Energy exploration discussion hits pay dirt with Basalt students
BASALT — Dakota Morrison couldn’t quite believe what she was hearing in Brent Hayes’ environmental sciences classroom at Basalt High School Thursday, so she raised her hand.
Her question wasn’t for Hayes, but for a panel of visitors representing various views on oil and gas development in the region.
“So someone can come and drill under your house?” Morrison asked incredulously.
“Yes,” answered Steve Carter, a Democratic candidate for Garfield County commissioner.
“Oh my God. It’s stupid,” Morrison murmured after hearing the panelists explain that surface and mineral rights are separate in Colorado, and that an energy company can drill for oil and gas on someone else’s land without their permission.
“They’ll have to pay for the surface damage, but oh well, that’s the way it works,” Carter said.
Carter was joined by Kathy Friesen of EnCana Oil & Gas (USA), Sloan Shoemaker of the Wilderness Workshop and Dennis Davidson of the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. Their discussion was organized by the EcoFlight nonprofit organization. EcoFlight’s programs include working to engage students in environmental issues through roundtable seminars and aerial tours.
EcoFlight plans to fly students over areas of oil and gas development in northwestern Colorado this morning.
“I’m excited. It’s going to be so much fun,” Morrison said of the flight. But after Thursday’s discussion, she said she still thought Colorado’s split estate law “doesn’t make any sense.”
Friesen told students that EnCana works with landowners.
“We don’t pick a location where the drilling rig is going to go. That’s a negotiable thing. It’s certainly to everyone’s advantage to come to an agreement,” she said.
The other panelists all credited EnCana for its efforts to minimize its impacts and help communities. And they also acknowledged the importance of natural gas as a source of energy and economic development.
But Shoemaker said there needs to be a better balance between energy development and protection of the environment and area residents.
Student Katelyn Timroth found herself as baffled as Morrison by some of what she heard.
She told Friesen and Shoemaker, “You guys are both talking about the same things but there’s such opposite answers. How can it be the same thing but you both have such different views on it?”
Said Shoemaker, “It’s a function of perspective and values. I’ve got my organizational mission and she’s got her corporate charter and they are intersecting in the gas fields.”