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Congressman Salazar listens to River Ranch concerns

by Susan Simons

WALSENBURG- Congressman John Salazar visited Walsenburg on Wed. Oct. 8  to participate in a roundtable discussion on oil and gas production in the Raton Basin.  He praised the people of this region for the western values of ”hard work, integrity, honesty, and love of country.”  Salazar said about problems with coalbed methane (CBM) production in the area, “we’re going to get to the bottom of this and take it to the top … In the West, water is the most important resource we have.”

     The discussion was organized by Al Tucker of the Majors Ranch Environmental Impact Committee to focus on the impact of CBM exploration on water.  Speakers at the meeting documented damage to agricultural land by salts released into surface water and damage to domestic wells in the county.

     Dick Goodwin, president of River Ridge Ranch POA, spoke for landowners there.  Since Petroglyph, Inc. has been operating in that area, wells have caught on fire, wells have gone dry, and wells have been contaminated with methane.  Fourteen homeowners are hauling water.  Goodwin said his methane detector is always on, and he feels his life is threatened on a daily basis. “I feel the same anxiety as I did under enemy fire.”

    Goodwin explained that there is no one central point where a citizen can have a voice or get information.  To be involved in the process of resolving problems such as these, a citizen has to deal with a number of agencies, each with its own bureaucracy and style.  To make matters worse, these agencies often are not organized to work with each other.  He called for an ombudsman to coordinate interactions among citizens, state agencies, and the industry.

    After several more speakers documented the damage being done by CBM production in the Raton Basin and the difficulty of communicating with the industry as well as with state agencies, discussion focused on what can de done at the local, state and federal levels.

    Locally, we can educate ourselves and our local governments.  We can realize that this is a county-wide issue that affects our rivers, aquifers, and reservoirs.  It affects agriculture, property values, business ventures, and quality of life.  We can support the Huerfano County Commissioners who are rewriting Land Use Regulations, basing new regulations on those developed by La Plata County during thirty-two years of struggle with the oil and gas industry.

    The following state agencies are taking steps to lessen the impact of CBM production on surface and ground waters in the county: Colorado Department of Health, Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, State Engineering, and Colorado Public Policy and Regulatory & Natural Affairs.

    Salazar encouraged localities to get to the national media and to keep state representatives informed. “What drives us are citizen’s complaints.”  He responded positively to a citizen who suggested that Congress revisit the 1872 Mining Act which privileges the owners of mineral rights over landowners.  He was asked to re-introduce the Hydraulic Fracturing Act in Congress which would require the industry to comply with the Safe Water Drinking Act.  Representative Salazar said what was happening to affected citizens is morally wrong, and he encouraged citizens to keep his office informed.