Drilling divides town

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Drilling for oil and natural gas near Dinosaur National Monument is a hot topic at the Miner's Cafe on Brontosaurus Boulevard.

Owners Raymond and Ester Miner and their daughter Sandi Garcia say the town needs jobs. Drilling will bring those jobs.

"The town needs something, or it's dead," Raymond Miner said.

The Miners say energy development is Dinosaur's best chance to bring some people and their money into this town of about 320 people on the Utah border.

But not everyone in Dinosaur thinks drilling near the monument, known for its fossils and canyon land, would benefit the town.

At the other end of the boulevard, Leona Hemmerich and Bill Mitchem, owners of the Bedrock Depot, say drilling would hurt the town's tourism economy and possibly the water supply.

Retamco Operating of Bil?--lings, Mont., purchased the leasing rights for 7,736 acres of Bureau of Land Management land along the outskirts of the monument in February last year. The company hasn't done anything with the land since the purchase.

The land is along Harper's Corner Drive, a scenic drive that oil rigs would tarnish, Hem?--merich and Mitchem said.

"Anything along that scenic drive is bad news," Mitchem said.

Rigs ruin tourism?

When the oil and gas reserves Retamco plans to tap are depleted, the workers and their wallets will leave town, Hemmerich said. And when they leave, the town's tourism economy could be scarred forever, she said.

Bedrock Depot relies on tourism. Hemmerich said she often directs customers to take Harper's Corner, a scenic drive within the 210,000-acre monument. She said she worries that oil rigs would mar the scenery.

"Harper's Corner Drive is a scenic drive, and it needs to stay that way," Hemmerich said.

But the Miners argue the rigs would be temporary, only operating a month or two.

"I don't think these rigs will hurt anybody," Raymond Miner said.

Even without the rigs, tourism isn't exactly booming in Dinosaur, Garcia said.

Even during hunting season, which draws thousands of tourists to the region each year, Miner's Cafe had just two customers at about 11 a.m. Thursday last week.

"We have no tourism now," Garcia said.

Some in town have suggested the rigs actually might help tourism.

"I don't think it's necessarily a negative impact on tourism," Dinosaur Mayor Wendy Petersen said.

When she first arrived in Dinosaur, she was fascinated by the oil rigs in the region, Petersen said

The rigs could give tourists something more to look at, she said.

Murky water

Opponents of drilling near the monument also say it could hurt the town's underground water supply.

The town gets its water from an artesian well north of town, Hemmerich said.

If the rigs drill for oil near the well, Hemmerich and Mitchem say they fear the town's water supply wouldn't be safe.

"Could it pollute the water?" Hemmerich asked. "I think very possibly, yes."

If drilling did pollute the town's water supply, Mitchem said there is a chance the oil rigs and the companies that caused the damage could be long gone before anyone notices.

"It might not show up right away," he said.

But the oilman who bought the rights to drill near the monument said Mitchem and Hemmerich's concerns are unfounded.

"That is just a worry people shouldn't have," Retamco owner Steve Gose said.

Retamco will have to take special precautions with its operation because of where it plans to drill, said Vern Rholl, a Bureau of Land Management extractive resources official at the White River Field Office in Meeker.

The company will have to use cement to hold its pipes in place, Rholl said. Still, contamination is possible, though unlikely, Rholl said.

Although the Miners said they are confident drilling won't hurt the town's water, the possibility of contamination worries Hemmerich.

"There can never be an absolute guarantee," Hemmerich said.

Unknown reserves

Exactly how much oil and gas could be extracted and how many jobs could come to the area is unclear.

Retamco officials think the land they leased could be part of a large oil and gas vein running all the way to Utah.

"That area looks very promising," Gose said.

At the earliest, oil and gas extraction could begin late next summer, Rholl said.

If the area proves as rich in oil and gas as Retamco asserts, the area could be in for thousands of jobs and people, Gose said.

But if the area doesn't have enough oil and gas to make a large-scale operation viable, Gose said there could be less than a dozen additional people in the area for a very short period of time.

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