Conservationists warn of drilling boom in Arapahoe County

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DENVER -- Although Colorado's drilling boom has largely impacted homeowners in Weld County and along the northern Front Range, conservationists issued a warning Monday to homeowners in heavily populated Arapahoe County: "you're next."

Using existing public data of existing oil and gas leases, Conservation Colorado launched a new website showing the potential impact to residents in this growing suburban county, which also happens to be the state's most important political battleground, including more than 30 schools that now sit atop existing mineral rights and leases.

"It's a pretty stark portrayal of what could be coming to Arapahoe County," said Pete Maysmith, the group's executive director.

The website's launch comes just days ahead of the deadline for the state task force on local control of drilling to submit recommendations about how to address the persistent impasse between local communities and the powerful oil and gas industry.

That task force was formed last summer as a means toward a political end, avoiding a costly fight over anti-drilling ballot initiatives last fall; but Capitol observers are skeptical that the recommendations will spark a legislative solution to the problem, especially now that Republicans control the state senate.

The main goal of the website is simplifying existing information for residents who might not know where to find it and to direct them as to how to get involved.

"It's too late when the rig goes up next to your house and starts drilling," Maysmith said. "We need more information earlier."

Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, a Democrat whose Aurora district includes much of the area on the county map, told reporters Monday that she's been hearing increasing concerns about fracking from constituents.

"It's not enough to simply be participating in the legislative sphere," Carroll said. "This website can help direct people to the right level of where they need to engage.

"We need to have stronger local controls in order to address the health and safety concerns of people."

One such resident is Dawn Mortimer, a homeowner and mom who spoke to reporters on the Conservation Colorado conference call Monday morning.

"I am extremely concerned about the health of my family: water, air pollution, my home value," Mortimer said. "There are lots of examples from around the country where it's had devastating effects. The majority of people I talk to don't know anything about it."

Industry officials argue that Conservation Colorado downplays the amount of drilling already underway in Arapahoe County, mostly in the eastern, less populated part of it, and that local officials are largely supportive.

“Arapahoe County has a long history of oil and gas development and holds operators who adhere to their Memorandum of Understanding agreement to some of the highest standards in the state," said Randy Hildreth, an industry spokesperson. "In fact, the county’s MOU process was developed over a year and a half process in conjunction with county residents, industry representatives and other stakeholders to create an agreement that would protect the health, safety and welfare of Arapahoe County’s communities and residents.

"This bipartisan agreement is highly regarded as an example of sensible regulations and is often mentioned as a model for other communities."

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