by Bob Kennemer
HUERFANO- As most folks in Huerfano County know, “Coal was King” here for decades. In fact, the coal mines in our region were once one of the top two coal producing areas in Colorado. Nowa days cleaner higher quality coal is in demand, and that grade of coal tends to come out of Wyoming. Of course the end result means little to no coal mining in our area as of late. However, along with coal beds comes methane and natural gas.
Oil and gas production and development are currently on the rise in Huerfano and Las Animas counties, as well as in many other parts of Colorado and the west. The good news is that these businesses bring well paying jobs and tax dollars to areas that all too often have too little of both. The bad news is that these industries can damage: the environment, other businesses, and quality of life.
In the mid to late 90s geologic surveys revealed that our region had a significant amount of coal bed methane. These discoveries even slowed and altered [the then] proposed wilderness legislation resulting in some wilderness boundaries being redrawn, so as to not impede gas development near the East Spanish Peak. Following the energy and mineral surveys came the resource development, which we are confronted with today.
As mentioned above, the oil and gas industry has created new jobs, brought in needed tax revenue, and has brought additional income to land owners, who had the foresight to hold on to their mineral rights. But the flip side of this bounty has meant: water, noise, air and soil pollution; exploding homes and well houses; light trespass; decreased property values; and damaged agricultural lands. Perhaps it is precisely because the oil and gas industry brings with it such a mixed bag of blessings and curses that we have seen less environmental activism than one might expect.
To be sure, there have been numerous community meetings. Many times residents have loudly voiced concerns about the negative impacts noted previously. Some have lost their homes or their quality of life has been greatly diminished. But in general, we have not seen the major outcry like we’ve seen in other parts of Colorado and around the nation.
Like all extractive industries, the oil and gas business is regulated by the state. Many feel that here, the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission’s regulations tend to be overly protective of and designed to serve the oil and gas industry, while leaving property and home owners relatively helpless. Of course, those in the oil and gas business often complain that both past and recent regulations make it very difficult for the industry to be profitable in our fair state.
In this case, Huerfano County is a microcosm reflecting our nation as a whole. On one side we have Sarah Palin and her followers shouting, “Drill baby, drill!” while the environmental activists fear, “Spill, baby, spill!”
The issue of fracting (also known as hydrofracking or fracturing) is perched to take center stage soon, with no less than two major documentaries on the subject coming out this year. Fracting is the process of injecting a “proprietary mix” of chemical down into the earth to aid in the extraction of oil and gas. It is the toxic contents of that “proprietary mix” and the extensive environmental damage fracting causes that will most likely bring the oil and gas development debate to a whole new level – both here in Huerfano County and across the globe.