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RBC — Officials from Pine-dale, Wyo., visited Rio Blanco County in August to compare notes with officials here about the impact of energy development.
A group of different representatives from Pinedale, home of the huge Jonah Field energy development, was in northwest Colorado last month at meetings in Craig and Steamboat Springs to share their concerns about the impact of energy development on air quality and public health in their area, and warn what could happen here.
“The take-home message was that Pinedale was in our exact same position seven or eight years ago, and they heard the same message,” said Sasha Nelson of the Colorado Environmental Coalition, which sponsored the meetings. “Now, in hindsight, they wish they had listened and got ahead of things quicker, because the impacts are there and, in some cases, can’t be reversed.”
Nelson said Pinedale is expected to be declared a dirty air area by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“That’s the worst, unhealthiest air designation that is possible,” Nelson said. “That is comparable to not just a major city’s air quality, but the worst major city’s air quality. The impacts they are experiencing are worse than Los Angeles has ever been, and in a community of 3,000 people. But there are 1,100 wells operating around that community.”
Nelson said the BLM is studying the effects of energy development on regional air quality, including in Rio Blanco County, as part of an air quality assessment for updating its Little Snake Resource Management Plan.
“They (the Pinedale representatives) brought up some pretty stark similarities between the BLM plan there and what is being proposed here,” Nelson said. “They are calling for upwards of 20,000 wells out in the Piceance Basin area in 20 years. That’s the top-most projection, but the magnitude of impact you could see in your county is astronomical.”
While there were people in the audience at the Craig and Steamboat meetings representing energy development, Nelson said her organization was candid about its one-sided position.
“These events were not designed to be balanced in that regard,” she said. “That was deliberate on our part. We’re quite upfront about letting people know we are an environmental organization and that is the side we are going to represent.
“As an organization, we’re not about chasing development out,” Nelson said. “But they pump millions of dollars in to lobby their issues. We felt it was important to give environmental issues a platform.”
Nelson attended the panel discussion with officials from Pinedale at a community session in August in Meeker.
“The focus was quite a bit different,” Nelson said. “The focus of the meetings in Meeker was more about socioeconomic impacts. They did address some of how industry has provided opportunities, but also some of the negatives parts of that, such as the impacts on housing, crime, schools, etc.”
Nelson said her advice to officials in Rio Blanco County as well as concerned citizens is to “get on board with the planning process and let the BLM know what development you want on public lands and at what pace.”
The BLM’s Little Snake Resource Management Plan covers nearly two million acres of public land in northwest Colorado, including a portion in Rio Blanco County. The majority of Rio Blanco County is covered by the White River Field Office of the BLM.
“We encourage people not to just take our word for it, but to take at look at the issues themselves,” Nelson said. “The converse is true, too. Don’t take industry’s word for it, but take a look at it themselves.”
Nelson said her organization has held informational meetings in Rio Blanco County, and may have a meeting after the first of the year at Kilowatt Korner in Meeker to show a documentary film titled, “Last Hat in Town,” which deals with the impact of energy development on Rifle and Garfield County.