Alamosa plein air artist Dave Montgomery; Jim Kuehn and his wife, Jacque, not pictured, live 1,700 feet from the proposed oil and gas drill site. He welcomed the art event in hopes it will raise awareness of drilling in a residential area; Artist and cattle rancher Karen Bonnie lives across the road from the proposed drill site. She fears for the future of her animals and all of nature’s creations.
Courier staff writer
DEL NORTE — Fearing a proposed oil operation will steal another piece of the great American West’s beauty, Valley artists of all kinds united with San Francisco Creek property owners to celebrate the endangered landscape last Saturday.
“We have a very good endangered landscape,” reinforced Alamosa plein air artist and Art for the Endangered Landscape organizer Dave Montgomery. “It is a potential victim.”
Before the end of the year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will decide on whether to allow the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company to dig a 6,600-foot deep exploratory oil and gas well on 35 acres of private property in the midst of a 90 lot residential subdivision five miles south of Del Norte. Property owners are not pleased with the proposal because if valuable resources are discovered during the 45-day exploratory period, a full-blown drilling operation could evolve.
“Today there are probably several thousand places we could be here in the Valley and do this, but what is different about this place is that somebody wants to really mess with it in a major, intrusive, potentially harmful way, not only to wildlife and the Earth, but human beings as well,” Montgomery said about the San Luis Valley Ecosystems Council co-sponsored event.
“It is short-sided to extract hydrocarbons, which is an antiquated technology. We have had it for 50,000 years. I think it is time to change.”
For Jim Kuehn, who lives 1,700-feet from the proposed drill site with his wife, Jacque, the potential harm to human beings is all too real.
“It has completely destroyed our life as we know it here,” Kuehn said while watching the artists move around the land. “We moved in her three and a half years ago and none of this was disclosed. The first landowners meeting we went to we found out about it. We are trying to fight this thing.”
In addition to breaking the serene setting, the presence of oil and gas drilling will affect both Kuehn and his wife’s health since they suffer from respiratory illnesses. They are also concerned about lighting, water contamination and increased traffic on the dirt road.
“You tell me how a tanker truck and a car are going to coexist on that road,” Kuehn said. “Somebody is going to give way there. The fact that they are going right through the school yard with all of that traffic is an issue, too.”
The older couple has tried to sell their home at half of the fair market value, he said, but no one has even come close to taking a look inside.
“The word is out that they (the oil companies) are coming in here,” Kuehn said. “It doesn’t matter if it is us living right next to us or someone else. I’m not opposed to oil and gas exploration, but, like everything else, there is a place for it. They (oil companies) seem to target poor areas. They wouldn’t go into the heart of Aspen and start drilling in there because there is a lot of important people there.”
Del Norte might not be the place for the rich and famous, it is home to an important and unique environment. Artist and cattle rancher Karen Bonnie lives across the way from the proposed site and she participated in the art event to bring public awareness to her reality and her home.
“Wildlife is important,” Bonnie said over her canvass. “It is not for everybody, but that is why we live here.”
She, like her neighbors the Kuehn’s, has also invested her life into her property.
“We made an investment in our place and our cows are what we live for,” Bonnie said. “I’m not against drilling or big corporations. We need fuel, but why here? Why does the BLM say not on our land, but you can go to the neighbors and drill sideways?”
The BLM is presently finishing its scoping process for the proposed drill site and is scheduled to offer the community an Environmental Assessment (EA) draft next month. The agency will then open the second 30-day public comment period of the drilling application process before completing the final EA draft and making a decision before the end of the year.
The process that is used to approve thousands of oil and gas drill sites across the nation has yet to impress some residents fighting the proposal.
“The local BLM doesn’t know what they are doing,” said Del Norte resident Terry Hance. “They told us that they would be open and honest and they have not.”
She added that she has similar feelings towards the Rio Grande County Commissioners. On June 27, the board decided a Temporary Moratorium on Approval of Oil and Gas permits would stay in place until one month after the Rio Grande Roundtable hydrology study is completed. One week later, however, the board agreed to support fracking – a controversial natural resource extraction process – at an Action 22 meeting. According to the board’s July 3 minutes, the commissioners agreed fracking was an acceptable practice “as long as it is done with proper management procedures.”
“I am very disappointed in them,” Hance said. “That is not transparency. Why are they (the board) wasting our time?”
She said one major concern of hers related to management procedures is the emergency response plan included in the Hughes’ drilling proposal. In case of an emergency like a fire, the company states it will utilize the Pueblo lnteragency Fire Dispatch Center whose base is three hours away from Del Norte.
“You can make all of the promises that you want,” Keuhn said. “They have no response team in case of catastrophe.”
A reception and sale of the artwork is scheduled for November 30 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Adams State University Community Partnership Building.