re still in an early phase of development and have not yet begun drilling operations. We are currently upgrading the existing field facilities to Shell’s stringent safety and operational standards.”

Those standards are precisely what citizen advocates in Colorado’s Huerfano County (CHC) are concerned about. A group called Citizens for Huerfano County filed a lawsuit in July seeking to vacate a state permit issued to Shell Western Exploration and Production to drill and hydraulically fracture a natural gas well in the area.
The group argues both the county commissioners and the state did not properly inform them of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) permit or allow public input.

“CHC members are infuriated that neither the COGCC nor the county commissioners think they have any obligation to inform the public or to allow them any meaningful role in the permitting process — even though it is the residents of Huerfano County who will be dealing with well impacts,” CHC attorney Julie Kreutzer said in a press release.
Read the full story here.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mon. Sept 26: Josh Joswick talk on "County Rights to Regulate Oil & Gas Development"

CHC Presents: Josh Joswick
Staff Organizer, Colorado Energy Issues, San Juan Citizens Alliance, talk on:
"County Rights to Regulate Oil & Gas Development"
Monday, Sept 26th
7 PM
La Veta Community Center

La Veta, CO

Josh brings nearly 20 years of experience in dealing with the oil and gas industry to the position of Oil and Gas Issues Organizer. He served three terms as a La Plata County Commissioner from January 1993 to January 2005; in that capacity, locally he worked to see that La Plata County’s oil and gas land use regulations were not only enforced but expanded to protect surface owners’ rights. Josh has dealt with numerous agencies, and legislative and Congressional elected officials, to uphold the rights of local governments to exercise their land use authority as it pertained to oil and gas development, and to assert the right of local government to address the environmental impacts of oil and gas development.

Huerfano county commissioners and planning and zoning commissioners have been invited to this informative talk to learn about what  county officials can and have done in other counties.

There will be a Q&A period after the talk.

For more information on San Juan Citizens Alliance see their website: http://www.sanjuancitizens.org

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SEPT 28: Denver No Frack Rally & EPA Public Hearing

State-wide NO FRACK Rally 
& Public Hearing 
on the EPA Proposed Air Pollution Rules
NEXT WEDNESDAY, Sept 28th, the EPA is holding a hearing on fracking (oil and gas extraction) and air quality.
The Oil and Gas industry has been exempt from EPA regulations that normally protect our air and water as well as our health, such as the Clean Air Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act, since 2005. This exemption, called the "Halliburton Loophole," is allowing highly toxic chemicals into our air, water and land and causing serious health impacts all over Colorado.  The Halliburton Loophole urgently needs to be closed! 
 
Colorado Convention Center
700 14th Street

DENVER, CO

Wed, September 28, 2011

***NO FRACK RALLY: 8:30-9:30 am***

Philadelphia had a thousand people and we can do even better for a one hour rally:  LET'S SUPERSIZE IT to send a clear message to the press, Governor Hickenlooper, our elected representatives and all of Colorado!

Meet near the front entrance of the Convention Center by 8:30 am and rally along Speer Blvd and around the Convention Center until 9:30 am.   The people on their way into the EPA hearing (including EPA reps) and on their way to work will see us.  Press conference at 9 am with a few representative speakers. 

***SIGN UP TO SPEAK at the EPA HEARING***
The proposed rule will require the first federal fracking air standards and reduce volatile organic compound (VOC), sulfur dioxide and other oil & gas air toxics emissions.
Hearing/testimony: 
9-12:30 pm,  2-5 pm & 6:30 - 8 pm
RSVP to Joan Rogers, email: rogers.joanc@epa.gov 
or call (919) 541-4487 no later than 2:00 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, 2011.

Please  provide the time you wish to speak (morning, afternoon or evening),
name, affiliation, address, email address and telephone.

Questions concerning the proposed rule should be addressed to Bruce Moore at:
moore.bruce@epa.gov or call (919) 541-5460.

Oral  testimony will be limited to 5 minutesProvide EPA with a written copy of your oral testimony electronically (via email or CD) or in hard copy form. Written statements and supporting information submitted during the comment period will be considered with the same weight as any oral comments and supporting information presented at the public hearing.

If you would like free overnight housing in Denver email Sonia, here.

Can't attend or testify?
SUBMIT WRITTEN COMMENTS
DEADLINE: Oct. 24, 2011

All comments should be referenced to:
Docket ID Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505:

To submit online comments:
Go to Federal eRulemaking Portal and follow the instructions:

 


E-mail: A-and-R-Docket@epamail.epa.gov
 

Fax: (202) 566-9744
 

Snail Mail:
Attention Docket ID Number EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, 

Washington, DC 20460
Please include TWO copies plus mail a copy of your comments on the information collection provisions to:

Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, 

Office of Management and Budget
Attn: Desk Officer for the EPA
725 17th Street, NW., Washington, DC. 20503
More information:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Citizens protest BLM oil and gas lease sale

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to lease over 8,000 acres in Huerfano County for oil and gas development in its November 10, 2011 quarterly lease sale in Denver (see the Sept. 1st post for details).  The lease sale places fourteen parcels in 4 areas of the county on the auction block, including much of Mount Meastas and Black Hills and several thousand acres near Wahotoya and Gardner.

Although this is the third BLM lease sale involving land in Huerfano County since 2008, the lease sale caught many residents of Huerfano County by surprise.   Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC) learned of the proposed sale only a few weeks before the Sept. 12 deadline to respond.

With little time to waste, CHC decided to file a formal protest on all 14 parcels being offered.  According to the BLM rules, parcels may be withdrawn or deferred if new information becomes available to the agency that was not previously identified prior to the lease sale.

In pouring over the draft BLM Environmental Assessment (EA), comments very generously shared by the Center for Native Ecosystems and Division of Wildlife and new information coming to light about impacts from oil and gas development,  CHC consultant Ceal Smith was able to identify numerous substantive reasons for the BLM to withdraw or defer all 14 of the Huerfano County parcels.  Most, however, centered around three main issues: 
  1. Inadequate analysis of impacts as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  One of the most glaring weaknesses of BLM's analysis is that it portends to only consider the effects of the lease sale, not the subsequent actions and impacts [i.e. potentially large scale oil and gas drilling!] enabled by the act of leasing as required by NEPA.  The BLM concluded there would be no significant adverse impacts on the local economy, air and water quality and other public health parameters yet they failed to provide concrete analysis or scientific evidence for such a conclusion.  Cumulative effects analysis and proposed safeguards and mitigation measures were also lacking.
  2. The need for BLM to take a "hard look" at new information concerning the environmental effects of the lease sale that were unknown or not included in the draft EA.  Here is where we asked the BLM to consider the mountains of new information coming to light about the health and air quality effects and earthquake hazards associated with fracking and drilling in the complex and unique geology of Huerfano County.
  3. Site-specific information that the BLM failed to consider in their initial analysis. For example, BLM didn't consider impacts on several sensitive species known to occur in Huerfano County including the endangered Canada lynx, Mexican Spotted Owl, Gray Vireo and greenback cutthroat trout.
In a great example of citizen science, Dale Lyons, a long-time resident of Gardner, rallied over 50 neighbors to file protests about the need to protect a Golden Eagle nest at Gardner Butte.  The nesting site has been known to the locals for as long as anyone can remember but missing from the BLM draft EA.

What happens next? 

The BLM is now required to resolve the issues raised in the protests.  They could defer or withdraw some or all of the parcels before the lease sale, or include them in the auction but notify bidders that the parcel is under protest and could be withdrawn at a later date.  It's difficult to predict what will happen, in some cases it can take the BLM years to resolve a protest issue, in other cases they are entirely dismissed.  In any case, our hope is that should issues and concerns come up with these parcels in the future, we will have established a solid record of citizen concerns.

You can view and download the full 17-page CHC protest here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

County Claims No Duty to Inform Citizens of Gas Drilling Permits

News Release, September 15, 2011

La Veta, CO -- On September 8, 2011, the Huerfano County Board of Commissioners, through County Attorney Garrett Sheldon, filed motions in Denver District Court asserting they are under no obligation to inform local citizens when they learn of state-level permit applications by oil and gas companies to drill new wells in their county.

The County’s action comes in response to a lawsuit filed July 8, 2011, by Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC), concerning a permit to drill a “fracked” natural gas well that was granted on June 9, 2011 by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to Shell Western Exploration and Production Inc (SWEPI), a unit of Royal Dutch Shell.

"CHC members are infuriated,” said Julie Kreutzer, CHC’s attorney, “that neither the COGCC nor the County Commissioners think they have any obligation to inform the public, or to allow them any meaningful role in the permitting process -- even though it is the residents of Huerfano County who will be dealing with well impacts."

The citizens want the permit vacated and the permit process restarted, so that they may provide public comment and have a public hearing with the COGCC to propose additional safeguards as conditions to the permit. Neither the public comment period nor the hearing were allowed in this case, although the public comment period is part of the COGCC’s rules governing the permit process, and citizens have a right to a public hearing according to a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in June, 2010, on a similar case, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance v COGCC.

While the Huerfano County citizens were scrambling to learn about the COGCC rules and how they missed being informed, the COGCC maintained that it couldn’t  find emails it had sent notifying  Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha of Shell’s application dated April 27, 2011, or of the subsequent June 9 approval.

Then the COGCC admitted that it failed to notify Galusha, but now Galusha states, in an affidavit attached to the County’s September 8th filing, that he was informed about Shell’s application on April 27th.   The filing also states that the citizens “mistakenly assert that notice to Mr. Galusha should trigger further notice to the citizens of the County. Notice to Galusha is notice to the Board of County Commissioners and no one else.”


For more information, contact Sandy Borthick with Citizens for Huerfano County, 719-742-5702 or borthick@amigo.net.

Also see:

Sept. 15, 2011 - Summit County Citizens Voice:  Colorado: County denies public comment on gas drilling

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Huerfano Frack Forum this Sunday

A SPECIAL FRACK FORUM 
with guest speakers:
Wes Wilson, Phil Doe & Shane Davis
 Sunday, Sept 11, 2011
2:00 - 4:00 PM
La Veta Library Meeting Room
La Veta, CO

Weston Wilson-the EPA employee that blew the whistle on EPA's faulty 2004 report on hydraulic fracturing.  He will be presenting: "Environmental Risks of Fracking for oil in Colorado -- The rush for oil from Niobrara Formation in Huerfano County."

Phil Doe-is a member of the Be the Change in Denver.  He will be presenting: “Cumulative demands for water for fracking in Colorado and the effects on communities and streams.”

Shane Davis - is a biologist and environmental researcher from Firestone, CO.  He will be presenting: “How to use the COGCC website to track drilling plans and spills-examples from Huerfano County.”
There will be a question and answer period at the end of the program.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Huerfano on the BLM oil and gas auction block

Unbeknownst to most people, the oil and gas industry has been nominating and buying up federal mineral rights all over Huerfano County over the last 3 years.   As of the end of 2010, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had auctioned more than 32,500 acres of federal mineral rights (including "split-estate").  Another 8,000 acres have been vetted for the upcoming Nov 10, 2011 BLM quarterly oil and gas lease sale.

The lease rush started out small.  In 2008, 1,080 acres in seven separate plots in a single parcel (#COC72467) between La Veta and Cuchara was auctioned by the BLM. The entire parcel was purchased by Wells Petroleum, in Golden, CO. for $75/acre.  These leases are "split-estate" because the surface is owned by a private entity while the federal government (or another private party) owns the rights to the subsurface mineral estate.

More information on this lease sale is available on the BLM oil and gas lease website here, and at: 
http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/oilandgas/leasing/sale_archive.html.

More information on split-estate is available here, or on the BLM website here.




The May 2009, BLM offered over 34,000 acres in Huerfano County (see map below) of which 31,537 acres were sold.  The vast majority of parcels were bought by or awarded to Hannon & Associates, Inc. in Denver, CO, but Wes State Lands Inc. in Casper, Wy and Spoon Valley Energy in Roswell, NM also purchased leases.

According to a 2009 report in the Huerfano World Journal, the sale, "Included over 3,000 acres west of La Veta, about 5,000 acres around Silver Mountain, and thousands of acres in the Gardner area both north and south of Hwy 69 and east and west of Gardner.  Also included is a 40-acre parcel owned by Deane and Patricia Merryman in about the middle of Navajo Ranch Resorts".

According to the Journal's report, "The Huerfano County Commissioners sent a letter to BLM protesting leasing 'near wilderness areas and environmentally sensitive areas within our county."


MAP KEY:  Yellow = BLM surface and minerals, Blue = State surface/federal minerals, White =  private surface/federal minerals, also called "split-estate" (see above).  

If you want more specific information about the size, location and buyer of the parcels sold in the May 2009 BLM Oil and Gas Lease, contact us here, or download the lease sale notice and final sale results from the BLM oil and gas leasing webpage here, or at:  http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/oilandgas/leasing/sale_archive.html

We just learned that the Nov. 10th, 2011 BLM lease sale includes another 8,000 acres in Huerfano CountyThe parcels are grouped into 4 main areas shown on the 4 maps below: Group 1: Gardener, Group 2: Mt. Maestas, Group 3: Black Hills and, Group 4: Wahatoya.








(Map source: page 118-121 of the Royal Gorge Nov 2011 Oil and Gas Lease draft EA: http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/co/information/nepa/royal_gorge_field.Par.23815.File.dat/DOI-BLM-CO-200-2011-0057_EA_OG_lease.pdf)  
 

This is the first BLM lease sale where the agency has conducted an Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to the actual lease sale.  This is a move by the Department of Interior to reduce the number of public complaints and formal protests generated by lease sales which have risen steadily over the last few years.  According to a 2010 EE News report, "Protesters -- including conservation and hunting groups, state and local governments, businesses and private individuals -- [said] protests are the only means for raising public concerns over impacts leases could have on wildlife habitat, air or water quality, or the loss of recreational or agricultural opportunities".

The 2011 Nov. Draft Oil and Gas Lease Sale EA, is available for download here, or go to: http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/oilandgas/leasing.html#November_10_2011

Unfortunately, the public scoping and the comment period for the draft EA ended on July 8, 2011, before the CHC was organized as a public interest nonprofit.  Filing a formal protest is the only recourse Huerfano County citizens have left to raise concerns about the proposed 8,000 acre lease sale.  But time is short;  Lease protests must be received by 4:00 pm on Sept 12, 2011.  


How to File a Protest
on the Nov. 10, 2011 BLM Oil & Gas Lease Sale
 
§  Protests for the Nov. 10, 2011 Competitive Oil & Gas Sale must be received by 4:00 PM on Sept. 12, 2011.
§  The protest must include any statement of reasons to support the protest. BLM will dismiss a late-filed protest; a protest filed without a statement of reasons, or a protest listing the internal 4-digit parcel ID number.
§  A protest must state the interest of the protesting party, their mailing address, and reference the specific COC 5-digit serial ID numbers that are being protested.
§  You may file a protest either by mail in hardcopy form or by telefax. You may not file a protest by electronic mail. A protest filed by fax must be sent to 303-239-3799. A protest sent to a different fax number or a protest filed by electronic mail will be dismissed.
§  If the party signing the protest is doing so on behalf of an association, partnership or corporation, the signing party must reveal the relationship between them. For example, unless an environmental group authorizes an individual member of its group to act for it, the individual cannot make a protest in the group’s name.
§  Mail protests with delivery confirmation in plenty of time to reach the BLM office by 4 PM on Sept. 12th, to:                                                                                                                                           
Bureau of Land Management
2850 Youngfield Street
Lakewood, CO  80215

For details on each parcel, go to the Lease Sale Notice, 2011, November 10 at:

And to the Royal Gorge Public Comment Environmental Assessment, available here, or at: http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/BLM_Programs/oilandgas/leasing.html#November_10_2011

For additional information on filing a protest and what it must include, see pages 6-7 (the pages are not numbered) of this document:


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Josh Fox at special Gasland screening, Adams State College, Alamosa, CO

Adams State College is on Main Street (it converges with Hwy 280 and Hwy 160) in Alamosa, just north of the NM border in the San Luis Valley, CO.
Sept 5th UPDATE:
2:40 - Josh Fox live on Skype 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Labor Day Benefit Concert: Huerfanos Against Fracking!

Y'all come for a day of great music and action

Labor Day (Sat., Sept. 3rd) from 1-7 pm in the La Veta Town Park

Many of our best local musicians are playing for the cause including:

Wilson & McKee, Chief Sitting Box, Clark Dimond, D&A, Jill Whitmore,
Steve Hohn, Jug Colangelo, Peggy Kemp-Henry, Jaquie Gibson
and many others!!!

Entry is by donation and all proceeds will go to Citizens for Huerfano County to help protect our beautiful county.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Update on COGCC/Shell lawsuit - CHC needs your help!

There's been a whirlwind of new activity on the Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC) lawsuit against the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and Shell Oil.  More details on the legal front are provided below.  In short, our case is strong and we are encouraged that either Shell's permit will be denied, or we will be granted a hearing and the opportunity to make a solid scientific case for much more stringent protections on the Shell Klikus well permit.  

At the same time, CHC is sending a strong signal to Shell and to our commissioners that the people of Huerfano County are not going to stand idly by and let the oil and gas industry endanger our health and safety. 

In addition to all the great outreach everyone is doing, we need your immediate help to raise at least $10,000 in the next few weeks to meet our current legal and expert consultant costs.   We are searching for deep-pocketed donors and organizations to which we can apply for grants, but for now, it is up to us.  Please give as much as you can to keep CHC's efforts going strong and to ensure the strongest protections possible for our communities!

There are two ways you can give:

Make a secure online PayPal donation
HERE 
Or, send a check written to: 
Citizens for Huerfano County 
P. O. Box 1193
La Veta, CO 81055.  
If you would like to talk to us about direct giving, please send an email 
with your phone number and a short message about your interest 
and we will contact you. 

More details on the legal front from CHC board member, Sandy Borthick:

On July 8, Citizens for Huerfano County filed suit in Colorado District Court against the COGCC and SWEPI (Shell Western Exploration and Production, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell). CHC is asking COGCC and Shell to go back to the beginning and conduct the application process according to COGCC rules and Colorado law, including allowing us to present our health and safety concerns directly to the COGCC.  Because the COGCC refused our right by law to publicly comment, they made our input impossible except through litigation.

Our case is straightforward, well-documented and it rests on solid state laws and legal precedent. We are confident of a fairly quick ruling in our favor by the District Court judge, and that the judge will require COGCC and Shell to do as we ask. This would give us the chance to present our concerns and our Seven Safeguards – much bolstered with additional scientific evidence – in a proper pre-approval hearing with the COGCC.  Our hope is that the COGCC will either deny the permit or impose adequate safeguards on the Klikus Well.  If they refuse, we could have grounds for additional legal recourse.

That’s the plan – but lawyers for COGCC and Shell have been busy too, and our County Commissioners have continued to act as if they work for Shell and for a few landowners who stand to benefit from Shell’s development – not for us.

In response to our lawsuit, the COGCC Director David Neslin sent Huerfano County Administrator and designated Local Government Designee (LGD), John Galusha, a letter on July 11th, admitting that the COGCC had failed to notify the county of Shell’s April 27th application to drill and the COGCC’s June 9th approval. The letter suspended Shell's permit approval for 20 days to give the County (but not the public) a chance to comment. Two days later, on July 13, the Huerfano County Commissioners unanimously voted not to provide additional comment. Within minutes, John Galusha wrote an email reporting this to the COGCC and saying the Commissioners hoped “the permit can be approved and move forward.”

On August 1, COGCC notified Galusha that it was re-instating the permit and Shell was free to “proceed with drilling.”  The Friday before, on July 29th,  the COGCC filed a motion to stay with the Colorado Court of Appeals on another, highly-relevant court case, Grand Valley Citizens Alliance (GVCA) v COGCC. About a year ago, the court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the GVCA on essentially the same claim we have – that the COGCC must hear public comment about permits to drill. The COGCC then appealed that to the Colorado Supreme Court, which granted certiorari, meaning they will hear it and rule on it (probably sometime later this year).

A motion to stay is a request that all lower courts stop legal proceedings until the higher court rules. This technique is used to get the other party to the bargaining table to resolve a case without further litigation, or simply as a delay tactic to postpone the matter in court.  In this case, the COGCC’s motion for stay in GVCA mentions our case, which makes it clear the COGCC is trying to stop our suit.

On August 4, our attorney filed a motion for partial summary judgment, asking the court to rule quickly on our behalf, and to take the COGCC’s move at the Court of Appeals as further proof that COGCC has no intention of allowing a public hearing, despite its own rules, Colorado law and the GVCA case as precedent.  In fact, COGCC has told the court that dealing with public hearings was “unduly burdensome” and “potentially a waste of time.”  Our lawyer also filed a Motion to Intervene in the Court of Appeals to tell the court that citizens groups like ours are damaged by a stay, because it could allow Shell to move forward on the project while we wait for a Colorado Supreme Court decision.

In another development, on August 2, Shell filed a motion to dismiss part of our case and to stay two other parts in District Court. On August 4, Shell sent a letter to Art Bobian, Huerfano County Commissioner, stating that they would not drill until the GVCA v COGCC case was decided, but that they planned to do “other work”  in the meantime to prepare for drilling.

On August 16, our attorney filed a response to Shell’s motion to dismiss/stay, and Shell immediately filed a motion to delay the hearing on our summary judgment filing. Clearly Shell wants to move ahead on the ground while dragging their feet in court. Huerfano County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) seem inclined to agree since, on August 8, they filed a motion to intervene in our lawsuit, through Huerfano County Attorney Garrett Sheldon. This motion doesn’t comment on the case; it is intended to establish the BOCC’s right to intervene.

During all this time, the COGCC has not responded directly to our lawsuit or our motion for summary judgement. Now (August 17), COGCC claims that -- through some machinations between the Colorado Attorney General’s office and the COGCC, and some strained interpretations of legal service rules --  the COGCC was not actually served with our initial lawsuit until August 3, and that they should have until late October to respond. Again, these are tactics designed to delay our case. Also on August 17, the Court of Appeals denied the COGCC’s motion to stay the GVCA (perhaps in response to our motion to intervene, or perhaps on procedural grounds).

We are fortunate to have a strong case and a strong attorney.  We are working to prepare for the COGCC hearing, which could happen as early as mid-September, but likely later. We will keep you informed as events unfold.  As board members of CHC, we are working hard on your behalf, but member involvement and support - PEOPLE POWER - are vital to our continued efforts! 

The CHC lawsuit includes a request for reimbursement of our legal costs by the defendants (COGCC and Shell).  After all, the people of Huerfano County should not have to take legal action against their own elected and appointed officials in order to have those officials listen to them and help them to protect their health and safety.  In the mean time, we must pay our attorney as well as the other experts we've been able to get to assist us.  We currently owe $10,000 in legal fees.   We would be most grateful for any help you can give us to pay these costs.

If you would like additional information, please call Keli Kringel at (719) 742-5538 or Sandy Borthick at (719) 742-5702.

Sandy Borthick, on behalf of Citizens for Huerfano County

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Citizens Unite to Protect Huerfano County

In late April 2011 Shell Oil filed an incomplete application for a permit to drill the 14,500’ deep Klikus exploratory well 2 miles west of the Town of La Veta. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission quickly granted a permit without properly notifying the official contact for Huerfano County, John Galusha, who is charged with notifying the general public. This lack of notice effectively preempted a public hearing as required by COGCC rules. 

The public became aware of Shell’s drilling plan when the County Commissioners approved a water sale between Walsenburg and Shell for roughly 1.5 million gallons to be used for the first fracking of the Klikus well.  

On June 28th the Huerfano County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) held a joint public hearing with the Commissioners to ostensibly discuss conditions to be placed on the county’s conditional use permit (CUP) for the well.  Several hundred people attended the hearing.

Many expressed concerns and asked the P&Z to recommend a moratorium until pending fracking studies are complete and adequate regulations adopted, including the Seven Safeguards proposed by Citizens for Huerfano County.  They are: a sufficient bond relative to the risks, 3-D seismic and geochemical surveys prior to drilling, full disclosure and use of non-toxic fracking chemicals, no pit, no flaring, and air and water baseline testing and monitoring.  

The P&Z rejected these reasonable appeals from citizens and hurriedly forwarded its recommendation for approval to the Commissioners, who approved the CUP the next day. On July 12th, the P&Z approved a Shell proposal for a so-called 'communications' committee giving themselves the sole power to appoint citizen representatives and using Shell’s preferred professional facilitators.  The committee is to meet behind closed doors and not disclose its activities without Shell’s approval.

At every turn the public has been denied a voice in perhaps the most serious issue Huerfano County has ever faced -- drilling and fracking deep formation wells like those that have degraded the air, water and health of people in Silt and Rifle, Colorado, Pinedale Wyoming, Pennsylvania, New York and many other places around the world.

A DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

If Shell makes a significant new discovery, the Klikus well could mark the beginning of a much larger oil and gas rush that could quickly transform Huerfano County.  

The rush to approve the Klikus well without informing or involving the public, and without adequate safeguards for our health, safety and environment, sets a dangerous precedent.  

Without adequate protections in place, Huerfano County could become another oil and gas sacrifice zone like so many other communities in Colorado.  

It’s up to us to protect our health and safety and that is what Citizens for Huerfano County is all about.

To this end, CHC has filed a lawsuit against the COGCC and Shell, demanding a full public hearing and review of the Klikus well application as required by law.  

We are asking for a more thorough review of important details hitherto ignored by COGCC, including: the area’s unstable soils, the proximity of the drilling site to sensitive riparian and wetland habitats and gas seeps, and the risks associated with drilling in the poorly understood, unique and complex geology of the area.  CHC is also developing plans for citizen monitoring of air, water and community health impacts.