I attended most of the meeting sponsored by the Gas Collaborative Group in Paonia on March 3. As an affected citizen of the North Fork, I would like to share some of my reactions and perceptions of the day.
It was very informative, and I learned a lot. I wonder, though, if what I learned was what they wanted me to learn. I expect that the purpose of the meeting was to provide some reassurance that the sale of these parcels or even the commencement of drilling would not be as horrible as many fear it would be. If that was the purpose, the meeting was a failure. I came away more concerned, more radicalized if you will, than I went in.
I must say that I found the BLM personnel who were there to be knowledgeable and easy to talk to. I would particularly like to recognize Barb Sharrow and Jim Rhett for their candor, competency and calm demeanor. However, it became clear that their mission is to see this lease sale go through if at all possible. Answers given about comments and protests were generally given with a sense that the objections are something to be worked through or around so the process can proceed. I got a sense of inevitably — the BLM is a large, powerful government agency, and its will be done.
The long Q&A session with the COGCC staffers left me even more unsettled. Their responses were often inadequate and showed either a lack of knowledge or evasion. They could not tell us, even ballpark, how many fluid spills there were in Colorado last year. In one exchange, where a well-read attendee challenged whether the COGCC rules were actually requirements, part of the response was, "Well, these things are written by lawyers, and they don't talk like you and me." A question was asked about what if a driller goes in near the Paonia springs? They would have to mitigate. What's the mitigation plan? COGCC doesn't do that. If this is the organization that's supposed to provide on-the-ground protection against violations and damage by drillers, I should be very concerned. I could not believe that they are on our side.
I went into this meeting with an open mind. I came out feeling that we are not protected. The process is on a steamroller path, and enforcement of regulations is not energetic or effective.The only way to truly protect ourselves against air and water pollution by gas activity is to stop the sales entirely. This is a more radical position than I had going in, and I don't think the Gas Collaborative Group intended me to leave with it.
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