“My name is Leslie Robinson, and I live in Rifle, Colorado. I’ve lived here since 1975, so I was here for the oil shale boom and bust of the 1980’s, and for all the energy booms and busts since. I’m chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a group that was formed in 1997 basically to help people deal with the impacts of oil and gas development. We’re also a part of Western Colorado Congress, a statewide group that’s working on the same issue. The reason I got involved in O&G issues is…well, everyone who lives in Rifle gets involved in it one way or the other. Whether it’s uranium, oil shale, or oil and gas, or mining, it seems like Rifle has always been in the center of the action, impacting our community and our individual lives in big ways.”

 

rifle colorado resident impacted by oil development

 

“When the oil and gas industry first got big, Colorado was touted as a boom town. ‘Come one, come all!’ the oil and gas companies were saying. So we had a lot of men moving into town, many of them bringing families, with everything they owned packed in the car. Sometimes they would barely have enough gas to get here. When they arrived in Rifle, and went looking for a place to live, they would discover that there weren’t any. Or that the rates were exorbitant. Who had $1,000 to put down as a deposit? On a two-bedroom apartment? Plus rent on top of that…it was just tough for the new O&G workers. We had a lot of people, families even, who were living out of their vehicles for weeks or months while the roughnecks tried to find work or a better place to live. There were strict anti-drug rules at a lot of the companies that some of these new guys couldn’t pass…so they had to live in their cars, or up in the mountains to scrape enough cash together to go back home. The campgrounds were just overwhelmed. I was a thrift store manager for a while, and we’d have people coming in saying, ‘I live at 8,000 feet altitude, and I need 10 blankets’… because of our lack of supply, we’d have to tell them that we could only give out one free bedding per person. Many of the newcomers didn’t have a clue about living in the Rocky Mountains’ cold weather climate.”

 

 

“Respiratory issues are rampant around here. The traffic kicks up dust, and when they build new well pads, it creates a lot of dust as well. They moonscape them, meaning they destroy any vegetation, so it just becomes a big mud slab, and there’s nothing to catch or hold the dust they’re kicking up. So people are breathing those fine particles in, and often it’s full of chemicals, from absorbing anything coming off the rig. And then over west of town, we’ve got a liquid natural gas plant, where they condense gas and burn it off. So you’ve got stuff like that going on. The wind blows west to east, so it seems to just congregate here in Rifle, from all the wells in the Parachute area, and in Mesa County, where they get pollution from Utah.”

 

 

“I’ve got asthma now. Terrible respiratory problems. If I get a cold, seems like it develops to near pneumonia, and I’m not alone. I checked with my neighbors up and down the street one day, and the lady across the street is on oxygen, the lady two doors down from me…her husband is on oxygen dying of emphysema, and she’s got a nasty cough. You know, it’s just…it’s what happens when you live in the gaslands.”

 

 

“I’ve got asthma now. Terrible respiratory problems. If I get a cold, seems like it develops to near pneumonia, and I’m not alone. I checked with my neighbors up and down the street one day, and the lady across the street is on oxygen, the lady two doors down from me…her husband is on oxygen dying of emphysema, and she’s got a nasty cough. You know, it’s just…it’s what happens when you live in the gaslands.”

 

 

“It’s just got to be done slower. If industry and their employees rush in at once, the town can’t react, because it takes a couple of years for added income from sales and property taxes to pay for the increased strain on city services. The influx of new people doesn’t necessarily mean there’s more money in the local economy, because often those people are putting a real strain on local resources-– like housing, emergency care, schools, sewers, and social services. If it had just been a gradual growth, a gradual oil and gas expansion, instead of ‘better hurry up and get your share before it’s all gone,’ I think the former drilling boom would’ve turned out a lot better for Rifle.”

Leslie Robinson
Rifle, CO