AGATE, Colo. (CBS4) – Rick Blotter harvests late-season corn from his backyard organic garden. Nearby, a couple goats are tended by his wife Bev.

Where the couple lives — in the community of Agate in rural Elbert County — is surrounded by pristine ranchland. The Blotters are desperate to protect their retirement home from oil and gas production.

Written by Paul DayNational companies are already negotiating leases in the area.

“We’re just looking for good land that may be productive in the future,” says Kelsey Campbell, a spokeswoman for Chesapeake Energy.

Chesapeake — America’s No. 1 driller of natural gas — already has operations in Weld County. But it is among a growing number of oil and gas producers eyeing areas along the Front Range that have not traditionally been drilled, including Elbert County, Arapahoe County and Douglas County.

Rick waves his arm towards a pristine meadow.

“I could imagine them leveling this out and putting a pad here,” he says.

The Blotters aren’t the only ones who are worried. A group of their neighbors joined them to express their fears to CBS4 about a broad range of potential problems. They range from contamination of the water supply to air pollution, industrial noise, truck traffic, diminished property values plus allegations of hard-nosed leasing tactics.

Resident here must rely on the precious ground water for drinking, bathing and cooking, so protecting it is a top priority.

“What I’m worried about is the accidents that occur,” says Larry Ross, a 5th generation landowner in Agate.

He asks what happens when well casings crack underground and answers his own question.

“The chemicals migrate into our water supply,” claims Ross.

Much of the public debate has centered on a process called fracking.

Chesapeake Energy agreed to allow a CBS4 camera crew to visit a fracking operation in Weld County near the town of Roggen.

“It’s a safe, very environmentally friendly process,” explains Sandy Andrew regional Operations Manager for Chesapeake.

Sandy Andrew on site with CBS4

Once a well bore is drilled, sand and water and a small amount of chemical additives are injected deep underground. This releases the oil and gas which then rises to the surface. The so-called fracking fluid is a paste-like material.

The chemical additives are no more dangerous than household cleaners you find under your bathroom sink, claims Andrew.

True, they can include corrosion inhibitors and acids. But all fluids — the production water, the oil and gas — travel inside a concrete lined steel pipe, providing double protection against any possibility of leaks.

Fracking typically occurs a mile beneath ground water supplies but it’s up at the surface that most problems occur.

“What you saw is the way it’s supposed to work,” says Mike Freeman of CBS4’s visit in Roggen. Freeman is an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group.

“We know things don’t always go as planned,” he said.

Freeman provided CBS4 with state records detailing a spill above ground at a Chesapeake site in Weld County last summer. Thousands of gallons of water, oil and gas had to be cleaned up, according to the report.

Vandalism was the cause of the spill, according to Chesapeake. An investigation revealed a plug had been removed from a holding tank.

“There are documented spills, there are documented spills as levels many would consider to be significant,” says David Neslin, Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. His state agency has the duel mission of facilitating oil and gas production throughout the state while at the same time protecting people and their property.

It’s why field crews are stepping up a state program to gather more baseline samples from domestic water wells in areas faced with oil and gas drilling in the future.

David Neslin with Day. (credit: CBS)

The commission has also investigated numerous complaints that wells have been contaminated by fracking (also known as hydraulic fracturing).

“In no instance have we been able to verify that hydraulic fracturing caused such contamination,” says Neslin.

But Donna Dreyer Ross, another neighbor of the Blotters, spends a lot of time combing through public spill reports filed with the Oil and Gas Commission.

She recalled one troublesome situation in another part of the state.

“All this … production water was spilled and they asked the oil company ‘Well, did you have to remediate it?’ And they said ‘Oh no, the spring rains washed it down the creek,’ ” she said.

But Chesapeake tells CBS4 it takes special precautions to prevent and contain any spills. CBS4’s camera crew was shown special tarps laid down under a flatbed truck loaded with containers of fluid. The same site has containment berms.

The operations boss says Chesapeake is open to explain the fracking process to anyone interested.

“So we can allay some of those fears that are driven out of ignorance,” Andrew said.

But the Blotters and their neighbors remain skeptical.

“When they are ready to come in, they’re going to come in regardless of what impact it has to me,” said Rick.

Actual drilling is still at least six months away, says the Chesapeake spokeswoman.

“We wouldn’t stay. We would be in an industrial area trying to raise animals and we don’t want to live that way,” said Bev.


Watch Environmental Specialist Paul Day’s video reports for this story below:

Comments (9)
  1. Dorrie Quinn says:

    Follow the lead of the folks on the east coast…. stand up and fight for adequate oversight.. These companies need to be held accountable for their actions, their waste and the dangerous by-products of their operations.

  2. Rick Blotter says:

    Other issues involve: 1) from where the millions of gallons of water used in each frack come. 2) it is known that carcinogenic fluids are used in the fracking liquid; if only 1% are chemicals, that is thousands of gallons of toxic waste that can contaminate our aquifers. 3) there are only 10 inspectors for more than 60,000 wells in Colorado. 4) Horizontal drilling can be done for up to two miles; why aren’t there regulations that keep drilling rigs away from residences?

  3. Dr Lynn Schriner says:

    If they say the chemicals are “as safe as the household chemicals under their sink” I have two thoughts to that. 1) You never drink the household cleaners under your sink and 2) My understanding is the amount of chemiclas in fracking solution is staggering…contamination of water is the NUMBER ONE REASON why this should NEVER be allowed to happen. Elbert county has a contained aquifer…the water is isolated and protected and if chemicals do get into this it will be contaminated FOREVER…There is no way the water should be even remotely threatened…FIND another way…Find another area…

  4. Ray Lehman says:

    There are many hidden state and federal subsidies involved with any project like this. Someone needs to pay for the infrastructure that is required. When any industrial site is developed, the state and county end up having to pick up the tab to upgrade and maintain the roads necessary to accommodate the increased truck and vehicle traffic. State and local governments are already finding it difficult to meet the minimum needs of the residents. I think given the choice, most residents would rather see those funds used for other things such as education or the development of renewable energy sources.

  5. Tony Corrado says:

    Occupy Wall Street protesters are making a simple statement: We don’t want nor need big business deciding what is good for taxpaying Americans. In Colorado the State gives licenses away to big oil with a pittance in return. The regulators and politicians are all beholden to big oil. The issue is that contractors don’t follow safe procedures in fracking and accidents do occur. If politicians and regulators were personally held responsible to indemnify landowners against “accidents” , would they still favor fracking?

  6. Jim Duvall says:

    Another aspect of the drilling is slowly becoming more apparent. As per a recent article in the NY Times, many lenders either will not lend or have severe restrictions when lending on a property that has an active oil and gas lease. Further, if a landowner is “forced pooled” and made an unwilling participant, how will the state and county deal with potential liability if that landowner is later unable to refinance or sell due to oil and gas activity that a lender will not accept. In addition, there is some thought that a landowner must get the permission of his/her current mortgage holder PRIOR to entering an oil and gas lease…..I would guarantee that the oil companies do not bring this up during their negotiations nor do most of the lessees know this. Are they already in technical default on their mortgage?

  7. matt bryant says:

    Many of the most common arguments the companies make are simply empty statements or plain lies.

    There has never been an incident from “fracking”. The insdusrty has difined fracking as only the time when highh pressure water full of chemicals is being pumped into the ground. Once that ends, according to the industry, the “fraclinkg” is over. All the clean of water left in ground does not count any more?!?!? If someone dies form an infection after open heart surgery, the root cause is still the surgery.

    This has been going on for 60 years is another one. Well asbestos insullation, lead paint and smoking have been going on for a long time too so they must be safe.

    The big one is this is perfectly safe. If that is the case that they industry should have no problem agreeing to cover the medical bills, conduct monitoring, and agree to any other expense that will ever occur as a result in writting.

    This is another case of those with the means steamrolling over the public to make a quick profit. No one would agree to this if they new the facts. Too many people only have access to the industry’s version of the story and the politicians are too busy collecting campaign checks to actually protect the people.

    Shame on us and good luck to our children if we do,’t prevent this from happening.

  8. Sam Schabacker says:

    Fracking has contaminated drinking water, caused crops to wither, and killed farm animals that have been exposed to fracking fluids. It is too dangerous to the environment, property owners, and Coloradans. We need to ban fracking.

  9. No Frack says:

    They’re going to kill us all.

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