Volume 105, Number 19 - May 8, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
by Alecia Warren
Sunday’s protest felt like a picnic as locals gathered outside the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Pinedale Office. Children giggled and played at their parents’ feet while adults shared sandwiches and scribbled protest signs, or sat to the side tuning their guitars.
“This is fun! It’s our right to speak in America!” declared Elaine Crumpley as she slapped people’s backs and dispersed hugs throughout the crowd. The petite school teacher had reason to beam as she studied the nearly 50 people gathered for the sit-in she had helped schedule, the activists varying from one and a half years old to 17 to the mid ‘80s.
First meeting at the BLM facility before driving to protest with song and speeches on a Pinedale Anticline well pad, the protestors gathered to show their unity in the midst of intensifying energy development in Sublette County.
“We want to show that we have a voice,” said 17-year-old Kelsi Dean, who joined the protest with a group of high school friends. “Our community isn’t going to take this lying down.”
None of the protestors belonged to a specific organization, but they all shared a love that was evident in their laughter and gossip; a love for their small town where they could raise healthy families without concern for the pristine resources that define their home.
Alarm about environmental health has spread rampant this year, after the county has endured several ozone alerts, water studies on the anticline that revealed nearly 100 well contaminations, and continued pressure from local energy developers to drill year-round in big-game migration regions.
That’s why county residents were willing to shrug off Wyoming’s archetypal silent stoicism on Sunday to demand energy development that better balances concerns for health and wildlife. Or in Crumpley’s words, to simply “do it right …Now.”
Spirits remained jubilant as the long caravan of cars parked on the flat well pad miles within the anticline field.
Activists unloaded lawn chairs and spread picnic blankets across the gravel, while teenagers strummed their guitars and local Cindy Carlson passed out homemade fudge. “It’s like being at the Blues Fest, Elaine,” one woman chuckled as she sank into her lawn chair.
Others taped their protest signs reading “Stop VOCing us,” and “Health Before Profit” onto a trailer that Pinedale resident Dave Smith had brought to transport a microphone and speakers.
Some even complimented a peace offering from Questar Exploration and Production: two port-o-potties at the side of the pad delivered specifically for the protest. “Bless their hearts, they’re being so cooperative,” Crumpley said.
The elated mood dialed down to solemn, however, once individuals stepped up to the microphone to share their frustrations with the development they stood on.
Like a portrait of the encroaching pressures on local resources, the view from one side of the microphone revealed a vast view shed of snow-capped peaks and shadowed valleys.
The other opened onto a long line of drilling rigs that disappeared into the distance. “Natural gas is one of the most toxic industries we have in our nation, and I think many of you are aware of that,” said Mary Lynn Worl, who proceeded to read a long list of ominous statistics about gas development’s impacts on people’s health, including asthma, cancer and neurological damage.
Worl criticized that environmental agencies have yet to conduct a comprehensive health assessment in Sublette County, as many residents recently requested in writing. “We’re standing out here and living in what I consider one big human health experiment,” Worl said. “I don’t care to be part of an experiment. We need to plug the loopholes in the laws that allow the gas industry to pollute our environment and risk the health of humans.”
Others echoed her concerns, emphasizing their fears for Pinedale posterity and defying the energy companies for developing so quickly and not using the cleanest technology available. Many criticized the state and federal government for claiming a lack of jurisdiction over certain pollution enforcements, instead of scrambling to create more rigid regulations.
“My feeling is there are people who are elected by us, for us — we pay their salaries, they can damn well get their act together to address the problem,” said Big Piney resident Horton Spitzer. “Talking isn’t doing it anymore.”
Aspiring songwriter Jared Rogerson strapped on his guitar to perform “Boomtown,” a song inspired by Pinedale’s plights that he recently recorded for Wyoming NPR. Rogerson’s Dylan-like voice espoused all the environmental and socioeconomic changes, or “small town suicide,” the energy boom has brought to Pinedale, including a higher cost of living, severe housing shortage, pollution and reduced wildlife populations. “I didn’t write it to try and make a lot of friends,” Rogerson said with a chuckle. “Small town suicide, that comes when we could have prevented it, and you’ve shown up here today, thank you for that, for showing up to keep things from going bad.”
A group of high school girls also sang a protest song written during a recent band trip. Their shy performance garnered applause and cheers at the chorus: “How do you feel about the land you steal? We want no change/ Please get off our range.”
Questar representatives watched the protest from a van at the other end of the pad to ensure public safety, said Questar spokesperson Emily Fisher.
“We respect their right to freedom of speech, and that’s exactly what was happening,” Fisher said the day after the protest. “This was their event, so we weren’t participating.” But the company feels it already provides the environmental balance the protestors demanded, she said, with measures like directional drilling and natural-gas-powered boilers.
She offered a reminder that if the BLM approves year-round drilling, energy companies will be able to complete wells and start reclamation much faster, as well as install a liquid gathering system that will reduce 165,000 truck trips a year.
“I want everyone to know we’re open for tours, and if anyone has questions, we’ll do the best we can to answer those,” she said. Crumpley heralded the protest as a success for an area as conservative as Pinedale. “I think grassroots is the main message here,” she said. “When people speak as a community, it’s listened to a lot more than a single voice.”
Photo credits: Alecia Warren, Alecia Warren, Alecia Warren
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