SIDE STREETS: Neighbors fear drilling a fracking disaster waiting to happen

November 4, 2011
photo - 
	 Photo by Courtesy ISTOCK
Photo by Courtesy ISTOCK 

Recently, El Paso County Commissioner Dennis Hisey suggested an energy company’s plan to drill three exploratory wells likely won’t cause “a lot of heart burn” because the sites aren’t “getting close to people’s barns and houses.”

I tried to reach Hisey for days to ask him about that observation because I’m hearing from neighbors who are grabbing for rolls of Tums at the thought of Englewood-based Ultra Resources converting the Banning-Lewis Ranch from a sprawling subdivision into a massive oil and natural gas field.

Especially concerned are the 700-plus homeowners in Colorado Centre and another 70 or so homeowners in adjacent Cuchares Ranch.

They rely on four wells drilled into the shallow alluvium of Jimmy Camp Creek to supply their drinking water. They are frightened by the thought of wildcatters a few miles away using a controversial technique of “hydraulic fracturing” in which they blast chemicals and water into shale formations to break the rock and release oil and gas.

Critics blame the so-called fracking technique for damaging the environment and contaminating underground drinking water supplies.

“Some of our residents have come to us with questions,” said Joan Lucia-Treese, a member of the Colorado Centre Metro District board. “The first of the three wells is not terribly far from us. Some residents are concerned. Our board has concerns.”

The well in question would be at the corner of Drennan and Curtis roads, about three miles south of Schriever Air Force Base and about six miles east of Colorado Centre and Cuchares Ranch.

What could go wrong?

Enough, actually, that many residents are worried.

But drilling, apparently, can’t be banned. Only regulated. And folks in Colorado Centre want their elected officials to take a hard look at the project.

“We’re not trying to stop anyone from drilling,” said Al Testa, manager of the metro district. “But if there is any contamination, it’s going to get to us very quickly because our water is alluvium water. Not from a deep aquifer."

In other words, it flows just below the surface so it’s especially vulnerable to contamination.

“We want to make sure there is a mitigation plan in case they end up polluting our community’s only water source,” Testa said.

Seems reasonable. Wish I could have asked Hisey about it and, perhaps, gotten some assurances.

“Our concern is ‘what if’ and what do we do,” Lucia-Treese said. “Who makes the call in the event of an accident?

"What happens in that 24- to 48-hour period before the state declares an emergency and the oil company must begin remediation? Am I buying tons of bottled water for our 800 homes?  How long do we have to wait for reimbursement from the oil company? What kind of remediation can we expect?”

Makes me want to say: No fracking way!

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