In shadow of offshore disaster, growing concern over onshore drilling

The worsening Deepwater Horizon oil spill may be grabbing all the headlines lately, but several much smaller incidents in Colorado and neighboring states are quietly highlighting the need for increased onshore oil and gas drilling regulation.

Colorado’s Western Slope drilling capital, Garfield County, recently refused to push for the reinstatement of a moratorium on drilling in an area near Silt where a creek was contaminated with methane and other toxins in 2004. A nearby landowner says the seep persists to this day. But county commissioners did ask the state to probe the matter more intensely and give greater credence to a county consultant who says the spill is drilling-related.

And in neighboring Wyoming, which just passed more stringent rules governing the drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, the Casper Star-Tribune reports the state faces a looming deadline to plug dozens of abandoned coal-bed methane wells that produced more water than gas and have seriously impacted local property owners.

Meanwhile, officials in Utah over the weekend were trying to stem a leak from an oil pipeline in Salt Lake City that was threatening to contaminate the Great Salt Lake. The Chevron pipeline originates in Colorado.

With such regional incidents as a backdrop, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall today will hold a news conference at a gas station in Denver to tout a bill he’ll introduce to “ensure research and development is done on safety and spill prevention for oil and gas wells both onshore and offshore,” according to a release.

“The bill would retool an existing program, which Sen. Udall believes has been too focused on increasing production. He wants to make sure there’s a government program in place that addresses safety and accident prevention.” The news conference is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. at the Silco Gas Station at 295 S. Broadway in Denver.

Back on the Western Slope, Garfield County public health officials will hold a meeting at the Grand Valley Fire Protection District building in Battlement Mesa from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday to provide on update on the only Health Impact Assessment currently being conducted in Colorado to evaluate the potential impacts of a major new drilling project in the area.

Members of the grassroots Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and the Battlement Concerned Citizens have been persistently advocating for the study ahead of planned 200-well project within the boundaries of the community of 5,000.

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