Concerns over drilling in Delta and Gunnison counties

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

The Crystal River Caucus is holding a special meeting on April 9, at 7 p.m. at the Church in Redstone, to talk about plans by the energy industry to drill up to 150 wells in a 20,000-acre area known as the Bull Mountain Unit on the western side of McClure Pass.

Of that total, approximately 13,000 acres of gas leases are on federal land.

The wells would be located to the north and west of Paonia Reservoir, directly west of the Raggeds Wilderness Area, according to a map published by the Western Colorado Congress (WCC), a non-profit community-organizing group that operates around the Western Slope.

The Crystal River Caucus, according to its chair, Delia Malone of Redstone, is “concerned” about many aspects of the drilling plan, which has been proposed by SG Interests of Houston, Texas, but mainly about the prospect of big trucks coming over the pass and heading north to Carbondale and beyond.

SG Interests also is one of the energy companies with natural-gas leases in the Thompson Divide, to the southwest of Carbondale, which has prompted more than five years of conflict and resistance from area towns and community groups.

“From the Caucus perspective,” Malone said, “our membership is really concerned about the heavy level of traffic … that may come down Highway 133.”

According to a summary distributed by the Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) in Paonia, SG Interests is planning to drill 146 new gas wells and four wastewater disposal wells, on 36 well pads.

That would more than double the number of wells in Delta and Gunnison counties, which currently number about 67.

According to CHC and WCC, the wells are to be drilled at a rate of 27 wells a year over six years, and the company plans to upgrade 53 miles of existing roads and build 16 miles of new roads, as well as eight miles of new “cross-country” pipelines and four new compressor stations.

The wells are projected to consume 744 acre-feet of fresh water, and about 1,736 acre-feet of recycled produced water. An acre-foot of water is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of area to a depth of one foot.

The CHC group estimates that the “total cumulative water demands over the course of development is estimated at 353.6 million gallons of fresh water.”

Concerning traffic, the CHC reported in its summary that it would take up to 43,294 trips by heavy trucks to build the well pads, access roads and pipelines, and for drilling and fracking the wells once they are in place. That activity is predicted to occur over a two-year period.

That traffic, Malone noted, must travel either over McClure Pass on Highway 133, or up from Hotchkiss.

She said a math whiz she knows calculated that, based on an eight-hour work day, five days a week, that number of truck trips amounts to a truck every six minutes.

And some of that traffic, she predicted, “will go straight through Carbondale and down to Glenwood Springs.”

While groups in the North Fork Valley have been actively publicizing the drilling plans, and holding meetings about the matter, there has been little notice in the Crystal and Roaring Fork river valleys.

But, she said, “It should raise some red flags … about the indirect impacts of this.”

She said some questions she has fielded about this include how the industrial-level of activity will affect Highway 133’s status as a Scenic Highway, and what it will mean for the tranquil, village-style atmosphere of the historic town of Redstone.

In addition, she said, there is the possibility of accidents involving trucks carrying fracking water (used to break up deeply buried deposits of gas and oil) or “produced” water (which comes up from deep in the earth along with the gas and oil), both of which are known to have toxic components.

She noted that gas trucks have been known to overturn and spill their contents in western Garfield County, where considerable drilling has been under way for years.

And, she said, there was a time back in the 1980s and earlier when coal trucks occasionally did the same, as they traveled from mines in Coal Basin near Redstone to a train-loading facility outside of Carbondale, turning the Crystal River black with coal dust.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” she said of such accidents, adding, “there’s a high degree of probability.”