Here at our farm, Fire Mountain Canal (FMC) provides hundreds of residents with water, and our entire North Fork Valley depends on our ditches. At our farm, Holy Terror Creek feeds our animals and crops, while both FMC and the creek recharge our drinking well.
Clean and plentiful water is everything to us here at Holy Terror Farm. Even with our 1883 senior water rights, we were hurting here in the droughts of 2002 and 2012. When my great, great, great Uncle Henry Gannett mapped and lived in/around Paonia in 1874-1875, I don't think he envisioned a world where water would be over-allocated and scarce.
I believe that energy production and farming, even chemical-free, can co-exist. A great example is our great neighbor, Bowie Resources coal mine. We can access third-party data online from the USGS and also The Conservation Center and see that our water is tested and clean. We can grow and sell our produce, fruit and animals without worrying about contamination, because the coal industry is highly regulated and well-managed. Even more importantly, we grow, raise and hunt almost 100% of our food here at the farm — if there were a spill, not only our jobs would be lost, but also our entire food supply.
However, liquid energy extraction, such as fracking for natural gas, is insufficiently regulated or researched. It cannot co-exist like coal mining in close proximity to humans and agriculture. Unconventional drilling for natural gas is not our daddy's drilling — it is conventional drilling on steroids with high-pressures, high volumes, and known carcinogenic chemicals.
Unlike coal, modern liquid energy extraction is just like playing Russian roulette — it is all safe until there is an accident. While the actual "fracking" (known by the industry as the moment of chemical/water/sand injection) may be completely "safe," Colorado's Oil and Gas Commission has thousands of documented accidents and spills available to us online, including hundreds that contaminated surface and ground water.
We are surrounded by beautiful BLM land where we hunt, recreate, graze cattle, and mine coal. Plus this land provides excellent natural filtration for our agricultural and drinking water. Our livelihoods here — whether you are employed by agriculture, coal or tourism — depends on keeping unconventional drilling for natural gas away from key areas of the North Fork. Besides, studies by NOAA and Cornell show that natural gas has a higher carbon footprint than coal when extraction footprints are included.
Currently, there are two solutions to this problem of potential fracking contamination. The BLM is revising its Resource Management Plan (RMP), but from the looks of drafts, it will not go far enough to keep our coal mines, farms, schools, and water supplies out of danger. The community-generated North Fork Alternative Plan intends to assist the BLM in protecting key areas of the North Fork such as listed above.
This is not about stopping energy production; it is about allowing energy production that is regulated to protect us. Currently, modern fracking is exempt from many provisions of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. For example, a fracking truck could turn over and spill chemicals into Terror Creek, and not be required to even notify our farm. I could irrigate our spinach, harvest it and deliver it to local schools and senior centers — potentially covered in something like benzene.
Why should the coal industry have to be beholden to all these regulations and not have the same regulations apply to natural gas/liquid energy extraction? The North Fork Alternative Plan would not stop drilling everywhere, but it is a great step toward ensuring that our valley's important resources are not sacrificed to poorly managed industrial development by protecting sensitive/important areas. It would go a long way toward leveling the regulation field by putting stronger protections in place to protect key areas we love — including agriculture, coal mining, hunting, fishing, tourism, schools, irrigation and water supplies.
Another key idea is legislative protection by our representatives in Congress, which would allow for more permanent protection. Just over McClure Pass, thousands of acres on Thompson Divide are being proposed for permanent protection from fracking. Our representatives could do the same for the North Fork, ensuring that the valley we love can be saved for future generations to come.