As our local towns start talking about water conservation, most recognize that we are among many counties and states that are facing drought along with a potential increase in wildfires. Individually there are ways we can all conserve, and we should. Programs to be more efficient with agricultural irrigation continue to come forth. Since agriculture is the biggest user of water, that is extremely important. But an issue that does not seem to get the attention of many of our elected officials is the use of water by the fossil fuel industries.
In our watershed we now have the Bull Mountain Master Plan (SG Interests and Gunnison Energy) approved for 146 gas wells and four injection wells. Some of this land used to be owned by local ranchers with some of the most pristine water left on the planet -- water straight off of the Ragged Mountains. Some ranches there were bought up by billionaires, some from Texas, such as Russell Gordy who owns SG Interests. Billionaire Bill Koch, owner of Gunnison Energy, has bought many acres in and around our valley over the years. As owners of the land they either have the mineral rights or get permits to lease the mineral rights from the BLM. And they potentially have access to water to "frack" with.
Now Mr. Koch wants to add 35 more wells just north and west of Paonia in a project called the North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan. (Thanks to the Paonia trustees for sending comments to the BLM stating that a more in-depth environmental impact statement be done instead of a proposed preliminary environmental analysis.) As some become aware of what life in this valley might be like with an extended period of drought, others still seem to not have made the connection between growing food (agriculture) and water. Elected officials in our county seem to still court the production of natural gas, saying we can have it all -- clean air and water, recreation, tourism and agriculture -- WITH oil and gas drilling.
It appears to me that there is an elephant standing in the midst of our watershed that some are not willing to acknowledge or call out. This is an issue for all of us. What we all need to understand is that poisoning water forever by using it in "fracking" cannot go on forever. An industry has been created that fails to take into account the long term consequences. Simply, water -- billions of gallons of it -- is forced into the earth to release natural gas or oil. The contents of "fracking" fluid are poisonous. The "produced" water that comes up under pressure contains many undesirable elements (often including radioactive elements disturbed in the drilling process). These waters are then injected into the earth (think about Oklahoma and the earthquakes caused by this process) or sometimes it is hauled "away" for "disposal" to other locations (or as has occurred numerous times -- illegally dumped on roads or in streams, poisoning even more water and land).
Colorado has approximately 60,000 active oil and gas wells. Most wells are fracked several times. There was a time when Garfield County had more drilling rigs than all of Saudi Arabia. This country exports and imports fossil fuels. The push to create more terminals where LNG (liquified natural gas) can be shipped to the highest bidder makes clear that this is not about energy independence. There is incredible inefficiency in the world in shipping/transporting oil, coal, LNG ... back and forth. But there is MONEY in it for some. So as I and others shorten our showers, flush toilets less, as orchardists face loss of fruit or even worse loss of their trees, and vegetable growers face a season short of irrigation water (food shortages for all of us), farmers have less hay, etc., when will our governments at all levels see the need to curtail an industry that not only uses water, but poisons it forever and at the same time poses the risk for all of us of that poisoned water making its way into aquifers and rivers and wells far into the future? There are some things we can live without. Water is not one of them.