‘Split Estate’ is a must-see film for Western Slope residents

When “Split Estate,” a new documentary on the effects or oil and gas drilling on the lives and property of homeowners, farmers and ranchers who do not own their mineral rights, was previewed in Glenwood Springs, a representative of EnCana Oil & Gas complained that the material was dated, and that the film tells “only one side of the story.”

Another spokesman for the company echoed these sentiments when he said, “We would say it is well-done from one point of view. As a fair and balanced discussion of the natural gas industry, it fails. The incidents are not new.”

These complaints might be regarded as amusing, coming from an industry that spent millions on attempting to prevent the adoption of sensible state regulations, and which continues to try to weaken the rules adopted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, if the consequences of poorly regulated drilling were not so tragic.

In the meantime, even while trying to undermine those new rules, industry lobbyists in Washington are trying to derail federal legislation requiring disclosure of the chemicals being injected into the ground by claiming state regulations are adequate to regulate the industry.

EnCana officials might make a more credible case for the industry if they did not hold the record for the largest fine ever assessed in Colorado for polluting Divide Creek, near Rifle, with gas.

But “Split Estate” makes no pretense of being “fair and balanced.” Told from the perspective of people from Garfield County, Colo., and San Juan County, N.M., who lost their health, their homes and their dreams as a consequence of drilling, this film is about the powerlessness of surface owners who don’t own their mineral rights when energy companies come to drill their property.

Most of the health problems, according to the property owners, are the result of either air pollution from nearby wells, or water pollution, especially from hydraulic fracking. Despite evidence to the contrary, the industry continues to maintain that the fluids used in fracking are benign, and that drilling poses no threat to drinking water sources.

The individual stories of split-estate owners are interwoven by the film with a theme of environmental degradation, as a rural area is transformed into an industrial park. The film artfully balances the individual narratives of split-estate landowners with visual images of a ravaged landscape dominated by endless drilling pads, evaporation ponds, roads and industrial compounds.

The film comes at an important time for several reasons, beginning with the continuing debate in Congress of the FRAC Act. This legislation would require disclosure of the chemical formulas of fracking fluids, making it easier to determine the source of water pollution. Without such information, it is very difficult to trace pollution to its origin.

With the industry working assiduously to dismantle or weaken the rules recently adopted by the state oil and gas commission, “Split Estate” is a timely reminder of some of the reasons the rules were enacted. Though not as strong as many split-estate owners would like them to be, the new state rules do increase the bargaining power of surface owners.

Among notable locals appearing in the film are Duke Cox, a frequent spokesman for Western Colorado Congress and the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance on oil and gas issues, and Kathy Hall who speaks for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. These two probably have never been seen in the same vehicle before.

Cox is thoughtful, articulate and convincing on the cultural and environmental impacts of the drilling boom on Garfield County, but Kathy Hall’s industry platitudes ring hollow against the verbal and visual evidence of the film.

The only laugh-out-loud moment of the film comes when Hall proudly claims that she has drunk fracking fluid.

“Split Estate” is an important documentary that every resident of western Colorado should see as part of a “fair and balanced” assessment of the impact of drilling on the environment we depend on for our way of life in western Colorado.

If you missed the film’s debut on national TV, catch it on a rerun. “Split Estate” is too important to miss or ignore.


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