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Peak and Prairie Enewsletter

Newsletter of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter

September 2012

Electronic Edition

Message from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Director, Joshua Ruschhaupt:

"Back yard BOOM!"

Oil & gas well 48 feet from home

Urban setting oil & gas wells
closer than the normal
setback rules allow. 

Long, long ago, my family was a small part of the wildcatting oil boom in California.  I've heard stories and looked into the history there, and the attitude of today's Colorado oil & gas horizontal drilling and fracking boom share many of the same qualities.  The current extremely low price of natural gas is the biggest indicator of a "drill baby drill" boom mentality.  It's long past time to do something to repair the lack of oversight this industry enjoys. 

Today, the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter, with 12 other organizations, submitted a letter to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) asking for the oil & gas operator setback loophole to be permanently closed.

What's the "setback loophole?"

What would you do if you moved into a new home, and then an oil & gas drilling rig moved into your back yard- even closer than the law says they're supposed to operate?  Unfortunately, you wouldn't be able to do much about it at all.  Your property value, quality of life, air quality, and potentially your well water quality may all degrade overnight.

If that rig is re-entering an old well, and your house was built closer than the legal setback of 350' (urban) or even closer than 150' (rural), it's likely that the company can do so legally.  We call this the "setback loophole."

Unbelievably, the minimum rural operating setback from a residential structure is 150 feet.  The reason for 150 instead of 100 or 200 feet?  Those drilling rigs are about 150 feet high.  If one were to topple over in a catastrophic accident, it could kill people sleeping in their beds.  

The current setback distances have nothing to do with the quality of your air, water, noise, traffic, or property value rights.  It has nothing to do with any chemical spill accident minimum safety distance, either.

Exemptions galore

In addition to all of the Federal level exemptions, there is a Colorado rule that exempts the industry operator from that safety setback if the city or county that permitted your house to be built happened after the drilling originally took place.  With the urban sprawl throughout the oil & gas patches in Colorado, especially along the Front Range, there are many cases where housing developments, schools, playgrounds, churches, elderly care centers, offices, parks, and other developments have encroached on capped and abandoned oil & gas wells. 

But if an oil & gas company wants to use new technology, such as horizontal drilling and fracking, to use the old wells for new drilling and extraction, they can.  They can do this today even if your home was built within the setback radius of the well in the intervening time since the well was previously "abandoned."

Closing the loophole

This is a major problem that must be fixed.  The setback loophole must be closed.  In addition, many other factors must be considered for those minimal setback distances.  The last "setback stakeholder's group" meeting of the COGCC happened this morning, where we submitted our letter.  A new rule-making is expected to follow, based on this stakeholder group's recommendations and gathered comments. 

Did you know that the EPA considers the methane and other airborne chemical releases, called "fugitive emissions," from a single well bore to be a permissible minor point-source pollution?  Today's technology allows for up to 52 well bores on the same pad.  Now accumulate the fugitive emissions of all of that- is it still minor?  How about dozens of well pads within a mile of your home?  Hundreds near your town or city? Thousands in your county?  Air pollution begins to aggregate into worse conditions than Los Angeles, here in rural Colorado, let alone in places combined with the poor air quality associated with urban settings.

That is why the Sierra Club RMC and those 12 other organizations are calling for a minimum 2,000' setback, plus an additional 100' for each additional well bore.  

We know that fugitive emissions, fracking chemicals, and toxic "produced water"  and "cuttings" (mud) from the drilling operations are health hazards to humans and the environment.  Until we have scientific data and studies that show less of a hazard exists, we should be cautious about long-term exposure nearby residents have no choice to live with. 

Take action

Our oil & gas campaign moves forward with the contributions and volunteerism of our members and supporters like you.  You can help us by contributing to the chapter, or even simply by writing a letter to the editor to support closing the setback loophole with the talking points you've just read above.  Wherever you are in Colorado, if oil & gas drilling happens in your county or a nearby county, submit your letter to the editor to a relevant newspaper today.  Keep your eyes open for future action alerts, too!

In solidarity, 

Joshua Ruschhaupt, Rocky Mountain Chapter Director

Solar lease─affordable answer for your energy needs


Solar Roof Dreamstime Stock

If adding solar panels to your home sounds like a great idea─but maybe a little too expensive─there’s good news. With little or no upfront costs, you can lease a solar system through a program launched recently between Sierra Club and Sungevity, a solar home specialist.

It’s an easy three-step process to get a solar lease working for you:

1.    To get a free solar home estimate that shows how you can reduce your electricity bill by going solar now, go to Sierra Club’s Solar Homes Website.

2.    Sungevity then designs and a local installer will install a PV system customized for your home.

3.    Sungevity leases the panels to you for a low monthly rate and you will have a much reduced electrical utility bill. Combined they will be less than your previous electric bill.


Poudre Canyon Group spreads Sierra Club message at two big events
By Carol Carpenter

RMC Communications Team

PCG volunteers staff booth at BioBlitz
PCG volunteers staff booth
at BioBlitz
Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter Poudre Canyon Group (PCG) staffed a successful exhibit/booth at the New West Fest in Fort Collins in early August. They also distributed and discussed important information about Sierra Club at the BioBlitz at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) at the end of August.

For two consecutive days at the New West Fest, group volunteers handed out nearly 1,000 membership pamphlets and talked to uncounted more festival attendees, including many children, about Sierra Club’s important environmental mission and goals.


Innovative recycling/composting program earns income for Poudre Canyon Group

John Gascoyne
PCG Executive Committee
member John Gascoyne.
The problem: You and your Sierra Club group would like to further the environmental mission of the organization. However, for many reasons, lack of sufficient funding is a huge roadblock in meeting your goals.

The solution: You might consider creating a composting/recycling program patterned after the one that my Poudre Canyon Group (PCG) has been successfully engaged in for the past two years. Like our group, your group could get the environmental message out while bringing money in.



Solar Homes Banner

Chimney Rock: Our nation's next national monument?
—With your help, we have hope!

Chimney Rock collage small.jpg
By Lauren Swain

Situated in southwest Colorado, about 20 miles west of Pagosa Springs, Chimney Rock Archaeological Area offers a doubly rewarding experience for visitors with its unique geological formations and extraordinary stone structures, built by the architects of an ancient civilization.

Chimney Rock itself is one of two striking sandstone spires protruding from atop a majestic butte, 1000 feet above the Piedra River valley, where the ancestors of today's Hopi, Zuni, and other regional tribes raised their crops 1000 years ago.

Each year, over 9000 visitors tour the elaborate complex of ceremonial kivas and dwellings, which were home to over 2000 people, from 850 - 1125 A.D. During that time, Chimney Rock was incorporated into the greater Chaco culture, centered in Chaco Canyon, 93 miles to the southwest. It became the northern and easternmost outpost of the vast Chacoan civilization that spread throughout the region.


PCG volunteer sees environmental work as ‘moral imperative’

Shane Davis

By Carol Carpenter
RMC Communications Team

Shane Davis, a Sierra Club member and busy, committed Poudre Canyon Group (PCG) volunteer for two years, believes he has a moral imperative to work on issues─hydraulic fracturing in particular─ that affect the environment. Not only does he believe it, he puts his convictions into action at every opportunity.

“I am a member of Sierra Club because I like being able to make measurable, positive change for the environment and help people everywhere,” Shane, a resident of Firestone, Colo., said. “Above all, it’s a moral conviction to do what’s right for your neighbor and the environment.”


Hiking in the fall awakens every sense

YellowstoneBy Mike Whiteley
Sierra Club RMC Outings Team

Autumn is the time of year when I enjoy hiking the most. When it’s cool, dry and stunningly beautiful, it is a true pleasure to be outside walking. Color is everywhere and all of nature is starting its transition. For many flowers and plants this season will be their last, giving up their life as winter approaches.

The trails are blanketed with crunchy leaves in a rainbow of colors─muted greens, brilliant yellows and rusty reds─that lay down a path that takes you to another world. This is a place you feel you knew a long time ago, a time when you were free and could see nature through the eyes of innocence.


"Look at That..." by Jim Anderson
Click to enlarge...

Updated: Volunteer Leadership Openings!


If, after reading through the available roles, you're still unsure of where you might fit in, that's no problem. Just fill out the volunteer interest form on our website at

Together as an organized movement we will win!

Priority Conservation Campaign: Oil & Gas Campaign

The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter's most organized campaign is launching, and you can help!  We're working on recruiting the few final candidates for the core leadership team, and we're also looking for volunteers throughout the state who can organize, or help an organizer in your home, city, town, or rural area.  The goal is to build a network of volunteers throughout the state who learn about the industry, its practices, and what you can do about it locally.  Sign up with Joshua Ruschhaupt at

Communications Team Leaders 

The Communications Team is currently very strong, however, they are looking for reporters, a webmaster, and a social media specialist.  Depending on your level of experience, skillsets, interests, and available time, some of the above can be combined into one volunteer role.  We have a temporary job description for reporters and webmasters on Craigslist.  Contact the Communications Team at

Outings Leaders

Colorado is a hiker's mecca. We're looking for a few more core-team leaders, and several outings leaders.  Are these you? Sierra Club is known for great outings with trained volunteer leaders. Let us train you to be one of them! Contact Mike Whiteley at for additional information.

Continue reading the list of available volunteer opportunities...

In this issue:
  • Director's Message
  • Go Solar!
  • PCG spreads Sierra Club message
  • PCG recycling program
  • Chimney Rock
  • Featured volunteer: Shane Davis
  • Hiking in the fall
  • "True" Tales of Eco-Disaster Comic
  • Volunteer Leadership Openings
  • Sidebar:
    • Donate!
    • P&P Archive
    • Be a member!
    • Facebook
    • Must-See Event
    • Featured Outings
    • Wish List
    • Story Idea?
    • Photo Contest!

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Donate online!

Support the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter's Oil & Gas campaign by making a contribution right now.  

We depend on your support to do all of our work! 

Contribute on our secure website today.

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Peak and Prairie

The Peak and Prairie is the official Chapter newsletter.

You can read the current
and previous issues of our printed and e-newsletter
on the Chapter's
newsletter webpage.

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Visit the Chapter's events calendar page to find out about outings, conservation and political activities, and more.

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Join the Sierra Club

Not a Sierra Club member yet? No problem -- just click on the "Join Now!" button to become a member today at just $15!

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Like us on Facebook now!

Become a fan of the
Rocky Mountain Chapter on Facebook to get our latest updates and relevant news, or Meetup to join our latest activities, activism, and avocacy events. We're on Twitter, too!

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Must-See Event:
 Step Strong, Save Our Lands Hike-A-Thon

Roxborough State Park
Roxborough State Park.
 Photo courtesy of Colorado Department of Natural Resources

What: We will hike the scenic trails of Roxborough State Park, which offers four levels of hiking experience from which to choose.

From easy to challenging, the hike offers spectacular views of red rock and sandstone formations and diverse, spectacular flora and fauna.

When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Roxborough State Park

Why: Combine your love of hiking with taking action to save the environment.

Also, you can compete for awesome prizes such as:

  • One night's stay at Hotel Colorado in Glenwood with passes to Glenwood Caverns   Adventure Park
  • One night's stay at Tiredhouse Bed & Breakfast in Salida
  • Jacket from Patagonia
  • Signed hiking and snowshoeing trail books by Sierra Club's own Alan Apt

How: Choose the trails and amount of hiking you want to do. Then use the pledge form
to get donations or pledges for each mile you hike.

(Sponsor pledges/donations are not required to participate, but will further your contribution and put you in the running for prizes.)

Click here for more information, and get your tickets today! 

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Featured Outings

Pikes Peak Leaf Hike

Saturday, Sept. 22
8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Join Pikes Peak Sierra Club for a hike along a section of the Ring the Peak Trail on the west side of Pikes Peak during aspen season.

We can never predict for sure, but hopefully the aspen will be at or near their peak. Learn what the Sierra Club is doing to help protect Pikes Peak, working with other groups such as the Central Colorado Wilderness Coalition and Wild Connections.

This hike will be approximately four miles with an elevation gain of 600 feet and is rated moderate.

For more information, or to sign up, contact Jim Lockhart (385-0045)


Lake Isabelle Hike
Indian Peaks Wilderness

Sunday, Sept. 23

Lake Isabelle lies near timberline in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The scenery is breathtaking and worth the easy 4.2 mile roundtrip hike.

This is a popular summer hike with a net elevation gain of 388 feet. After the hike, participants will stop for a group lunch.

Bring water, food, rain gear, sun glasses, sunscreen and hiking boots.

Please contact Kathi Knipfer (303-587-9277) to sign up.

MFVI Hike - Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs

Saturday, October 6

This easy three-mile hike in the middle of Colorado Springs is part of the Military Family and Veterans Initiative (a Sierra Club program to promote involvement of the military community) but open to anyone.

Very unusual rock formations in a relatively small area make for spectacular and easy hiking. By linking together a few different trails, participants will walk in a loop around the central area of the park, avoiding most of the roads and traffic.

Bring hiking shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, snacks, rain jacket and pants.

For more information, or to sign up, contact Mike Whiteley (303-776-7396).

THE "TEN ESSENTIALS" -- The Sierra Club recommends the following be carried at all times when hiking in the backcountry:

Navigation (map and compass);
Fire (matches, lighters, and accelerant);
Signaling Device (whistle or mirror);
Sun Protection (sunglasses and sunscreen);
Insulation (extra clothing);
Nutrition (extra food);
Hydration (extra water and tablets);
Illumination (headlamp or flashlight);
First Aid Kit;
Emergency Shelter (tarp, bivy sack, and tent);
Repair Kit (tools, knife, cord, and tape).

OUR RMC WEBSITE HAS OTHER OUTINGS INFO THAT MIGHT BE OF INTEREST -- A Sierra Club Sign-In and Liability Waiver form must be signed before participating in outings -- if you desire to review a copy, please contact your trip leader.

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Wish List!

Did your holiday treat you to an upgrade from your old computer? Don't throw it out! The RMC is waiting with open arms to receive your well-loved equipment. As the saying goes, one person's trash is another person's treasure! If you can offer any of the following in working order, we'd be very grateful! Please do not offer anything that will take more time and/or money to repair than if we spent the money to buy it.

-Working desktop or laptop; PC computers with functional screens and at minimum Windows 2003 as an operating system.

-Mouse pointers.

-Flat screen monitors.

-Portable projection screen.

Thanks in advance! Contact Chapter Director Joshua Ruschhaupt right away!

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Story Idea?

If you have a story idea for the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Peak and Prairie, just send a quick email to

Enter the photo contest!

Did you know that we have a monthly photo contest?  Check out the August "Mountains" theme photo contest winner.  The theme for the September contest is "water."  Submit your best water photo today!

Rocky Mountain Chapter | 1536 Wynkoop Street, 4th floor, Denver CO 80202, 303-861-8819 | Contact Us

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