Aghast at the gas 

Neighbors fear impacts of drilling near Monument

The stick of dynamite is mostly a curiosity, something Fred Lanyon found while walking his dog on a mountainside west of Monument. But sitting at Lanyon's kitchen table on a Friday morning, Chris Amenson sees it as a useful metaphor.

"That dynamite's got a short fuse, and so does this process," he says.

Amenson, board president of the newly formed Front Range Environmental Resource Coalition, is talking about a different and bigger threat to the area: A Texas petroleum company wants to drill two test wells nearby, in search of gas reserves.

The forested hills teem with trails, as well as hikers, bikers and kids avoiding parental supervision. Strange things pop up once in a while, Eileen Skahill says, but the forest itself could permanently change with drilling.

Skahill was just appointed spokeswoman for the coalition, which wants to halt the drilling or at least see that it's done with minimal disruption. Forget about random sticks of dynamite, she seems to suggest; with major oil and gas drilling, "you wouldn't want to come out here anymore."

About 10 years ago, Dyad Petroleum Co. bought rights to the oil and gas underneath 20,000-plus rugged acres of the Pike National Forest, running from the Air Force Academy northward almost to Larkspur. The process moved so quietly that the Lanyons, Skahill and most neighbors living on the foothill slopes of north El Paso County didn't know it was happening.

Six or seven years ago, Dyad tried to get an environmental assessment from the U.S. Forest Service to clear the way for drilling test wells. But that got put on hold with, among other things, the 2002 Hayman fire, which reached to the opposite side of Mount Herman and Raspberry Mountain.

That hold will end when the Forest Service releases its assessment in coming weeks. After that, neighbors will have 30 days to share worries that drilling could poison their water, pollute the air and change the landscape.

Dyad officials did not return calls for comment.

Gloria Lanyon speaks wistfully about Pinedale, Wyo., a community the couple left a year before oil and gas drilling took hold of that area.

"Our valley looks very similar to Pinedale," she says, claiming that residents there now deal with contaminated water and breathe high levels of ozone, thanks to extensive gas drilling.

The Lanyons and Skahill live in the Forest View Acres Water District, which serves hundreds of families with a combination of well water and surface water collected from on high. Even now, the district routinely runs out of water for a few days each summer, and Lanyon worries the fragility of the system groundwater collection is basically an open pipe puts it at particular risk.

Fred Lanyon, after handing the dynamite to police, recounts his other discovery of the morning: Another neighbor has used a GPS device to find the spot of one proposed well, a few hundred yards away. He, Gloria and Skahill later walk there from the Lanyons' house. Skahill guesses where the trees will end if Dyad needs to clear five acres to drill a test well.

"My kids cut their hiking teeth on this trail," she says.

The hike takes only minutes, and the spot commands a view of Mount Herman above and Monument below. It's easy to forget you're only minutes from downtown Colorado Springs.

"I've always said we're so lucky to live here," Gloria Lanyon says.



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