In March 2012 students and faculty from the John McConnell Math & Science Center of Western Colorado took part in a study of oil and gas development in the Piceance Basin and looked at how large-scale development impacts the environment and nearby communities. We flew over Battlement Mesa, where a Health Impact Assessment was launched in response to Antero Resources' 2009 proposed plan to drill 200 wells within the residential area. The Health Impact Assessment, a document created by the Colorado School of Public Health, was intended to gauge the impacts of oil and gas drilling in the community and be used as a decision-making tool to incorporate these issues into the land use decision making process. The assessment found potential impacts to the community and recommended disclosure of chemicals, increasing setbacks, and decreasing emissions. The document was never finished after Garfield County Commissioners voted to end their contract in 2011.
Flying over the Piceance Basin, we saw some of the 1,800 natural gas wells currently operating. With the BLM's current Resource Management Plan projecting up to 20,000 more leases in the next 15 years, we saw a landscape and a number of small communities that will be changed forever. We have seen big changes on this landscape in the last decade, and in the techniques used to extract these resources. Humans have experimented with different ways to extract natural gas, and sometimes the consequences aren't worth it. In 1969 the government detonated a nuclear bomb, twice as powerful as the one that destroyed Hiroshima, underground near Rulison, CO to break loose natural gas deposits. It did release gas, but what came up was too radioactive to use. Thinking ahead and realizing the potential impacts to the environment and our communities is critical.
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