Take hard look before shale development

La Plata County has had gas and oil development for many decades. As a result, there have been both beneficial and harmful effects.

Most of us would agree that the effect to funding the county government has been positive. For more than 20 years, the gas industry has paid the lionís share of property taxes. The county has chosen to keep the mill levy low, so all property owners have benefited. Perhaps it would have been wise to keep the mill levy at a level that would have allowed leaving a positive legacy to the future. We chose to take it all for ourselves now, but nonetheless, it is a positive.

Other positives are income to royalty owners and the jobs created.

On the negative side, there has been the loss of property use by landowners, the invasion of peopleís lives by having wells drilled on their lands, having compressor stations with constant noise as neighbors, countless pipelines laid across fields, homes with gas accumulating in their basements and crawl spaces, water wells with enough gas to flare, coal fires that have taken millions of dollars and many years to fight, a huge increase in air pollution, and thousands of acres of wildlife habitat crisscrossed with roads and pipelines.

We are now facing new gas and oil development. The Mancos shale formation underlies most of southern La Plata County. The Southern Ute Tribe has done some preliminary drilling into the Mancos, and is planning more.

There are two wells proposed west of Fort Lewis Mesa on private lands. Just south, in New Mexico, there is a 64-well proposal.

The recent decision by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to defer leasing of lands southwest of Hesperus also provides an opportunity for La Plata County to take the time necessary to make sure the implications of a Mancos shale boom are understood and prepared for.

A few of the issues the county should consider before allowing development to proceed are:

Water: Shale development will entail the use of much greater quantities of water than what we have seen before. Where will this water come from, especially on the western, dry side of the county? Where and how will this water be disposed of once it is used, and polluted? How will we prevent spills, leaks and pollution of drinking water aquifers?

Public safety: With the thousands of wells that exist in the county, how will the horizontally drilled Mancos wells not weaken the existing wellsí casings and well bores? Will they cause old wells to become sources of water contamination, or even methane buildup in homes and soils?

Scale: How many wells are possible, and where? How many new pipelines, compressors and other related infrastructure, especially if oil is developed in a major way, since most of the current infrastructure relates to gas production.

La Plata County has too long a history with gas and oil development to pretend it is benign. The county must call for a pause before rushing headlong into what could be a massive new development.

dan@sanjuancitizens.org. Dan Randolph is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

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