Toxic-drilling practices alleged

Oil and water do not appear to be mixing in La Plata County, and Colorado as a whole.

Five Colorado citizens groups have petitioned state officials to require energy companies to fully disclose the toxic chemicals they use when drilling for natural gas. They have also asked the officials to begin monitoring and enforcing threats against human health and Colorado’s water, air and land.

With oil and gas development continuing to boom in many parts of Colorado and the region, residents and communities are increasingly impacted by the industry. The groups, which include the Durango-based Oil and Gas Accountability Project, allege that citizens are also being impacted by the chemicals and waste products associated with natural gas development. Of particular concerns is hydraulic fracturing – a widely used drilling technique that allows access to hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits. The deposits are reached by pumping liquids underground at high pressure. While the exact recipe is unknown, the liquids are known to contain hazardous chemicals and have entered the water table and drinking supplies. La Plata County resident Dave Thomson knows this first hand.

“My water started tasting bad last fall when a gas well was being drilled near my property,” he said. “The gas well company and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission sampled my water and eventually concluded that drilling fluids had contaminated my well.”

Thomson said that the concentrations of chemicals eventually declined to the point where he could start using his well again. However, after he was told his well was safe and started drinking the water again, he found out that the company was not required to test for all the toxic chemicals it used in the drilling process. “I have no idea, now, whether I have been drinking contaminated water or not,” he said.

The Oil and Gas Accountability Project has linked the chemicals, 2-BE, 2MBT, 2-methoxyethoxy and Nonylphenols, with hydraulic fracturing. The chemicals have been shown to be carcinogenic, cause reproductive impairment and fetal deformity and impede brain development, among other things. In addition, the group said that a large number of volatile products with serious health effects are used during the early stages of natural gas development, when the chemicals are returned to the surface and stored in open pits.

“Coloradans and all Westerners should not be used as guinea pigs in what could amount to a massive, uncontrolled experiment on how these toxic chemicals affect the health and lives of the people of this state,” said Lisa Sumi, research director with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “Communities that are near drilling operations have the right to know what they are being exposed to.”

School-based health center in works

Access to health care may be improving for students of Durango School District 9-R. With many students having limited access to low-cost, high-quality health services, the district hopes to establish a school-based health center at Durango High.

The district recently received a $15,000 planning grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to establish the center. Jaynee Fontecchio-Spradling, who coordinates the districtwide healthy schools initiative, announced that the grant will kick-off a thorough assessment of student health. Eventually, the district will develop a strategic plan to start the clinic based on student health needs. Current plans are to open the center in the fall of this year.  

Fontecchio-Spradling explained that research already shows that school success is linked to good health. In addition, schools that have health centers onsite report increased school attendance, lower drop-out rates, fewer suspensions, and higher graduation rates.  

Unlike school nurse offices, school-based health center services are provided by licensed mid-level medical practitioners who can prescribe medications, perform sports physicals, and administer immunizations and other medical procedures.

Sherrod Beall, a pediatric nurse practitioner, operates the school-based health center at Southwest Open School in Cortez. She was hired by 9-R to assess student health needs, the services that can be provided and funding sources.

“There has been a tremendous amount of support from 9-R administration, teachers and other community members,” she said. “Dr. Mary Barter (district superintendent) saw the value of a school-based center.”

The health centers will serve all students but focus on low-income, no-insurance and high-risk students. “As health care gets more and more expensive, this is an affordable service for students,” Beall said. “Teens feel comfortable, it’s a safe place to talk about health.”


Durango City Council race takes off

The race for a seat on the Durango City Council left the gate this week. Longtime Durango resident Linda Geer broke the ice and announced her candidacy on the morning of Jan. 11.

A total of three seats are up for election, with Durango residents going to the polls on April 3. Councilors Tom Howley and Dale Garland as well as Mayor Sidny Zink are all up for reelection.

Geer was the first to announce her candidacy for the election. Geer is the owner of Durango Illustration & Design, has served on the Durango Planning Commission since 1998 and has been its chair since 2004. “Sustainability” is the one word that summarizes her passion for Durango and is at the root of her campaign, according to Geer.“Durango faces many continuing challenges,” she said. “Going forward we need sustainability – sustainability of our environment, quality of life, unique demographic and economy.”

Geer also noted the vital role the new council will play since many of the key, longtime staff with the City of Durango will be retiring in the near future. “The new council will be tasked with overseeing the transition to this new chapter,” she said. “Council will need to work together, and I believe I can be a unifying factor.”

Geer may be the first, but surely will not be the last, candidate to toss his/her hat into the ring. The deadline to return nominating petitions for the April 3 election is Feb. 27.


Local battery recycling launched

For most of us, a spent AA battery goes straight into the garbage. However, the City of Durango and La Plata County have joined forces to offer household battery recycling opportunities around the county and keep the dangerous items out of the landfill.

Batteries are unique products comprised of heavy metals and other dangerous elements including nickel, silver, manganese, carbon, cadmium, lithium, zinc, mercury, lead and corrosive acids.  Many of these materials are toxic when exposed to air or water and can threaten our health and environment if not properly discarded. By launching a battery recycling program, the city and county hope to safeguard water supplies, reclaim metals and materials and put them back into the manufacturing process, reduce the costs and risks of landfilling, and generally conserve natural resources.

Single-use alkaline batteries are the most common household battery and include AAA, AA, C, D and 9-volt.  Collection containers for these batteries and button batteries are now available at: Albertson’s, City Market (North & South), City of Durango Public Library, Durango Natural Foods, Nature’s Oasis, Office Depot and Wal-Mart.

Rechargeable batteries can also be recycled at Access Wireless, Hensley Battery, Home Depot, My Wireless, Office Depot and Radio Shack.

More locations will be available in the future. For more information, call the City Resource Conservation Office at 375-4830.

– compiled by Will Sands


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