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Fracking pits proposed near Gunnison County’s Sheep Creek

Could put wildlife, clean water and recreation at risk

The Gunnison County Planning Commission held a public hearing last week concerning a proposal from Gunnison Energy to build three fracking (hydraulic fracturing) pits in the North Fork Valley. The toxic fluid holding pits would be in close proximity to Sheep Creek, within a mile of a domestic drinking water well and 2.5 miles upstream from the Paonia Reservoir. The decision whether or not to develop the pits has yet to be made, but the proposal has raised concerns of local conservationists.



A High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) statement released last week says holding pits in the area would put birds, big game and recreation at risk. “[Paonia Reservoir] provides important avian habitat and water for down-stream farms and vineyards. The proposed location is in vital mule deer and elk habitat,” and is “surrounded by National Forest that is used for hunting, hiking, and other outdoor recreation.” The statement also listed contaminants such as benzene, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, selenium, and high salinity content that could be found in the flowback/produced water.
Neal Starkebaum, Gunnison County’s assistant director of community development, told the News some of the arguments that Gunnison Energy has presented as to why developments like these should be considered. They included re-use of water and less truck activity. The following reasons were included in a PowerPoint presented to the Planning Commission by Gunnison Energy.
“One of the reasons why the installation of these is considered is that it cuts back on the water trucks that would be driven to the wells versus the enormous amount of water used at a frack job,” Starkebaum explained.
The company maintains that the water can be pumped back and reused so there is not fresh water being used with every frack job. That’s a massive reduction in surface water that would be pulled off surface streams.
Additionally, the pits could eliminate a lot of the truck activity and spillage that would otherwise occur when trucks enter and leave the area.
Dozens who attended last Friday’s hearing expressed their concern about the proposed development. Public record of the meeting shows questions were raised regarding issues such as the need to assess and monitor “the pathogenic character of bacteria, virus and archaea microbes brought up in the returned and produced water and then stored in the pits.” Also, the current fracking pits at Hotchkiss include nets to cover nearby ponds for wildlife protection, primarily birds, but what is the extent of Gunnison Energy’s experience with the netting? The number of birds caught in the netting? Mortality rates? Impacts upon other animals?
Another concerned citizen questioned the experience of Gunnison Energy with the leak-detection/pump-back system at the Hotchkiss pits. The system is designed to capture expected leakage in the pit’s inner layer and pump it back to the outer layer. Public record shows citizens are curious if the leakage rates have been above or below original expectations and if the system has performed as originally anticipated.
According to HCCA public lands director Alli Melton, “The proposed pits would be used for wells but the application and applicant did not provide any information regarding these wells and related infrastructure/facilities that would be developed.”
Melton told the Crested Butte News via email, “The public also noted [at last week’s hearing] that they appreciated certain measures that were proposed (like using hexes to cover the fluid surface v. netting and reusing fracking fluids).”
The public hearing has been extended to the next Gunnison County Planning Commission meeting on Friday, February 6 at 9 a.m. HCCA recommends concerned residents come forth with their two cents on the issue. “The company is also present at these meetings so attending public can ask the applicant [Gunnison Energy] questions,” Melton said.

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