They kind of look like alien-made crop circles, but the jury is still out on whether mysterious linear shapes in Weld County are the work of frackers or ranchers feeding their cattle.
Colorado activists have raised concerns about satellite imagery of what appears to be scarred earth caused by the dumping of oil/gas drilling waste, but state officials maintain that most of the strange patterns are simply areas where livestock feed was deposited.
Shane Davis, chair of the Poudre Canyon Group of the Sierra Club, and Gary Wockner, Colorado program director of Clean Water Action, submitted the aerial photos to Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 5.
In an accompanying letter, Davis and Wockner wrote that the images seem to support rumors that have been circulating about the illegal disposal of drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluids and other wastes.
“These images appear to support the rumored allegations and may suggest that drillers and frackers may have been driving tanker trucks off-road, opening the valve on the tanks while driving, and spraying drilling and fracking fluids and wastes across the landscape,” they wrote. “The images suggest that the chemicals sprayed out may have killed the vegetation on the landscape — green areas are turned orange/brown or completely white. Two-track wheel tracks can be seen trailing some of the alleged possible dumping sites.”
Davis and Wockner asked Hickenlooper to direct state officials to investigate, which they did over the following 11 weeks. Davis says the state requested two extensions due to the difficulty of the research involved.
In a May 22 letter, Thomas Kerr, acting director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), dismissed the claims.
According to Kerr’s letter, COGCC staff examined aerial photos and conducted on-site inspections at a “subset” of the locations in question on May 5 and May 10. The state’s investigation appears to focus solely on the Guttersen Ranch, where Kerr said “many” of the wells identified by Davis and Wockner are located.
The Guttersen Ranch is an active cattle ranch that also has numerous oil and gas wells, and the fenced property is strictly monitored to prevent dumping and trash disposal, Kerr wrote. He attributed the strange land scars to two things: the permissible spread of drilling mud and the feeding of cattle.
When advised of Davis’ continuing doubts about the explanation offered for the strange lines, Guttersen said, “I don’t give a shit about the guy, to be honest with you.”