The O. Zone

Garfield County commissioners pan drilling regulations

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJanuary 19, 2011
Trési Houpt

Despite three Republican county commissioners seen as largely supportive of the oil and gas industry, one of the most heavily drilled counties in Colorado claims the state’s oil and gas drilling regulations “fail entirely” to address the cumulative impacts of increasing the concentration of natural gas wells, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Garfield County officials, in a legal filing concerning a request by Denver-based Antero Resources to increase drilling density in two Silt subdivisions from one well per 40 acres to one well per 10 acres, wrote that such an increase not only would generate more noise and traffic, but more significantly, create the potential for more accidents, spills and exposure to chemicals.

“No agency, including the [Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission], can guarantee the Garfield County residents that exposures to oil and gas emissions will not produce illness or latent effects, including death,” county officials wrote.

COGCC director David Neslin declined to comment to the Sentinel about the open application, which is set to be heard next month. The county cites several concrete examples of residents whose health has been impacted by natural gas drilling, but the industry continues to attack the state’s drilling regulations as too restrictive and overly protective of the environment.

Meanwhile, one of the former COGCC board members who helped draft the controversial new rules that went into effect in 2009 says the state could do more to ensure the health of its citizens living in natural gas drilling hotspots. Trési Houpt, also a former Democratic Garfield County commissioner, said there needs to be a ban on the use of undisclosed chemicals in the controversial drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“I have been wanting to say that it’s disturbing to me to continually hear the industry say there is no connection that’s been shown between fracking and health problems,” Houpt told the Glenwood Spring Post Independent, referring to revelations of families experiencing health problems in the wake of fracking operations, which inject water, sand and undisclosed chemicals deep underground to force open tight sandstone and free up more gas.

“The reason we don’t see a connection is because we don’t know what chemicals are being used,” Houpt said. “We don’t know what to test for. There are some types of illnesses that are occurring that hadn’t occurred in those areas before, or that are unique to some of the chemicals that we’re assuming are being used. But it doesn’t tell me anything about the safety of a process to say that, because there’s no connection or study that’s proven a direct connection, that there’s no harm, or potential harm.”

The natural gas industry maintains the chemical formulas are proprietary, available to emergency responders and totally safe. The U.S. Interior Department is considering a disclosure requirement for all fracking on public lands. The process was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act during the Bush administration in 2005.

Houpt hinted that she will remain in the game on the energy front, an area of concern that came to dominate her time as a county commissioner, but she did not get into specifics.


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