Northern El Paso County residents got their first look Wednesday night at hillside areas targeted by the federal government for oil and gas drilling.
At an open-house style presentation at Bear Creek Elementary School in Monument, U.S. Forest Service officials milled with Palmer Lake and Monument residents, and fielded their questions about potential plans by the Bureau of Land Management to open drilling leases in the near future. The Forest Service meeting was just the first step in what could be a long and familiar process for many Coloradans, and for a few residents the chance to chat with agency representatives barely scratched the surface of their concerns.
Like many of his neighbors, Barry King heard about the meeting on Tuesday night, and having fought against past attempts to drill in the county, he decided to come.
"Well, I figured something was moving, and I don't want to be it," he said.
The meeting was the fourth of five public input meetings across Colorado and Kansas this week. The proposed drilling areas encompass three million acres of Forest Service lands, including the Pike and San Isabel National Forests as well as the Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands, said Oscar Martinez, an ecosystem staff officer for the Forest Service. The agency invited the public to question specialists like Martinez, but the scope was limited - at this point, the Forest Service will start compiling lists of environmental guidelines for drilling companies to follow, Martinez said.
The agency wants public input, and intends to spend the next month combing over comments-slips dropped in boxes at each meeting, Martinez said.
"This is an interactive process," he added.
An Environmental Impact Statement should be done by the end of the year, Martinez said. The agency will not spear-head the lease efforts, which will instead be organized by the Bureau of Land Management. A Texas company, Dyad Petroleum, is interested in the lands available for lease, Martinez said.
One of the greatest concerns for Trish Burns, a Monument resident who came to the meeting, was water. Haunted by the more drastic consequences of hydraulic fracturing, a process used to drill into the Earth, she wanted to know how future drilling would affect her well water. But, Burns and others were told that all "below surface" concerns fall under BLM's purview, not the Forest Service.
Monument resident Daniel Graham also looked for answers to water concerns, which troubled him a few years ago when there was another attempt to drill in the area.
But for Randy and Linda Schaffer, the issues with drilling would go beyond water concerns - there's a good chance that the couple could have drilling in their backyard. The last drilling project to hit northwestern El Paso County was in 1992, and the Schaffer's had a drilling lease 900 feet from their house. They attended Wednesday's meeting to find out if that spot can still be tapped. Turns out, if the lease comes through, the spot is fair game, said Martinez.
In the past, residents like King and Graham have joined committees and hired lawyers to prevent drilling. The issue has long been a contentious one for Coloradans, but has not been so sensitive for Kansas residents, said Forest Service spokeswoman Barb Timock.
The Schaffers dread the noise of drilling rigs and the damage to their roads that could come with heavy drilling equipment. Graham, who lived in North Dakota where drilling was widely used, talked about wrecked roads and dangerous holes scattered throughout counties.
"We could still kill it, right?" Randy Schaffer asked uncertainly.
Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261