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Local trio releases film critical of gas drilling

Locations: News Published

Focuses on Garfield County

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

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A locally-produced film about oil and gas drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and the use of water in those industrial enterprises will be shown on Oct. 14 in the Calaway Room at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.

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Carbondale-based film makers Hamilton Pevec and Austin Lottimer, with their partner and co-producer Aaron Milton of Glenwood Springs, have come up with a film that they believe tells the inside and underside story of water use in the booming natural gas industry in Garfield County and the West in general, entitled “Before The Last Drop.”

Pevec, who also has been working to bring relief and help to victims of last April’s earthquake in Nepal (he has a Nepali wife, Devika, who is due to give birth to their baby next April), told The Sopris Sun recently that he first heard about the issue of water use in the natural gas industry from Milton in 2012, shortly after Milton had quit a six-month job in the industry.

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Once the trio — Pevec, Lottimer and Milton — had met and talked about their ideas, they started working on the film, with funding initially coming from an online Kickstarter campaign that yielded $10,000 in donations, and later from the personal accounts of the three partners.

“The project was a huge education for me,” Pevec said, explaining that he had barely heard about the issue prior to talking with Milton.

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What he expected to be a six-month project turned into considerably more, he said, noting, “That six-months turned into 16 months.”

Milton told The Sopris Sun that he observed a wide range of questionable activities while working for the Encana energy company in the Garfield County “gas patch,” as it is known, ranging from a lack of safeguards for workers to the use and pollution of vast amounts of water needed for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the extraction technique that is the key to the current boom in gas drilling nationwide and worldwide.

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According to a written description of the film, “‘Before The Last Drop’ explores how water is the key to America’s new gas resources, but there is not enough water left in the west to accommodate the growing energy industry. The over-drilled gas fields of Garfield County collide with the Colorado River, putting the entire American west in danger. Leaking wells, systemic venting of methane and corrupt local government has forced this small county into the spotlight.’”

The film makers took their cameras around Garfield County, to such diverse locations as the towns of Parachute, Silt and Rifle, as well as the Mann Creek region, filming gas wells in operation, industry tankers sucking water out of the Colorado River, interviewing Garfield County Commissioner John Martin and former commissioner Trési Houpt about their opposing views of the industry, and generally compiling 86 minutes of film that carries a decidedly negative view of the industry’s presence and effects on Garfield County.

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Among the interviewees was Rick Roles, a rancher in the Mamm Creek area who said he has lost “all my livestock” due to air and water pollution caused by nearby drilling and other industry activities, as well as being severely sickened himself.

They interviewed the late energy and environmental activist Randy Udall, of Carbondale, who told them  “water and energy are symbiotic. You need each one of them to unlock the other,” and cautioned viewers about the energy industry’s consumption of water to the tune of five million gallons of water for a single hydraulic fracturing shot.

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“The film features local heroes,” Pevec wrote in a promotional statement for the showing.

Among them, he said, are:

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• “The late, great Randy Udall;”

• Judy Jordan, former Garfield County liaison to the industry who was fired for being critical of the industry’s activities;

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• Trési Houpt, former Garfield County commissioner;

• Rick Roles, rancher;

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• and a host of others including locally-based authors Craig Childs, John Waterman and Pete McBride.

Udall’s views open the film and are featured prominently throughout.

“The greatest infusion of new energy was turning on the Alaska oil pipeline in 1977,” Udall says on film. “That was the energy equivalent of a sugar high. What we have seen from fracking just in the last four years, has been two Alaska pipelines worth of energy coming onto the market. Fracking has been the energy equivalent of a hit on a crack pipe.”

And Jordan, the county’s fired liaison official, offered a cautionary word about the power of the industry to overcome its critics.

“Any industry that has as much power as they have, is something to be feared, in my view,” Jordan said in the film. “In the sense that the old Soviet Union could shut down any kind of dissent among its people, well, to me we’ve got that here in the U.S. Only it’s not the government, it’s the industry puppeting the government for their own profit motivated purposes.”

Pevec, who is listed as co-director, will conduct a Q&A after the screening. He said in an interview that, while the group hoped the film would gain a wide audience through showings at film festivals, “It got consistently rejected from every festival” where they applied.

“Which was strange, to me, because we got nothing but positive feedback” from an early “wrap” screening, he added.

“It’s not a ‘hold-your-hand’ documentary as it walks you through it,” he said of the film’s content. “It assumes the audience is intelligent, which is not what most documentaries do. You have to pay attention.”

The film is scheduled to be shown at 6:45 p.m. (doors will open at 6 p.m.), and a donation of $10 to $20 is being requested of those who attend. The proceeds will go for relief, aid and rebuilding efforts in Nepal.

Pevec told The Sopris Sun that he expects the limited seating to fill up fast, and recommended that people get there early.

Published in The Sopris Sun on October 8, 2015.