What can I do to legally stop exploratory natural gas drilling within 1000 feet of my neighborhood?
May 20, 2008 6:54 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to legally stop exploratory natural gas drilling within 1000 feet of my neighborhood?

There is a local activism group, FRERC. However, they seem to be focusing on slowing the drilling down and asking the company to adhere to EPA standards. Which scares me to death.

The drilling would occur in the National Forest in Colorado. Because of the location, Dyad Petroleum Corporation would be exempt to EPA rules - such as what affects will occur to the water aquifers in this area. Thousands of residents water supply will be effected.

The drilling permits allow up to 465 drilling wells within visibility of my neighborhood. The compressors alone would be LOUD. Property values? Right.

I want to step it up. I want to make noise. Heck, I want Ed Begley to come chain himself to a tree with me.

What can I do from here? How can I utilize the 'net to call attention to this problem?
posted by TauLepton to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This answer of mine to an unrelated question could be applicable. It's all about fomenting a mini neighborhood revolution and directing it at those who have the most to loose.
posted by jlowen at 7:24 PM on May 20, 2008

Best answer: I'm a planner by profession, albeit in Canada. I'll just say right off that I give this advice thinking that this is typical community self-preservation. I'm not advocating blanket opposition to development. We deal with issues like this quite often, though typically on a municipal bylaw level with governance from provincial and national regulatory bodies which oversee such things as this.

What makes you think that they're exempt from EPA regulations? I don't know much about the US system but I'd think the rules would still apply. Is the National Forest publically owned land (we call it 'crown land' here) or is it a national park? Typically the rules would be much more stringent in such a case.

What stage is this at? Have mineral rights etc been issued for the land? Are there applications still to be made? Usually a company will do some public consultation before any applications are done. Usually.

Make all kinds of noise if nothing has been decided. Politicians listen - especially before elections. There's probably little legal stuff you can pull initially, especially with regards to noise and such. Your best bet with disturbances which are mainly aesthetic is just to appeal to politicians in terms of the impact on your quality of life.

Groundwater is a different story. If you can prove that your water supply is being compromised, that's typically a deal-breaker for development. If you want to protect yourself I'd have an independent engineer do a groundwater/geotechnical assessment of the area in question and get a monitoring system in place for your wells pronto. They usually don't cost the earth - few grand might do an initial assessment for the geotechnical and well monitoring can be done by the user, though I'm unsure of the scope here. Quite often community associations already have one of those in place.

Will there be an official public hearing on this issue? Get there and make sure you speak, and bring lots of others. Bring data. Bring pictures. Make sure you speak well and clearly and forcefully. Make sure you have your facts and know what's legal and what's not. Consider hiring a professional to do this. Not many do.

As for getting the word out, just start calling anyone who you think may listen. Things will snowball if the issue is as contorversial as it sounds. Get a governor to back you, etc.

That's about all I can say...
posted by jimmythefish at 7:37 PM on May 20, 2008

Call your Congress(wo)man.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:57 PM on May 20, 2008

oil and gas laws vary by state. That said, you can't do much if they already have permits and permissions to drill/export from the landowner(s)
posted by Pants! at 8:44 PM on May 20, 2008

Best answer: I've worked on two different environmental issues. I don't know anything about natural gas drilling, but what follows is an abstract discussion of how I'd approach thinking about this.

First, I would definitely connect with that group. They might just be saying that their goal is slowing the drilling or having it conform to EPA safety standards so they sound reasonable to any drill-loving officials or residents. Slowing projects is also a time-tested way of trying to kill the project entirely.

Also, talk to everyone else. Get organized. Start having weekly meetings. It's going to take at least a few devoted people to really stop this thing.

You need to find out who is the decision-making body and how they can be influenced (maybe that activist group knows, or your local chapter of the Sierra Club). There are two issues to think about, and these go hand in hand. First, politics. Who could you politically influence to stop the drilling? Who is making the decision, and who do they listen to? How do they get input on their plan, and what sort of input would make them change their mind? Agencies like the Forest Service tend to be very cloistered and listen mainly to industry, scientists, and lawyers, in which case legal help is probably essential.

If there are public officials involved, public opinion is much more important. You want to find out as much as possible about the individuals making the decision and what they care about. Ignore the solid "yes" and "no" votes and focus on the swing votes. If Jill SwingVote really cares about jobs, you and your friends should get all the raft guides to show up at the hearing to talk about how they'll lose their jobs.

While pursuing the political route, start the legal route -- are there legal ways to stop the drilling? (They might be exempt from EPA regs, but there's NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, etc.) To go the legal route, you have to have fully tried the political route, and then when you lost, you have to have appealed that decision until there are no more political avenues to pursue (until you have "exhausted your remedies").

It's important to get on this quickly, because there are key decision points. Usually, it's something like this: A draft plan is released. People get X days to comment. Comments are important, so get expert help. It is a way of having certain facts entered into the record, and the court or the decision-making body is going to need to see certain facts, and they may not care about other facts at all. Then, when they override your comments, you have Y days to appeal. If you haven't commented and then appealed, you are out of luck for that avenue. Another avenue of stopping the project might still be open to you, but your options just narrowed.

If you remember just two things from this, they would be:
* You are going to need a lot of support, so start trying to join with others who will work on this with you. The existing group has already gotten a lot of people involved, so I'd start there.
* You need expert help -- the Forest Service, the BLM, and the oil company professionals deal with this every day. They probably even deal with disgruntled neighbors like you every day. To stop them, you will need help from professionals who fight stuff like this every single day.

If you really have a lot of money to throw at this project (what's your property value worth to you?), I'd find an environmental group who is good at what they do and wants to fight this, and talk to them about what sort of donation ($XX,000) it would take for them to be able to bring on additional staff capacity devoted to this project. Groups like that tend to have access to legal and political expertise that will let them determine the best routes to fight this.

Again, I don't know oil & gas leasing, so this is just a generic guide to how I'd think through the situation. I'd recommend learning as much as you can about natural gas leasing decisions from news sources, blogs, environmental groups' newsletters, and so forth.
posted by salvia at 9:01 PM on May 20, 2008

Buy the drilling rights.
posted by caddis at 11:28 PM on May 20, 2008

You'd be surprised how how quiet the rig can be. There are electric rigs only available, so no loud generators.
Once worked on a rig next to a village in Germany and the rig contractor put up large noisr blocking walls and you could barely hear the generators from the other side. Now the squeal of the drawworks brake...that's a different matter.
posted by arcticseal at 5:42 PM on May 22, 2008

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