Saturday, May 12, 2012

Heads Up! Oil and Gas Development in Huerfano County

     There is a belief in America that, as citizens, our voices count. Yet, decisions in Huerfano County are made by the oil and gas industry, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), and the Huerfano Board of County Commissioners. Local citizens need to be informed and their input considered.

      What follows are factual materials researched and presented to you by your neighbors who wish to protect their homes, land and life investments here. This paper represents a grassroots effort by numerous Huerfano County residents. Please read and digest this information, and use it to make your own informed decisions about what is best for our county. Remember that Shell is projecting this to be a 30-year project. Protect Your Private Property!

For many of us, our homes represent our largest and most secure financial asset. They ground us emotionally and physically, and are the security link between our pasts and futures. But, the oil and gas industry can change all of this rapidly, and it doesn't matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a rancher or a retiree.

Oil and gas technologies are exempt from key provisions of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and environmental protections we have taken for granted.1

They utilize over 500 chemicals, many of which are highly toxic and known to cause cancer and disrupt the endocrine system (the body's main regulatory system).2, 3 The drilling technique hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") is commonly used in coal-bed methane and deep-shale natural gas drilling. Fracking has been implicated in the contamination of surface waters, aquifers and individual wells across the nation.4 Air quality has likewise been compromised, creating serious, ongoing health problems for people living near large industrial well sites.5 The award-winning documentary Gasland graphically depicts what home and landowners in rural and municipal areas are experiencing. If you haven't seen it, do! (Available at Netflix, Amazon or your local library). Besides air and water quality issues, in Colorado, New England, Ohio, Arkansas and Oklahoma, earthquakes have been conclusively linked to waste-water injection wells.6

85% of the land in Colorado has split estates, that is, the surface rights and the subsurface minerals rights have separate ownerships.When many of us purchased our homes, we unknowingly purchased only the surface rights—the trees, meadows, streams, and views that fed our souls. If someone else owns or leases the underground mineral rights, these mineral
right owners or lessees can bring companies onto our property, set up an industrial mining operation and remove the minerals, regardless of the fact that we live there.

Both the county and COGCC can impose regulations on the oil and gas industry, so that health and safety precautions are observed, and dangerous practices, like fracking, are regulated. Gunnison County Commissioners recently won a court decision, preserving their right to help regulate industry in their county to preserve the health and safety of their
citizens.La Plata County Commissioners similarly prevailed in court regarding their right to regulate industry.9 Ask your county commissioners to strengthen our regulations with regard to public health and safety. Demand that candidates for county commissioner commit to stronger, enforceable county-level health and safety regulations!

There are measures you can take to protect your home and land from turning into an industrial wasteland. Become informed about your property rights, so that when you are approached by an industry representative, you will not sign a lease or surface use agreement that gives them broad permission to do anything they want. Ask for time to research surface owner rights before you sign anything. Ask for appropriate operating and cleanup procedures. Ask for a performance bond that will cover damages and the actual cost of cleanup to restore your property to its previous condition when they are finished. To find out what items are negotiable:

First, learn about your own mineral rights, whether you own them or someone else does. (See for suggestions about how to research your mineral rights.)

Second, get a copy of "Oil and Gas at Your Door? A Landowner's Guide to Oil and Gas Development" from the Oil and Gas Accountability Project ($10 suggested donation—call (970) 259-3353 or online at It's a treasure trove of information that can save you thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees, and the heartache of missed opportunities.
It outlines what your private property rights are, and will guide you through the negotiating process, step by step.

Third, join with others who share your concerns. The 500-member Citizens for Huerfano County (CHC) is a non-profit organization that seeks to pool information and resources to protect our community. Their mission is to protect Huerfano County's health, safety and environment from the negative effects of oil and gas development. We cannot exist without clean air and water, and CHC is working hard to strengthen our county regulations before major damage is done. Please support them with your membership and donations. (CHC: PO Box 1193, La Veta, Colorado. 81055 or visit )

Fourth, document, photograph and report trespass, property damage and other violations to a public agency—Do not be intimidated! Call 911, the Sheriff's department, the county and state health departments, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (  Form 18). Only through public documentation can we stay informed, and insist on measures that will keep us safe.           

Effects of Fracking on Water

Oil and gas extraction can adversely affect domestic water supplies. The process of hydraulic fracturing is very water-intensive. On average, 5 million gallons of water are needed to perform one frack,10 where an arsenal of chemicals, sand and water are forced under high pressure a mile underground to shatter the rock formations and release trapped gas. Each well can be fracked 10 or more times, and a single drill pad may contain as many as 28 wells.11 Do the math!

Besides using massive amounts of water, each frack generates millions of gallons of contaminated flowback liquid containing industrial chemicals and salts, heavy metals and sometimes even naturally occurring radioactive material that can wash into the liquids. For more information, see According to Dr.Theo Colburn, TED-X: "In western states, it has been common practice to hold these liquids in open evaporation pits until the wells are shut down, which could be up to 25 years."12 

Neither private wells nor municipal water systems are designed to handle such toxic waste, so the operator may force the wastewater back underground into injection wells—a practice that has been associated with increasing earthquake activities across the nation, including Las Animas County.13 Operators can also dispose of it by percolating contaminated water into the ground or evaporating it into the atmosphere from open pits. Alternatively, closed loop, green completion methods could be used, which are much safer.14

The need for massive quantities of water for hydraulic fracturing has led the oil and gas industry to start purchasing water rights in the drought-prone Rocky Mountain West. Here in Huerfano County, Shell is actively buying senior water rights. Control and ownership of local water by multinational oil and gas companies, such as Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands), should concern everyone.

Hydraulic fracturing can and has polluted private wells and whole aquifers. Results from investigative and scientific studies counter the industry's assertions that fracking does not contaminate private wells and aquifers. ‘ProPublica’ reported that as early as 2008, the contamination of private well water in Sublette County, Wyoming was first proven. Tests of the foul-smelling brown water revealed the presence of the highly carcinogenic compound, benzene, a chemical commonly used in fracking, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people.15

In May, 2011, the National Academy of Sciences linked gas drilling with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some household faucets could be lit on fire. The study, conducted by four Duke University scientists,16 found dangerous levels of flammable methane gas in water wells close to oil drilling operations. Domestic wells and even homes have blown up from methane gas leakage.17 Methane contamination of drinking water wells is widespread, and impacts on more than 30 domestic water wells and a dairy farm operation are documented from Petroglyph Energy, Inc.'s coal bed methane activities here in Huerfano County.18, 19
A recently released draft EPA report on water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming confirmed that hydraulic fracturing chemicals had migrated from the drill bores and contaminated the aquifer.20 (Also see Scientific American, "Safety First, Fracking Second: drilling for natural gas has gotten ahead of the science needed to prove it safe.")21 For nearly a decade, residents of Pavillion had been complaining of toxic water that was killing their livestock and severely affecting their health. At last, these people have been vindicated in their struggle against the oil and gas industry. Unfortunately they still can't use the water.22

Health Impacts of Oil and Gas Development
Hydraulic fracturing fluids contain toxic chemicals that are being injected into and  near drinking water supplies. According to the EPA, toxic chemicals in fracturing fluids include substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, glycol ethers, hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide, and diesel fuel. Diesel fuel contains benzene,
ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals. These chemicals have known negative health effects such as respiratory, neurological and reproductive impacts, impacts on the central nervous system and cancer.23 The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc. (TED-X) recently documented health effects of 353 chemicals used in fracturing products. Many of the chemicals are neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system produces the chemical messengers and hormones which regulate all of our body functions. How serious this can be is illustrated in the following quotes:

"Unless the environmental load of synthetic hormone disruptors is abated and controlled, large scale dysfunction at the population level is possible."24

"Setting aside the effects of endocrine disruptors on infertility, and just considering their influence on intelligence and behavior alone, it is possible that hormone disruption could pose a more imminent threat to humankind than climate change."25

Social and Economic Effects of Oil and Gas Development

Oil and gas development is unlikely to bring social and economic prosperity! The reality found in communities where oil and gas development has occurred shows minimal job creation; at least 75% of workers come from out of state. With the influx of these migrating industry workers, there is an increase in crime with a strain on county jails and law enforcement. There is loss of tourism and recreation revenues as workers fill up motel rooms, and the local landscape becomes more industrialized. A strain on schools and an increase in the caseloads of mental health, drug and alcohol-abuse service providers can also be expected. The Boom and Bust impacts from oil and gas energy development have become known as the Gillette Syndrome, and are well documented. 26, 27

Well operation places a burden on local services. Studies have shown that in all cases, as the number of wells increases, the number of emergency runs directly increases. This requires more emergency vehicles and crews, even though many oil and gas companies have their own in-house emergency first responders, which are not included in public statistics. Modification of medical facilities is necessary to handle the toxic substances that are used in or result from drilling and fracking. Actual operation of the wells brings with it 895-1350 truckloads of materials28 to support each well, with an attendant increase in the number of roads
needed for these operations. Degradation of new and existing roads increases the burden on local taxpayers and county road crews which are responsible for them. Accidental fires at well sites have resulted in toxic flames up to 200 feet high, posing a risk to private property owners, and increasing the burden on local fire departments in a drought-stricken area. 24 hour/day flaring of excess gas during well completions can continue for weeks or months.29

Land owners face increased burdens from oil and gas development. Homeowners should be aware that insurance industry rules are changing with regard to obtaining mortgages and homeowner insurance in areas of oil and gas development. In some states, leasing the mineral rights to your land could result in the cancellation of your homeowner's insurance. Cancellation of homeowners insurance can be grounds for foreclosure due to noncompliance of mortgage terms. As a result of various contamination issues some insurance companies will not issue new homeowner's insurance upon the sale of property with mineral leases or drilling operations, making it difficult to sell your property.30 In addition, homeowners can be held responsible for the treatment of animals sickened by contaminated air, water and soil, and carcass removal when animals die. When drilling concludes, it is not uncommon for drilling companies to abandon wells and well sites, placing the burden of property cleanup and restoration on the owner. Average cost of cleanup ranges from $13,000 to $31,000 per well.31 

Effects of Oil and Gas Development on Wildlife and Livestock

(Excerpted/adapted from "Wildlife—No More Drilling in the Dark," National Wildlife Foundation)32
Water used in fracking is normally withdrawn from nearby wells, lakes, rivers, industrial or municipal water systems. Large scale water withdrawals may result in higher stream water temperatures and reduction of stream flow below levels acceptable for fish and other wildlife.

In a test conducted by the US Forest Service, 75,000 gallons of wastewater with fracking fluids were applied to the ground in a forested area ¼ acre in size. This resulted in the death of much of the area's plants. "During application, severe damage and mortality of ground vegetation was observed, followed about ten days later by premature leaf drop by overstory trees. Two years after fluid application, 56% of the trees within the application area were dead."
On the Pinedale Anticline in western Wyoming, researchers documented a 60% drop in mule deer populations in areas impacted by gas drilling operations.

Fracking fluid spills have also impacted domestic animals. Among numerous documented cases, in 2009, 17 cows were reported to have died in Louisiana, after rains washed fracking fluids into their grazing area. Clearly, wildlife would also be at risk from spills of fracking fluids, water contamination, or exposure to evaporation pits holding produced or flowback water. Wildlife and pets are known to be attracted to ethylene glycol, a common component of fracking fluids. In most cases, ingestion causes death.

Imagine the consequences of these fracking fluids migrating into irrigation ditches, springs and wells in Huerfano County ranch and grazing lands. Imagine the food chain in which we consume animals or other food grown on contaminated lands!

Additional Public Concerns
The BLM is managing our "public" lands for private, profit-making corporations.  The Bureau of Land Management, the federal bureau charged with the management of "public" lands, has in recent years leased tens of millions of acres in the Rocky Mountain West to the oil and gas industry. This policy change has enabled one of the biggest private land grabs in American history to occur, and effectively makes oil and gas development priority users of Western public lands, replacing traditional use of these lands for grazing, recreation, hunting, wildlife habitat and the preservation of pristine wild spaces for future generations.

Since 1984, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has leased 153,168,881 acres of Colorado public lands to the oil and gas industry.33 In Huerfano County 40,500 acres have been offered.34 Huge industrial complexes could be constructed in and around our public lands, effectively turning them into oil and gas factories. (Much of the gas is slated for export).35  As has happened elsewhere, our BLM lands could become a web of fenced-off production facilities, with staging areas, toxic holding ponds, drilling pads, flaring gas, noisy generators, bright 24 hour lights, and miles and miles of pipelines, transmission lines and roads. A provision of the 2005 Energy Bill (also known as the "Halliburton Loophole”)36 frees the oil and gas industry from complying with key public health and safety, wildlife, water and environmental protections.

Natural gas is NOT a clean source of energy. Far from being a solution to climate change, the process of removing gas through hydraulic fracking is a HUGE contributor of greenhouse gases when both methane and carbon dioxide are considered.37, 38 The escape of gases during the fracking process, especially methane, has conveniently been left out of the oil and gas industry's massive public relations and lobbying campaigns to convince Americans that shale gas, as a "bridge fuel," is the solution to our energy crisis, and a rosy future. Shale gas extraction is, in fact, dirtier than coal and is a bridge to nowhere.

Summary: Fracking and the Future of Water in Colorado

In spite of oil and gas industry assurances, no one knows how fracking will affect the future of Colorado. The documented health and safety risks are exceedingly high. We do know that at present our water reserves are about one-half of our state needs, due to drought conditions.39  We also know that the population of Colorado is expected to nearly double to upwards of ten million people by 2050.40 So how is the increased need for safe drinking water in our state going to be met?
Various proposals have projected that about 18% of our increased water needs will be met through agricultural transfers.41 This does not take potentially contaminated aquifers or replacement water for contaminated wells into consideration. How many of our agricultural water rights can Huerfano County sacrifice without affecting our quality of life? And given that we will probably have to sacrifice some of our water for state growth, can we really afford to risk any with fracking?

Reporting and Documenting Accidents and Violations

Document Who, Where, When and What.
Photograph and report trespass, property damage and other violations to a public agency, and to the
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Complaint Line: 1-888-235-1101
(They will give you a "document number" so you can track the complaint online.)
Medical,Vehicle and Fire Emergencies… Call 911 Trespass, Fence Cutting and Other Private Property Violations… Call 911
Air and Water Quality Issues… Call 911


Huerfano County Health Department 719-738-2650            Spanish Peaks Hospital Regional Health Center 719-738-5100
Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222                             Environmental Protection Agency 202-272-0167
Huerfano County Sheriff 719-738-1600                              Division of Parks and Wildlife 303-297-1192

Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment Emergency
24 hour Reporting Line: 877-518-5608 for any spills/dumping/pollution

1. Kosnik, R L. 2007 The Oil and Gas Industry's Exclusions and Exemptions to Major Environmental Statutes, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability
2 US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce 2011, Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing, Minority Staff Report, April 2011,
3 Colburn, Theo, et al., 2011, Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective, International Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment,
4 ProPublica, Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat, http/ 
5 Gruver,M. 2011 Wyoming Air Pollution Worse than Los Angeles Due to Gas Drilling, Huffington Post, March 9, 2011http://propublica,org/series/fracking  
6 Daly, J. 2011 US Government Confirms Links Between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing,, Nov. 8, 2011
7 See Earthworks, Split Estate Information, Chapter 2: Oil and Gas at Your Door: a landowner's guide to oil and gas development,
8 Williams, D. 2012 Oil and gas activist groups buoyed by Gunnison County District Court ruling. The Colorado Independent. Jan. 18, 2012
9 History of La Plata County Oil and Gas Regulations (6.18.10 draft), _History.pdf
10 Howarth, R. W. 2011, et al, Natural Gas: Should Fracking Stop? Nature. Vol 477, Sept 15, 2011
11 TEDX: the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations, Introduction, http://www.endocrinedisruption.
12 Colburn, T. 2011 "Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective" International Journal of Human and Ecological Risk Assessment, Sept-Oct 2011
13 Sumi, L. 2005 Our Drinking Water at Risk: What EPA and the Oil and Gas Industry Don't Want Us to Know About Hydraulic Fracturing" Earthworks, April 7, 2005,
15 Lustgarten, A. 2008 Buried Secrets: Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering US Water Supplies?, ProPublica, Nov. 2008,
16 Osborn, S.G. 2011, et al, Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing, PNAS, Vol 108, No 20, May 17, 2011,
17 Lustgarten, A. 2011 Scientific Study Links Flammable Drinking Water to Fracking, ProPublica, May 9, 2011,
18 Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Raton Basin Reports/Data (in library), Huerfano County,
19 Huerfano County Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan, March 2011, pp. 44-45
20 Peralta, E. 2012 EPA Report Links Fracking to Water Pollution, The two-way, National Public Radio, Feb, 7, 2012
21 Editors, Safety First, Fracking Second: drilling for natural gas has gotten ahead of the science needed to prove it safe, Scientific American, Oct. 19, 2011,
22 Fenton, John, 2012 Wyoming Rancher interview, "Gasland" Director, Josh Arrested at Congressional Hearing On Natural Gas Fracking, Democracy
23 Environmental Protection Agency, Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs Study (2004),
24 Wingspread Consensus Statement, as published in Colborn and Clement (1992).Chemically Induced Alterations in Sexual and Functional Development: The Wildlife/Human Connection. Princeton Scientific Publishing, Princeton, NJ, p 493
25 TEDX 2010 One Page Statement: The Fossil Fuel,
26 Jacquet, J. 2009 Energy Boomtowns & Natural Gas: Implications for Marcellus Shale Local Governments & Rural Communities. The Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, The Pennsylvania State University, NERCRD Rural Development Paper No 43, Jan 2009, nercrd,psu,edu/publications/rdppapers/redp43.pdf  
27 Gillette Syndrome, Sublette County, Wyoming, Wyoming-Related Documents,
28 Reynolds, JM, et al, 2000 Frack Truck Impacts on New York Villages and Towns: separating fracks from fiction,
29 Fracking: Myths and Facts—Protecting Our Waters,
30 Urbina, I. 2011 Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts with Mortgages, Oct. 19, 2011, New York Times.
31 Western Organization of Resource Councils, Financial Assurance for Oil and Gas Cleanup, Fact Sheet, Aug 2005, Assurance%20FS.pdf
32 Forrest, R. 2011 National Wildlife Federation, No More Drilling in the Dark: Exposing the Hazards of Natural Gas Production and Protecting America's Drinking Water and Wildlife Habitats, Nov. 16, 2011,
35 Rice, N. 2011 Oregon natural gas export terminal gets first approval, High County News, The Goat Blog, Dec. 12, 2011
36 Halliburton loophole, Earthworks,
37 Howarth, RW, et al. 2012. Venting and Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development: Response to Cathles, et
38 Tollefson, J. 2012 Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field, Feb. 7, 2012, Nature,
39 Doherty, T. 2012 Colorado Water Conservation Board, Southern Colorado Water Summit, Jan 31, 2012
40 Colorado Water Conservation Board, Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWS), Phase II report, 2007,
41 ibid