Encana pulling out of Erie…..for now

Right now, there is a sense of hope and relief in the Vista Ridge and Vista Pointe neighborhoods in Erie as Encana announced it is temporarily suspending its drilling operations at the Pratt and Waste Connections sites due to the company’s inability to resolve the noise pollution violations. http://erieco.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1035

Many residents gathered this morning at the park located at the junction of Crestview and Primrose to show our solidarity, and talk a bit more about what we’ve been experiencing since drilling began the week of Thanksgiving.  While everyone expressed optimism about Encana’s announcement, that happiness was tempered by the consensus that we have a lot of work left to do.

For one thing, anyone who experienced any problems related to the drilling (noise, vibrations, odors) should still submit an official complaint to the COGCC.  That is the only way the state will document and record the complaints.  You can go to the website http://cogcc.state.co.us/ and under the “Forms” heading, select form 18.  You can then either mail it in, or email it directly to Mike Leonard: mike.leonard@state.co.us.

There is also still time to contact the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force to express our concerns: ogtaskforce@state.co.us   Share your personal stories, video, pictures, etc.  They need to know how this drilling operation is impacting our quiet, residential community.

After this past Wednesday’s gas flare incident that resulted in noxious fumes outside my house, I am even more concerned that the state is not doing enough to monitor air quality.  Since the flares are intermittent, measures of air pollution need to be done on a constant basis so they do not miss these episodes.

While we have temporary relief in Erie, we must not stop fighting for better regulations and oversight of this industry.  Our health, sanity, and home values depend upon it.

Solidarity1

Encana Park at Vista Pointe

Brief update on yesterday’s developments:  A COGCC representative returned my phone call first thing this morning, and directed me to fill out a complaint form online.  I have not received any response from either of the Encana representatives that I emailed regarding the flames and chemical burning odor noted yesterday evening.

For a while now, I’ve intended to comment on abandoned oil/gas well sites.  Only recently did I learn that I live within several hundred feet of one.

When I moved to Vista Pointe a little more than 5 years ago, I didn’t think too much of the open space area near the home I had just purchased.  It was actually a convenient place to walk my dog; my husband and I have frequently joked that our dog, Nicholas, seems to think it is part of his territory.  In fact, on many walks, we have to do a “perimeter check” as Nicholas sniffs the entire circumference of the open space area.  While walking through the field, I often wondered about the purpose of the large yellow metal pipe that juts out of the ground in the center of the space.  Beyond that, I didn’t worry too much about it.

In late spring/early summer, we received an email from the Vista Pointe HOA that the open space would be developed into an “adult themed park.”  While this cryptic description led us to wild speculation (what is an adult themed park?  Las Vegas?  Disneyland?), we soon realized when the work began in late September, that adult themed park is simply a way to say “landscaping and benches”.  Of course, now there is also a gazebo (and the final touch — a roof — was just placed today).

The week that the drilling began at the Pratt site, a retro-style sign went up at the new park declaring its new name: Encana Park at Vista Pointe.  I wanted to vomit when I first saw the sign.  Sure, it is nice of Encana to invest in a park — but it feels dirty.  It is almost as if Encana is saying “Hey, sorry for contaminating your community with noise and air pollution.  Enjoy your new park.  Now we’re even.”  I told my husband that it also made me think of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George has never been born, and Bedford Falls has sold out to Mr. Potter and become Pottersville.  Erie should not be Encanaville.

So why was this patch of open space never developed?  The answer lies in that yellow pipe that you can now gaze at from the comfort of a gazebo.  I verified by contacting Encana, and ultimately the Vista Pointe HOA, that the pipe is a marker of a former well.  The well has been plugged and capped: cement was injected into the well, and the metal casing was cut off below the surface.  A cap was then welded onto the pipe, and a marker was placed.

Okay, so no big deal.  It’s an abandoned well and cannot cause us any problems, right?  Wrong!  Cement often contracts and expands, leading to cracks.  Erie already has problems with subsidence and the ground settling (just look at how many times they have had to repave portions of Vista Parkway).  The trouble is, no one really knows what will ultimately happen to these wells — especially because no one is monitoring them once they are no longer active.  There are reports of wells leaking with disastrous consequences.  Here’s some scary reading: http://ecohearth.com/eco-zine/green-issues/1609-abandoned-leaking-oil-wells-natural-gas-well-leaks-disaster.html

So come visit Encana Park at Vista Pointe.  My dog still likes it.

View of Encana Park at Vista Pointe from the sidewalk along Vista Parkway, November 27, 2014

View of Encana Park at Vista Pointe from the sidewalk along Vista Parkway, November 27, 2014

“Flames erupting just now over the wall”

That is a quote from a member of the Facebook group “Pratt & WC Well Monitoring by the community (Erie, CO)”

This evening I had the luxury of being home from work early enough to take my dog out into the yard for some frisbee throws while there was remaining daylight.  However, I was instantly struck by an overpowering odor that I can best describe as a combination of chemical and burning stench.  It actually made me feel a bit light-headed as well, so I did not stay outside for too long.

Later, I was browsing Facebook and learned that residents who live close to Encana’s Pratt drilling site had witnessed flames shooting above the level of the wall that surrounds the site.  Someone even called the police out of fear that something unusual was happening.  Yet another member chimed in that this is “normal” for oil and gas operations.  I have already sent an email to two Encana representatives requesting an explanation.

There is video of the flames on that same Facebook page: 

Spread the word.  This is what happens when drilling/fracking operations come to your neighborhood.

I have already called the COCGCC to file a complaint.  You should too.  Here is the number: 303-894-2100

I am very angry.  More to come.

Drilling has begun at the Pratt site

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been more activity at both the Pratt and Waste Connections Encana natural gas drilling sites.   Construction of the wall for the Waste Connections site has begun, and for several days last week, some kind of crane apparatus was present at the Pratt site.  Then, on Tuesday, the drilling rig appeared at the Pratt site.  The rig towers above its surroundings, and is easily visible from Hwy 7, Vista Parkway, and even County Line Road.

Last night, while returning home from dinner in downtown Erie, my husband and I drove over to the Vista Ridge neighborhood closest to the Pratt site.  I wanted to see how bright the lights are on the drilling rig, and wanted to hear the sounds that the homeowners closest to the site are experiencing.   We stopped at the park on Crestview Lane and Primrose Lane, got out of the car, and walked around.

The sound of the drilling is a constant low rumble, that reverberates in your head and rattles a bit in your chest.  My husband’s comment was “Wow, I had no idea it would be this loud.”  I instantly felt anger on behalf of all of the homeowners along that street.  Imagine a really annoying noise that you cannot escape — and the idea that the noise will continue for another couple of months.  I want to bring all of the politicians in Colorado to this spot and ask them to consider the role they have each played in stripping residents of peace and tranquility in their homes by allowing drilling/fracking within residential communities.   I urge everyone who cares about this issue to take a drive over to Vista Ridge at night (when the area is otherwise quiet), and listen to the noise that the drilling generates.  It is appalling.

I tried to take some pictures of the bright lights on the drill rig, however my iphone camera did not do it justice.  The microphone on my iphone was also unable to adequately record the sounds to share on this blog.  I will continue to work on finding ways to document this light and noise pollution however, so stay tuned.

While walking our dog later that evening, I could hear the low, background rumble that I now identified as the drilling at the Pratt site.  At least within our house we can escape the sounds; however I wonder if we will be as lucky once drilling begins at the Waste Connections site (which sits less than 0.5 mile from our house).

I was able to get some new photos this morning of the current wall construction and drilling rig at the Waste Connections and Pratt sites (see below).  Happy Thanksgiving!

Wall construction at the Waste Connections site, November 27, 2014.

Wall construction at the Waste Connections site, November 27, 2014.

Drilling rig at the Pratt site, November 27, 2014.

Drilling rig at the Pratt site, November 27, 2014.

More thoughts on the landfill issues

I have not forgotten about the main mission of this blog, which is to document fracking in our neighborhood.  However, the appearance of the Pratt well site has not changed in recent weeks, and I have yet to see a wall go up at the Waste Connections site.  I plan to contact the Encana representatives for an update on the time-frame of drilling operations (as my sense is that they are now behind in their revised schedule).  But for now, I’d like to make a few more comments about the Landfill Liquid Solidification Site plans, and its relationship to fracking waste.

After my last post, Liz Fisher was kind enough to share the records she had obtained from the Town of Erie that pertain to Front Range Landfill’s request.  Here is a copy of the records: Records related to Landfill Liquid Solidification Site (click to open)

After reading through the records, I have additional concerns:

1)  The Traffic Impact Memorandum found that there are currently “858 truck trips per day generated by the site.”  This is nearly double the 300-500 trucks per day that was quoted by Dan Gudgel at the meeting I attended.  Furthermore, at that meeting, all of the landfill representatives quoted a number of ~30 additional trucks per day if the liquid solidification site were operational.  Yet the Traffic Impact Memorandum cites 60 additional truck trips per day with the addition of the liquid solidification site.

I find this new information disturbing on many levels.  The large disparity in the numbers diminishes the credibility of the information that the landfill representatives shared at the neighborhood meeting.  Furthermore, the idea that an average of 858 diesel trucks per day are passing within a mile (or less) of our homes and schools, sharing toxic exhaust fumes and pollution alarms me.   I would not want to see this already outrageously large number get any bigger.  Plus Erie is already lacking in roads and infrastructure necessary to support the ongoing subdivision development.  Adding more traffic is a bad idea.  Period.

2) Within the August 1 letter from the Department of Public Health, there is a statement seeking clarification of how bulking agents will be covered up and stored (if necessary) next to the mixing basin.  Prior to reading this, it had not occurred to me that bulking agents or liquid might have to sit around and be “stored” prior to mixing.  Given variable weather conditions (wind gusts, precipitation) in Erie, the idea of planning for mitigation of “run-off” is worrisome.

3) The letter from the Colorado Geological Survey makes two points that should give the Town of Erie pause as the trustees consider approval of the liquid solidification site.  The first is that Erie was once a coal mining town, and many areas have been undermined, thus leading to instability of the ground above.  The Columbine Mine lies 150-300 feet below the site of the proposed liquid solidification facility.  Consequently, there is risk of subsidence; the geologist who authored the report recommends that facility design should include “appropriate mitigation for potential subsidence occurrence.”  The second point is that the clay soil and bedrock has the potential to swell, and further testing of the soil should be performed prior to building the concrete pad.

Subsidence is a problem for Erie — even when builders have taken precautions to “mitigate” the risk.  Here’s one site to check out (click to open).  Here is another (click to open).

Planning and prevention do not guarantee that subsidence will not be an issue.

With or without fracking waste, this liquid solidification site may impose more problems on the residents of Erie.

Again, if the Board of Trustees were to approve the liquid solidification site, nothing is lost by imposing a ban on fracking fluid.  (In fact, we have much to gain by such a ban).  However, in light of more complete information, I certainly hope the Board does not approve the liquid solidification plans at all.  I argue that increased traffic pollution and congestion, risk of “run-off”, and risk of subsidence (which would exacerbate the risk of run off) should be enough for the Board of Trustees to stand up and say no to Front Range Landfill’s request.

Now a few residents have also expressed concerns about the lack of testing of the liquids that would enter the landfill under the proposed plans.  And that is certainly a legitimate worry.  But I think that actually begs a more broad reaching question, about any of the materials that enter the landfill.  If we are only relying on the paperwork (MSDS listings) that accompanies the trucks to the landfill, how can we really be sure that toxic substances are not finding their way in without a paper trail?  There may already be answers to these questions; I have not specifically asked anyone at Front Range Landfill how they verify that what is on the truck is what the paperwork says is on the truck.  Perhaps these questions are better directed to the Colorado Department of Public Health, since oversight of waste management falls under its jurisdiction.

After mulling over the many issues surrounding the landfills and fracking in our neighborhood in the past few weeks, I have concluded that there are things that we as individual citizens can do to make a difference.  Unfortunately,  landfills are a necessary evil.  As a society, we consume in large quantities, and we generate waste.  Maybe everyone should live next to a landfill so that they are prompted to think more about garbage.  We all need to care about the waste that we are creating, and the heritage we are leaving to future generations.  We consume consume consume.  The challenge that I have given myself is to buy less and generate less waste.   So many people in the world live with less than what we have.  Even fracking is a problem of our own making, in that we are trying to provide ourselves more energy sources to feed our insatiable appetite for energy consumption.

Maybe we can all start to do more with less.

Erie is an old coal mining town.  It would not have existed without the mines, and parts of our history should make us proud. However, undermined areas cause problems for homeowners today.  I wonder what our legacy of oil/gas wells and landfills will do for (and to) future generations in Erie.

Is there a solution to the landfill fracking sludge issue?

The short answer is yes, I believe there is.

On Monday evening I attended the final scheduled meeting between Front Range Landfill Representatives and Erie residents at the Vista Ridge Community Center.   I approached the meeting with skepticism, armed with my notepad of written questions.  I had read the articles in the Boulder Daily Camera that summarized the previous meetings, and knew that many residents were dissatisfied with the information that Front Range Landfill representatives presented.  For many of us, there is such intense frustration in being powerless to prevent the development of new oil/gas drilling sites in our neighborhood, that we have a short fuse when it comes to any suggestion that we take on more risk of exposure to fracking chemicals through the disposal process.

There were two main questions to which I wanted answers: 1) What are the plans to accept fracking fluid at the landfill and 2) If the Liquid Waste Solidification site were approved, what is the projected increase in number of diesel trucks coming and going through our neighborhoods?

The meeting itself was relatively informal and we were encouraged to ask questions throughout the presentation.   Dan Gudgel led the meeting, and began by outlining the plans for the Liquid Waste Solidification site at the northern edge of Front Range Landfill.  He and his colleagues (Curtis Jeffries and Phillip Porter) described the details of adding liquid waste to an absorbent solid.  In most cases, the absorbent solid is “auto fluff”, the 25% of cars/trucks that remain after the metal has been salvaged for recycling.  It consists of plastics, foam, textiles, rubber, and glass, and is already destined for the landfill.   No additional noise, odor or fumes is expected to be associated with this solidification process.  Currently, Front Range Landfill already accepts nonhazardous liquid waste that has gone through the solidification process at another facility.

Some residents raised questions about hazardous materials, and who defines what is hazardous.  The representatives reiterated that they do not accept hazardous waste and do not want to expose their employees to anything harmful.  As this progressed to questions about fracking fluid, Mr. Gudgel stated they Front Range Landfill currently has no plans to accept fracking fluid waste, as it would be cost prohibitive.  HOWEVER, he qualified that statement by saying that he could not guarantee that it would not be something they would look to accept in the future.  I deliberated on that comment for a while.

Meanwhile, more information came to light through the meeting.  I learned that 50% of what Front Range Landfill currently takes in is already from the oil and gas industry.  The waste that oil and gas brings to landfills consists of drill mud and drill cuttings.  Essentially drill mud/cuttings are the product of drilling fluid (used in lubricating/cooling the drill bits that bore into the earth) that becomes mixed with the deeper layers of the lithosphere.  At oil and gas well sites, it is a liquid waste product.  Drill mud/cuttings can either go through a solidification process and be placed in a landfill or (perhaps more troubling) can be applied to designated farm land. (COGCC Drill Cuttings Policy (PDF))

So the oil and gas industry already contributes 50% of what the landfill is taking in.   It is my understanding that the primary reason that Front Range Landfill would like to have an on-site liquid waste solidification center is so that these drill cuttings can be delivered to them in their liquid form, and Front Range Landfill can then convert them to a solid which may be placed in the landfill.

Mr. Gudgel estimated that between 300 to 500 trucks enter the landfill every day.  He also estimates that having the liquid waste solidification site would potentially add another 30 trucks per day.  I asked whether or not he has a sense of how many trucks enter by driving north on Sheridan and around the edge of the Vista Pointe neighborhood to access County Road 5, and how many approach the landfill from Erie Parkway.  He said that he has that data, but does not have it memorized.  His sense was that more trucks came from Erie Parkway and avoided the neighborhood.

In a follow-up question a while later, the issue of the increase in number of trucks driving to the landfill came up again.  This time, however, the representatives stated that because the trucks would be bringing waste in liquid form (rather than already bulked up as a solid), we may actually see a decrease in total number of trucks entering the landfill.  I’ll be curious to see how this projection of traffic patterns is ultimately presented to the Town Council as I felt the information we received at this meeting was contradictory.

Overall though, I have to admit that the more I listened (and participated) in ongoing discussion, the more I felt that the landfill representatives honestly want to do a good job with the landfill, and genuinely want to be good neighbors.  Again, this is simply an impression, based upon how they spoke with us and answered questions, and based upon the information they shared.  They were not defensive, and I believe they were truly trying to be transparent, open, and honest in their communication.

And that brings us back to the issue of fracking fluid.  We came full circle in the discussion, and Mr. Gudgel reiterated that there are currently no plans to accept fracking fluid to be converted to solid waste because it does not make economic sense.  Yet things may change in the future, and he does not want to lie to us now and make a promise that he cannot keep.  At this point I asked, “So if the town trustees were to approve the liquid waste solidification site but with the condition that you are never to accept fracking fluid, then would that be an acceptable compromise?”  All three representatives readily replied “yes”.

It appears we all have some work to do.  We need to reach out to our Town Trustees and explain to them our concerns about fracking fluid waste, and that we do not want it in our local landfills.  That must be a condition of the liquid waste solidification permit approval if they choose to grant it.  Here’s the link to the Erieco.gov page so that you can email the Board of Trustees.

Why fight for Erie, CO?

When I first moved to Colorado more than 8 years ago, I was naive about oil/gas development along the Front Range.   While I certainly noticed all of the oil drilling pumps that bob up and down in fields that line the I-25 corridor, I did not mentally connect them to the natural gas storage tanks that are also scattered across the region.  They all seemed somehow benign; I thought the drilling pumps looked like little dinosaurs.  And for all I knew, the tanks and dinosaur pumps had been present for ages.  They didn’t seem to bother anyone.  In fact, they are so ubiquitous in our surroundings, I stopped noticing them.

What ultimately brought me to Erie was the need to find a yard large enough to exercise my dog.  He had not done well with apartment living in Denver, and I could not afford a house on a sizable lot in the city.  My search led me Erie, where I have resided for 5 years.

Erie is really a gem of a small town.  The view while driving west on Baseline (Highway 7) is stunning.  As you drive up over the hill and look down on the valley, you can see the Flatirons of Boulder, Longs Peak, and all the way north toward Fort Collins.   (On a really clear winter day, you can see far enough west to spot the ski slopes at Eldora).   However, if you turn your gaze a bit further to the north, you will see a couple of mounds of dirt that are the site of two landfills: Denver Regional Landfill, and Front Range Landfill.

The subdivisions of Vista Ridge and Vista Pointe border an open field (the site of Encana’s new wells) that lies on the periphery of the entrance to both landfills off of County Road 5.  When someone purchases a home within these subdivisions, the landfills are a known entity that the home buyer accepts.  Prior to purchasing my home, I was nervous about the proximity of the landfills to my subdivision.  A friend of mine (who lived in Vista Ridge at the time) said that his sister, an engineer, had looked at the original plans for the landfills and determined that they were done exceptionally well; we need not worry about contamination of groundwater, etc.

These landfills bring me to the hot button topic of the weekend: Front Range Landfill’s plan to accept liquid waste, including waste from fracking operations (i.e. “fracking sludge”).  For more information, please read this article from the Boulder Daily Camera:http://www.dailycamera.com/erie-news/ci_26707042/erie-landfill-seeking-add-liquid-waste-solidification.  There was reportedly a meeting between Front Range Landfill spokespersons and residents of Vista Ridge hosted by the Vista Ridge HOA at the community center on Thursday evening (written summary of the meeting is available within a comment from a reader on my last blog post).  However, most people I know in Vista Ridge knew nothing about it.  I also wonder why Front Range Landfill has not arranged for a similar meeting with Vista Pointe residents through the Vista Pointe HOA.

“As if it isn’t enough that we have to live next to the landfill, now they are drilling and fracking next to our homes,” was my friend’s comment when we went for a run last week.  I had even jokingly added, “Yeah Denver metro.  We live next to your dump.  You’re welcome.”  Now it appears that changes in landfill policy may add to our fracking woes, adding insult to injury — or worse.

So why continue to live in Erie?  Honestly, when the Board of Trustees approved Encana’s bid in August, my husband and I started searching Zillow for alternative places to live.  But we discovered two things: 1) It is difficult to remain in this general vicinity and avoid oil/gas operations.  (A simple drive north toward the town of Frederick finds more active drill sites juxtaposed with beautiful homes).  2) We really love where we live.  We love our house, we love our yard, we love the view from our deck, and we love our easy access to Denver and Boulder.  Erie is growing and changing.  Some of that change is really good.  New breweries and restaurants are finding their way into downtown Erie, revitalizing the area.  Yet some of the change makes me question the town’s urban planning; certainly the roads are becoming increasingly crowded as new subdivisions emerge.  New stoplights are needed at a few intersections — especially Erie Parkway and County Road 5.

But overall, Erie has heart, and it is a beautiful place to live.  I for one am determined to fight for it.

View of the Front Range from Highway 7 in Erie.

View of the Front Range from Highway 7 in Erie.

Homes in Vista Ridge, with Longs Peak in the background.

Homes in Vista Ridge, with Longs Peak in the background.

Natural gas well site on the edge of a Vista Pointe neighborhood.

Natural gas well site on the edge of a Vista Pointe neighborhood. Subdivisions were built around previous oil/gas drilling operations.

More images of the Pratt well site

Construction at the Pratt site continues at a rapid pace.  According to Encana’s Courtesy Notice (dated September 2), we can expect the pad construction at each site to take 6-8 weeks.  Drilling is scheduled to begin at the Pratt site in October, and is anticipated to last 100 days.  That means drilling will happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 100 days next to our homes, parks, and walking trails.  And that is just the Pratt site.  The Waste Connections site is scheduled for drilling to begin before the end of the year, and there will be 100 days of drilling at that site as well.

Even more disconcerting is that the process of fracking happens AFTER the drilling phase.  It is technically part of the “completion phase”.  By Encana’s own admission, there will be “increased noise and significant truck traffic” during this phase.  The Courtesy Notice is less clear about how many total days we can expect fracking to take place.  Encana estimates that the completion phase takes approximately 5 days per well.  But remember, there will be total of 13 wells divided between the Pratt and Waste Connection sites.   Simple math would dictate that fracking will take place at each site for 30-35 days, depending upon number of total wells.

I will continue to observe, and document what I see.

View of the Pratt well site from County Road 5 on Sunday October 5.

View of the Pratt well site from County Road 5 on Sunday October 5, 2014.

View from the park at Primrose Lane and Crestview Lane in Vista Ridge, Monday October 6, 2014.

View from the park at Primrose Lane and Crestview Lane in Vista Ridge, Monday October 6, 2014.

Another view from the same park in Vista Ridge, October 6, 2014.

Another view from the same park in Vista Ridge, October 6, 2014.

Additional view from the park in Vista Ridge, October 6, 2014.

Additional view from the park in Vista Ridge, October 6, 2014.

View from the sidewalk that borders Vista Ridge on the northwest side, October 7, 2014.

View during an evening walk along the sidewalk that borders Vista Ridge on the northwest side, October 7, 2014.

How are Erie residents informed?

A reader posed a question to me this week regarding the time-line of Encana’s activities at the two sites near Vista Ridge and Vista Pointe (named the Pratt site and Waste Connections site).  The question jogged my memory; at the Town Hall meeting in August, the Pratt site proposal indicated construction would begin in December 2014 (and the Waste Connections site would begin several months later).  Yet it appears the construction actually started in September.

After sending emails both to a representative at Encana, as well as the Erie Board of Trustees, I was surprised to receive a timely response from both parties.  Encana did in fact move up the time line.  At the Town Hall meeting, the Board had requested that the majority of the drilling operations be finished before next summer.  I remember Mayor Pro Tem Mark Gruber saying that it would be better for Erie residents to have the loudest portion of operations happen during the winter months when our windows are more likely to be closed and we will want to spend less time outside.  He said it was “unconscionable” for Encana to be drilling in the summer.    I agree.  Although I’d like to take that thought a bit further and say it’s unconscionable for them to be drilling so close to our community.  Period.

So yes, Encana moved up the time-line of drilling operations at the request of the Town Council.  And there is a link on the Erieco.gov website that is a “Courtesy Notice” about the planned drilling operations.  The Encana representative also told me that residents within a 0.5 mile radius of the site received a written notice and voicemail.  However  I am having difficulty verifying that the notification happened.

I went for a run yesterday morning with a friend of mine who lives in Vista Ridge.  Using google earth distance calculations, I’ve determined that her home sits 0.59 miles from the Pratt site (thus outside of the notification radius).  She and I discussed the 0.5 mile notification radius and decided that it is ridiculous.  Her comment was, “I feel like by the time I knew any of this was happening, it was too late to do anything to stop it.”  She’s exactly right, only even with more notice I don’t think we could have stopped the steamroller that is oil and gas development in Weld County.  The only way for people to halt oil/gas development within their communities will be to effect change at the State level.

During the past several days, the question of notification has continued to plague me.  At the Town Hall Meeting, Encana showed a map of the area in which homes were notified of the drill site plans.  My home did not fall within that circle, so it made sense to me (at the time) that I had not received any notification.  In fact, the only reason I knew to attend the town meeting is that I happened to catch a 30 second blurb on 9News two nights before the meeting was to take place.

Now, however, I’m learning to question the information that Encana and the Town of Erie are providing.  I have taken the map from within Encana’s “Courtesy Notice” (shown below) and used it to find reference points for distance measurements using other online tools.  I used a site called http://www.FreeMapTools.com (although I double checked my calculations with a few other sites as well).  I was able to locate the site of both the Pratt and Waste Connections drilling operations, and assign a 0.5 mile radius around it.  Do you know what I found?  My house is well within the 0.5 mile radius of the Waste Connections site.  Yet I have NEVER received any kind of notification from Encana.

I sure hope that the engineers working on the drilling and fracking operations are checking their distance calculations more completely than the people who determined the 0.5 mile radius for notification around the well sites.

Pratt well site with 0.5 mile radius shown in green.

Pratt well site with 0.5 mile radius shown in green.

Waste Connections site with 0.5 mile radius shown in green

Waste Connections site with 0.5 mile radius shown in green

.

Map of the Pratt and Waste Connections sites available within the Encana "Courtesy Notice for Planned Oil and Gas Activity" on the Erie.gov website.

Map of the Pratt and Waste Connections sites available within the Encana “Courtesy Notice for Planned Oil and Gas Activity” on the Erie.gov website. It shows a 500 ft and 1000 ft radius around each site.

This is what an oil/gas drilling operation looks like, as it takes shape

Construction of the wall on September 28, 2014

Construction of the wall on September 28, 2014

More of the wall, 2 days later.

More of the wall, 2 days later.

The construction of the wall continues alongside the quiet subdivision of Vista Ridge.  As I watch this monstrous entity take shape, I think about how politicians leave individual homeowners hanging in the balance as they dance around the issue of oil/gas development near urban areas.  No one at the state level of government wants to tell oil/gas companies that they cannot work so closely to where people live; so they leave us with few protections.  A new oil/gas site can sit a mere 500 feet from a home or 1000 feet from a school.  However even these numbers are arbitrary.   We don’t yet know enough about the health risks of living next to drilling sites.   The bottom line is that no one would choose to live in close proximity to a noisy, stinky, industrial operation.  Yet the oil/gas industry imposes their wells upon us.

As I reflect on the town hall meeting that took place on that warm August night, I wish I had known then that approval of these drill sites was a foregone conclusion.  Rather than addressing the town council with my concerns, I would have directed my comments toward the Encana employees in the room (there were MANY).  I would have appealed to their sense of decency, and hopefully morality.  Instead of focusing on the harmful effects of chemicals and the problems that have been linked to fracking, I would have made an emotional appeal.

In my line of work as a veterinarian, clients will often ask “What would you do if this were your dog?”  And that question is a constant litmus test I use for myself.  I would have no business performing surgery on a client’s dog that I would be unwilling to perform on my own dog under similar circumstances.  Therefore that is the standard I hold myself to: What would I want for my own dog in this situation?

So I would like to pose a similar question to the people of Encana: What would you want if this was your subdivision, your neighbors, and your backyard?  Would you be satisfied with a setback of less than 1000 feet?  Would you want the drilling operations anywhere near your home?  I suspect that the answer to these questions is no.  And so I push further: Why then are you willing to bring pollution, noise, and risk to our neighborhood?