May 2003

They're drilling in my backyard again... The first time was in 1995, the second time in 2000.... and now, again, in May of 2005

An article from the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Krys Moquin's iguana is curled uncomfortably in an airline pet carrier perched atop a mound of pillows and cushions. Her two Great-horned Owls glower angrily from carriers sitting on foam in the cold back bedroom of her trailer house. At her small animal refuge,called Animals 2-by-2,Moquin is struggling to deal with the loud noise, vibration and bright lights of a natural-gas well being drilled 200 feet from her home. The raccoons cower in their plywood boxes and her 10 foxes,rescued from fur farms have been fighting instead of playing.Out in the pasture where her horses and goats graze in the frosty sunlight, Moquin points to the Vessels Oil @ Gas Co. workers atop two of about 20 "frac" tanks circled on the freshly dug drill pad. Everybody up there is wearing earplugs." I don't think they understand that I can't do that with the animals," Moquin said.
She looks at a large chain-link enclosure she and volunteers are building as an outdoor run for the foxes. It's not quite finished,and now she wonders if she should work on it at all."what's the point?" she asked,frustrated at the way her quiet home of the past eight years has been so loudly invaded. Vessels is a Denver-based oil company drilling its fifth well in the Divide Creek basin. The wells are drawing natural gas from the Mesa Verde formation, 5,000 to 6,000 feet underground, said Philip Wood, the company's land manager.
Drilling on this well,on the property of Frank and Sheila Daley, began in October. The well is also about 200 feet from the Daley's home, shielded from their view by a pinon-covered hillside.
This month, workers have been completing the well. The process involves pumping a slurry of gelatinous liquid and sand down the well and into the adjacent rock. The fluid causes the rock to fracture, and the sand holds the cracks open so the well can tap more gas.
The frac process takes a few hours.The fluids then flow back up the well,followed by gas which is flared for about three days.Both the frac process and the flaring
are loud and cause the ground to vibrate.
Worried about the effects on her animals, Moquin hired David Sturges,a Glenwood Springs attorney. Sturges warned Vessels on Dec.14 that he planned to go to court.
"When I went there the next morning, they were waiting for me. They wanted to talk first,about what they could do to comply." Sturges said. "They also said
they wanted to by her land,that it was never going to be a good situation with the drill rig so close."
Moquin said the company first offered her $15,000, then $30,000, to buy her out. They also offered to donate $5,000 to her Animals 2by2 Foundation if she would not sue.Moquin said she paid $43,000 for her place in 1988,but it would cost far more than that now to find another place where she and her animals could live.
Sturges and the Vessels attorneys went out to the drill site that day,as the Vessels crew did the first of three fracs.
Jaime Adkins, the Loma-based staff engineer for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, measured the noise levels at 82 to 87 decibels. The state's industrial noise limit is 80 decibels.
Later in the day,Sturges filed a complaint in Garfield District Court. Judge Thomas Ossola denied the request, saying the situation called for an injunction. To file an injunction, Sturges said, Moquin would have to post a bond equal to the value of the work stopped,around $850,000.
A fifth-grade class at Glenwood Springs Elementary School,which has been raising money to support Animals 2by2, sent a letter to Vessels and state officials.
"Please consider the problems you are causing for the animals. They belong to the earth too," the children wrote.
In the past week,the crew moved the frac tanks into a semicircle around the drill rig to muffle the noise in the direction of Moquin"s place. The effort was successful for the second frac, which occurred Friday morning.
Moquin wasn't satisfied, however. She contends that her neighborhood is rural-residential, not industrial, and that the company should therefore hold its noise down to 60 decibels.
She said gas-laden water from the drilling flowed down from the drill pad,and she is disturbed by the bright light and vibration from round-the-clock flaring.
Flaring over Thanksgiving drove away her holiday house guests and a family that was renting the house next door, she said.
Adkins said once the fracs and flaring are finished,the drill rig should operate quietly. But Vessels plans more drilling in Divide Creek, he said.

A more recent article from the Rocky Mountain News:
Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002

Section: Business

Source: By Heather Draper
News Staff Writer

Dateline: RIFLE


Edition: Final

Krys Moquin doesn't much care for the oil and gas industry's claim that the Rocky Mountains are the Persian Gulf of natural gas.

She's not a big fan of oil and gas companies, period. Calpine Natural Gas Co. of San Jose, Calif., runs a gas well about 200 feet from her home in rural Silt. She has endured the large diesel trucks, the drill towers, the fires and the noise that go along with developing a gas well not once, but twice, in the 13 years she's lived there.

The latest flurry of drilling began in late 2000, when higher prices for natural gas and better drilling technologies made extracting gas from the mountains less costly.

Energy companies see the Rifle area as one of the nation's most important sources of natural gas, a relatively clean-burning fuel increasingly used to heat homes and produce electricity. The prolific gas reserves in the area are needed to meet the nation's growing appetite and lessen its dependence on foreign sources, the oil and gas industry says.

While energy companies view the Western slope through gas-shrouded lenses, Moquin sees it as a place of solitude, where peace is shattered by the noise and activity of gas company trucks and crews.

The worst part for Moquin is not her personal discomfort, she said. It's the suffering the drilling causes the Great Horned owls, reptiles, foxes and other animals she cares for at the Animals 2 by 2 refuge she runs at her 5-acre home. The drilling is over, but Daisy, the iguana she rescued from an abusive home, still hides inside the pillowcase she crawled into when drilling began in December.

``I feel like I'm living in a nightmare,'' said Moquin, lightly kicking at some dirt in frustration. ``If someone had told me about the natural gas, I never would have bought this place. I came here for solitude for the animals. I'm stuck here because no one will buy my place now.''

Moquin is one of many Garfield County residents who find themselves at ground zero of a national push to extract natural gas from the Rockies. That focus intensified last month when the Bush administration's proposal to drill in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was defeated in the U.S. Senate, pushing the Rockies to the forefront of the president's energy plan.

The industry's renewed interest in the region is visible in Garfield County: A drive west of Rifle on Interstate 70 reveals a multitude of gas wells, sludge pits, drills and storage tanks lining both sides of the road. Gas well sites are carved into the hills at the base of the Roan Cliffs that tower over Rifle. They're stuck in the middle of cattle ranches and placed next door to housing developments.

Now the Roan Plateau atop the Roan Cliffs - a haven for hunters, anglers and recreation - is on the Bureau of Land Management's top 10 list of areas across the country put on a fast track to expedite oil and gas drilling. That worries conservationists and environmentalists, who've sent a proposal to the BLM to designate parts of the Roan Plateau for wilderness protection.

``It's not that we're saying there should be no gas development here,'' said Kurt Knukle, field inventory director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. ``We're just saying they should save a little land for people to enjoy.''

Prime gas location

It's all about location, the gas industry says. The Roan Plateau is on the east end of the Piceance Basin, a 125-mile-long, 62-mile-wide province of natural gas, oil shale and coal bed methane running through five counties on Colorado's western slope.

``One square mile of the Roan Plateau can contain up to 64 billion cubic feet of gas,'' said Duane Zavadil, environmental and regulatory manager for Williams Production Co. ``That's enough to heat 26,000 homes for 20 years - in just one square mile.''

Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams became the largest gas producer in the Piceance Basin when it acquired Denver's Barrett Resources and its western slope assets last year. The company has asked the BLM for the right to lease federal lands for drilling near existing roads on top of the Roan Plateau.

``We would be using roads already there and not disturbing the environmentally sensitive areas,'' Zavadil said.

Although most of the nation's attention is focused on the use of federal lands for drilling, Zavadil said most of Williams' Colorado production is on private lands.

``We have 27 wells on federal lands and 150 private wells (in Garfield County),'' he said.

The most dense drilling activity in Garfield County - one well per 10 acres - stems from private landowner Bill Clough, who welcomes Williams' wells on his property west of Rifle.

``He loves us. We made him one of the richest men in Garfield County,'' said Dave Cesark, a Williams environmental specialist.

Cesark said environmentalists often point to the drilling on Clough's land because it borders I-70, so the numerous well sites are ``highly visible and it's ugly, no doubt about it. But it was pretty ugly to begin with.''

Clough himself thinks his land abutting the Roan Cliffs wasn't much to look at before the gas companies moved into the area.

The 85-year-old Rifle native has leased land for 68 gas wells on his 8,000-acre ranch.

``It doesn't hurt the scenery because there was nothing there,'' Clough said. ``There was just sagebrush and greasewood, and all it's good for is grazing and gas wells.''

Big appetite for gas

The Rockies drilling frenzy comes down to supply and demand, said Brian Macke, deputy director of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. If the demand for natural gas wasn't there, he said, the energy companies wouldn't be drilling in the Piceance Basin.

The conservation commission issued 353 permits to drill in Garfield County last year, compared with 213 permits in 2000 and 130 in 1999, he said.

``Some people say there might be as much as 100 trillion cubic feet of gas'' in the Piceance, which would supply the nation's demand for nearly five years, Macke said.

Natural gas provides nearly one-fourth of all the energy used in the United States. The nation consumed 21.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas last year and consumption is expected to rise 47 percent to 31.5 trillion cubic feet per year by 2015, according to the National Petroleum Council.

The nation's natural gas pipeline network, laid end-to-end, would stretch to the moon and back . . . twice, the Department of Energy says.

The Rocky Mountain region contains about 35 percent - 293 trillion cubic feet - of the remaining recoverable natural gas resources in the lower 48 states, according to the DOE. Many of those reserves are underdeveloped, unlike the more mature gas fields in Oklahoma and Texas.

``It would be a travesty in the long term not to go after these resources,'' Zavadil said. ``Where else are you going to get the energy our country needs?''

Environmentalists say what the gas industry is missing in the drilling debate is that the federal lands President Bush wants to open won't contribute much to the nation's supply in the long run.

Pete Morton of the Wilderness Society said if all the on-shore federal lands with undiscovered resources were opened to drilling, it would supply the nation's demand for oil for 222 days and its gas use for 1.7 years, according to U.S. Geological Survey research.

``It's up to the American people to understand we are an over consuming society,'' Morton said. ``If it means we'll drill next to people's homes and at some of the nice places we like to visit, it brings that cost home.''

History of the Roan

Rising some 3,500 feet above the Colorado River valley between Rifle and Parachute, the Roan Cliffs - or the ``book cliffs'' as they're known to locals - have drawn outdoor enthusiasts to the Rifle area for decades. The 73,000-acre Roan Plateau is home to dense aspen groves, wildflower meadows, spruce-fir tree forests, creeks, box canyons, a 200-foot waterfall and ``some of the most genetically pure strains of cutthroat trout in Colorado,'' said Clare Bastable of the Colorado Mountain Club.

``It's the best-kept secret in Colorado,'' Bastable said. ``The Roan is amazing for its hunting and fishing opportunities, and is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the state.''

The plateau is home to Peregrine falcons, eagles, owls and some plant species found nowhere else, she said.

The area has been on the radar screens of environmentalists for some time. The Nature Conservancy considers it one of the country's ``last great places.'' Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, have sponsored legislation to designate four sections of the plateau as wilderness areas to be protected by the government. Several organizations have endorsed the legislation, including the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Western Colorado Congress and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Historians say the earliest occupants of the plateau were the Ute Tribe of Native Americans who raised horses there before European settlement. Ranchers began grazing sheep and cattle on Roan in the mid-1800s.

In 1935, the defense department took over 56,000 acres of the plateau, which was then called the Naval Oil Shale Reserve and was under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Navy. The Navy wanted the oil shale reserves, believed to be in abundance on the plateau, to be part of the nation's emergency stockpiles during wartime.

The Department of Energy assumed jurisdiction of the naval reserve in 1977 under the DOE Organization Act, but split the surface management duties of the plateau with the BLM. Finally in 1997, the BLM assumed the entire responsibility for managing the land.

The BLM's dilemma

The Bush administration's directive to put certain federal lands on a fast-track for energy exploration has forced the thinly staffed office of the BLM in Glenwood Springs to focus most of its attention on the Roan Plateau.

``The area went from being on a back burner to one that's on a time-sensitive plan, which speeds up the process significantly,'' said Greg Goodenow, planning and environmental coordinator for the BLM.

But Goodenow said ``fast-track'' is a relative term when it comes to the federal government, because it's a complex, multi-step process to develop a land management plan.

The BLM started its Roan planning process in late 2000, before the administration's call to speed up the permitting for drilling. The planning process entails public meetings, land health assessments, oil and gas fieldwork, internal reviews and more public meetings, Goodenow said.

What to do with the Roan area won't be an easy decision, he said, because ``it's hard to have an oil or gas field in a recreation area. But the balance of uses is an important concept for us.''

Whether that balance will be tipped in favor of one group or another is not for the Glenwood Springs office to decide, Goodenow said.

After the Glenwood office publishes its final Environmental Impact Statement - which Goodenow expects will be in October 2003 - it will send the findings to the state BLM office in Denver, where the final decision will be made on what to do with the land.

He said the fact that President Bush is pushing to open up federal lands to oil and gas companies won't affect the BLM's environmental research.

``Certainly we are part of the administrative branch of government, but we don't feel like we're being dictated to by the President,'' Goodenow said.

``We're not supposed to give different publics different weights,'' added Steve Bennett, Glenwood BLM assistant manager. ``Politics don't affect the analysis stage, they affect the decision stage. But you can't assume the decision will have the least (environmental) impact.''

Hitting home

Meanwhile, Krys Moquin has to fill a 250-gallon water tank in the back of her pick-up at Silt's water tower four times a week to water the animals at her refuge. She says her water well went dry two weeks after Calpine started drilling near her home in December.

``I know it's been dry, but I think that's a pretty big coincidence,'' Moquin said.

She's had to repair fences that gas company trucks have run over. Her water has tested for high amounts of methane, which Calpine told her was naturally occurring in the area.

``I thought that was unusual because I didn't have methane in my water before,'' Moquin said. Calpine couldn't be reached for comment.

She's filed complaints with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, but ``it doesn't do any good,'' Moquin said.

She doesn't have a voice in the process, she said, because the well is on her neighbor's property.

``I feel almost unpatriotic, after 9-11 and all, complaining about this,'' Moquin said. ``But what people don't understand is that they (gas companies) can put these wells anywhere. They can put them in your backyard.''