Liz X., Mom of Three, Weld County

Butterfly

Meet Liz X., Mother of 3, living in Weld County:

After 10 years of marriage and 3 boys, my husband and I were finally able to purchase our first home last summer in Mead, Colorado.  It is everything we wanted – lots of room, a huge backyard, and a park down the street.  We have great neighbors, and the boys love their schools and have made lots of friends.  We back up to farmland and have an excellent view of the mountains.

But after only about 5 months of living here, I started noticing how many oil wells surround us, and how many more are being drilled almost constantly.  My sister in Erie told me about the issues she was starting to find out about fracking there, and that she found out a well was fracked last summer just 350 feet from her 6 year old son’s school playground.  Not too long after that, I noticed a posting in the farmer’s field behind my house stating it was a future well site.  I found out from a neighbor that everyone in my HOA was being sent leases to sign giving Encana permission to drill under our homes.  A meeting had been held with an Encana representative who was extremely unprofessional and almost threatening about signing the leases as quickly as possible.  He told everyone if they sign the leases they would receive royalties and be released from any future liability.  But if we refuse to sign, the State of Colorado has given them the ability to “force pool” all of the affected mineral rights owners as long as a certain percentage of signed leases are returned (based on land size) – whether we like it or not.  Not only can (and probably, WILL) we be forced into this, but in that case we could not only possibly be held financially responsible to pay for any problems that could arise, but we have to pay to maintain the well, and to shut it down when it stops producing in the future.  We would receive a reduced percentage of royalties.

We still hadn’t received our lease so I didn’t know about the initial meeting until a few weeks later.  Apparently they are going to drill 8 wells in the field directly behind us – with the farmer’s permission – and will drill horizontally under all of our homes for miles, possibly into the main part of the town itself.  The potential impact of this is huge.  To start, they come out and do seismic testing of the area (which they’ve already begun), essentially shaking the earth with these special trucks to see where the best location is to drill – this testing has been proven to cause structural damage to homes, as well as set off small earthquakes.  Then they start the drilling which is extremely loud and goes on 24 hours a day with bright lights set up.  The chemicals they force into the ground and the shale beneath our homes with extreme force using water are toxic.  The THOUSANDS of trucks needed to carry the water and chemicals to the site will run 24 hours a day – polluting the air, and ruining the roads.  The fracking process has also been proven to set off earthquakes, cause structural damage, and weaken the ground under our homes.  Home values plummet with wells so visibly close.  And once the wells are fracked and operating, they will be venting gas and potentially hazardous chemicals indefinitely.

Out of fear for my family’s health I helped create a group with some of my neighbors to try to fight against these wells being drilled.  While we have received a lot of support from others in Mead, there are also quite a few who are very upset with us for delaying this process.  I live in Weld County – these wells are literally everywhere.  Quite a few of my neighbors work for oil & gas companies, and I’ve lost friends over this.  While out one day with my 4 year old handing out fliers about a town meeting to discuss these wells, a man chased me down in his car and screamed at me for daring to stand in the way of their livelihood.  He was very large and threatening, and came back two more times to yell some more – and he watched when I went into my home.  A couple of weeks later while in a meeting with the Mead Town Manager, he told us he has actually received somewhat constant threatening phone calls from a couple of residents against us – including a man who has said he owns “lots of guns, and isn’t afraid to use them”.

To make matters much, much worse – while this was going on Encana came in and set up a well site 350 FEET from my son’s elementary school.  The 350 feet does not count the playground that’s in between the school building and wells.  The middle school where my 13 year old attends is right next to the elementary school.  We don’t even know how many wells they’re fracking at this site, but the temporary fence they’ve put up around it is so large it’s now known as the “Great Wall” around town.  I’ve spoken with teachers and school administrators who tell us they are just as furious that this is going on, and that they are afraid for their health – but that they are not allowed to speak on record as school employees about it.  I got a call one day from a my 10 year old’s teacher saying my son had such a horrible bloody nose in class they had to send him to the nurse because they couldn’t stop it.  When I said something about that being one of the documented effects of fracking – she told me that since they’ve been fracking the wells by the school, most of the kids come back in from recess complaining of headaches and generally not feeling well, and that there are a number of bloody noses in class every day.  Teachers and school administrators both had told us they would attend our meetings and sign our petitions – but none have yet followed through, and we’re afraid that the school district is blocking them from speaking out.  (They have a history of this).

I have had chronic asthma since I was a kid.  All three of my boys have asthma.  One of my neighbors is on kidney dialysis; and another has a 5 year old with a congenital heart defect.  In 8 short months this has gone from our dream home and place to raise our boys, to a living nightmare.  We are regular people trying to live regular lives, and now we’re being forced to live right next to these wells 24/7.  We don’t get to leave after our shift like the Encana workers do, we don’t wear personal protective gear in our backyards, and we don’t get a fair voice in what’s being done to us.  Why on earth does it need to be done so close to homes and schools??  The lawyers we’ve spoken to tell us we don’t have a real hope of stopping the drilling – all we can fight for is better lease terms including larger distances from our homes, or better royalties.  We can hope for a small moratorium.  We are up against a multi-BILLION dollar industry with loopholes and politicians in their pockets.  It is so very disheartening to realize how the health and future of your babies comes second to someone else’s profit.  We will never win this fight – or even make a dent – unless we all start banding together and demanding the truth, and protection of our elected officials.  If you can get in front of this where you live – do it, because once they pull the permits it’s too late.

~ Liz X.