Rob Alexander, agricultural resource specialist for Boulder County Parks and Open Space, says the real problem with oil and gas companies on open space is not so much spills as it is other impacts from drilling operations.
“We haven’t had a lot of problems with spills,” he says. “They just aren’t that frequent. Our problems have been other things, like impacts to soils. Once they go in and disturb an irrigated cropland, it’s never the same again.”
According to Alexander, a tile drainage system about four feet under the surface at one site was damaged so severely by drilling operations a few years ago that now the soil is saturated and has an altered chemical character that no longer supports farming. But the county couldn’t prove it was caused by the drilling operation.
“In some places, nothing grows, not even weeds,” Alexander says of the property. “You might be able to get something to grow, but it really doesn’t produce. It’s affecting the private land across the road from ours even worse.”
He says Encana is the company that the county has had the most problems with.
“They’ve left some messes and haven’t cleaned them up,” Alexander says. “We have a whole list. … We’ve got some doozies that are still not the same.”
Wendy Wiedenbeck, community relations advisor for Encana, responded to the complaint about the aftermath of its drilling operations.
“That’s unfortunate,” she told Boulder Weekly. “Clearly, we have some work to do in Boulder County. We’ve had a lot of success with our reclamations in Boulder County and in other municipalities, but we don’t always have success. Some locations are easier to reclaim than others, and some locations have a variety of issues, whether they’re seasonal weather issues, prairie dogs, noxious weeds — there are locations that become a little more challenging than others.
“We have a lot of leaseholders who grow crops on their land and have great success when our work is done,” Wiedenbeck adds. “Are there isolated incidents where maybe a certain location hasn’t had success? Again, you’re going to have locations like that across the field.”