Eric Ewing is the human resources director at the High Plains Library District in Greeley, Colo. He has lived in his Weld County home for almost 10 years. With more than 40 oil and gas wells within a one-mile radius of his home, as well as the DCP Mewbourn natural gas processing facility, Ewing and his family feel that the nearby activity has disrupted their lives, moving into their basement to escape the noise of nearby drilling and hydraulic fracturing. They have also experienced health problems that they believe are related to the oil and gas activity.
Although Ewing filed multiple complaints with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, measures to mitigate noise from the well closest to his home were repeatedly delayed. In May, he made an appointment with toxicologists at the University of Colorado Denver regarding exposure to industrial toxins. His case is also being reviewed by a lawyer who helped a Texas family successfully sue an oil and gas company for health problems consistent with those the Ewings have experienced.
Bill Jerke and his family have lived on their 150-acre Weld County farm for 59 years. He was one of five Weld County commissioners from 2001 to 2008. There are currently 10 active oil and gas wells on Jerke’s farm. Like many residents whose lands are peppered with wells, Jerke receives 2.5 percent of the royalties from the wells on his property.
Jerke originally opposed oil and gas development on his property, but because he does not own the rights to the minerals beneath the land, he had no choice in the matter. Now he supports oil and gas development and is currently the executive director of Fuel Colorado, a 501(c)(4) formed by county leaders and Noble Energy in 2012 to promote the advancement of oil and gas, agriculture, gravel and water projects. He believes oil and gas development is necessary and beneficial to Weld County.
Terry Walter is a Weld County farmer and the owner of Walter Angus cattle ranch and Walter Farms. He owns a piece of land in Weld County, but because he does not own the mineral rights beneath the property, he only earns enough to pay a few bills from the two well pads on that property. He rents roughly 10,000 acres of property from Weld County landowners in Platteville, Fort Lupton and Hudson for farming and cattle ranching. There are more than 800 active oil and gas wells scattered across those 10,000 acres. Those landowners earn part of the profit from Walter’s ranching operations. Because most of them own the mineral rights beneath their land, they also earn significant royalties from the 800 active oil and gas wells scattered across those 10,000 acres. Although Walter has never encountered a problem with the wells on his own property, his herdsmen regularly encounter problems on the ranchland, navigating cattle around well pads, fences and access roads installed for oil and gas operations. He believes fracking is safe and beneficial.
Mike Lee is the herd manager for Walter Angus ranch and Walter Farms. He and his 11-year-old son Colton live on rented Walter Angus ranchland, herding cattle and overseeing crop production. Increased oil and gas development on the ranch and farmland causes regular problems, including cattle killed by trucks and faulty equipment, degradation of soil and grass, and a general lack of accountability among operators. Lee spends much of his time negotiating with oil and gas contractors and operators to ensure that the can effectively manage the herd and farmland unhindered. Ultimately, however, he believes that oil and gas development is beneficial to Weld County because it provides jobs and keeps fuel prices low.
Lisa McKenzie an associate researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead author of two studies on the health effects of hydrualic fracturing. Her 2012 study with the Colorado School of Public Health found that people living within a half-mile of oil and gas wells were at a greater risk for chronic health problems due to air pollution from fracturing and well completion activities. The study examined air quality near oil and gas operations in Garfield County, which has the second-highest number of oil and gas wells in Colorado—in excess of 10,500.
The second study in 2014 showed that women who live within 10 miles of oil and gas wells—particularly areas with high well density—were 30 percent more likely to have children born with certain congenital heart defects than those who did not live near wells. The study examined babies born between 1996 and 2009 across Colorado.
Known as the “Fractivist,” Shane Davis is an active opponent of oil and gas development across Colorado. After emissions from oil and gas activity prompted him to move from his Weld County home, Davis set out on a self-described “crusade” to educate others about the problems he believes are caused by the oil and gas industry’s increasing presence in Weld County and other heavily-drilled areas of Colorado using data from the COGCC. Davis received national attention for using COGCC records to show that 40 percent of all oil spills in Weld County from 2008 to 2012 contaminated groundwater sources, a study that was later duplicated and confirmed by COGCC director Matt Lepore. Davis leads workshops on hydraulic fracturing, environmental issues, data analysis, map making and other methods. Lepore declined to comment on Davis or Ewing for this project.
Jon Haubert is the director of communications at Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED). Started and funded by Noble and Anadarko, CRED describes its mission as one of educating the public on the oil and gas industry, promoting industry-sponsored information about hydraulic fracturing via social media and other online media. In addition to his role at CRED, Haubert is the manager of communications for the oil and gas trade association Western Energy Alliance (WEA). Haubert believes that oil and gas development is an important part of an “all of the above” energy policy and that the public is misinformed the public about hydraulic fracturing.