Film fest documentary with a Vail connection |

Film fest documentary with a Vail connection

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail DailyVail Film Fest: Demonstrators protest against natural gas drilling in this film still from the documentary "Split Estate."

VAIL, Colorado –When longtime Vail resident Pepi Langegger was asked to talk about the bubbles that were suddenly seeping up in the creek on his land in Silt, he didn’t think much about it. He certainly didn’t realize he’d end up with a role in a documentary that would end up on the big screen in Vail.

Langegger, who’s lived in Vail since 1963 and used to own the Golden Eagle Inn and The Tyrolean Inn, talked to fillmmaker Debra Anderson and is in the documentary she produced, called “Split Estate.” The film, which focuses on the sometimes-devastating effects oil and gas drilling is having on the Rocky Mountain West, as well as the health of some of the people living there, is showing today at the Vail Film Festival.

Langegger spends about half his time on the Western Slope where he owns 450 acres. Anderson approached him a few years ago and asked if he’d talk about the natural gas drilling that’s become so prevalent in the Rifle/Silt/Parachute area.

Langegger has owned the land since 1980. In 2004 EnCana started drilling on his property, which is a “split estate.” In split estate situations, land owners own the surface rights to the land, but not the mineral rights underneath the land, which means an energy company could legally drill for natural gas 200 feet from the homeowners front door.

In the film, Langegger stands next to West Divide Creek that’s runs through his property. The water in the creek bubbles like a 5-minute-old glass of Sprite.

“In 2004 one of the rigs basically had an accident,” Langegger said. “A lot of gas escaped and somehow came up on our creek. It was bubbling up and you could set the thing on fire. You put a match to it and it would light.”

The film was released in 2009 and Anderson sent Langegger a copy of the DVD.

“I think it’s pretty well done,” he said. “It sticks pretty well to the facts … It’s very educational. The average person, unless someone is really involved in it, has no idea of really how split estate works. It’s a good film for people to see because it really opens their eyes and you learn about something that otherwise you’d have no idea what’s going on.”

Anderson, who grew up in Boulder but now lives in New Mexico, first learned about the split estate concept by reading a magazine article in 2006 about natural gas drilling in Garfield County.

“It captured my attention because it was shocking to me and because Colorado is my home state. I couldn’t believe that an energy company could come in on private land and drill without the consent of a landowner, and that the drilling activities in this community were making people sick.”

Since the film’s premiere at DocuWeeks in New York City and L.A. in August, it has been shown at a handful of other film festivals and was broadcast on Discovery’s Planet Green channel four times in October 2009 and four times in January. There have also been articles in the New York Times, as well as on Democracy Now, a daily TV/radio news program, about how the oil and gas industry is seeking new leases in as many as 32 states and making a bid to drill in the New York City watershed, which provides drinking water to millions of people.

“There’s a spin of media that started and it’s rolling more and more,” Anderson said.

Anderson is in Vail right now for the festival. In a telephone interview earlier this week she talked about her goals for the film.

“I hope the film raises awareness locally, nationally and now internationally about what happens during the natural gas extraction process. That natural gas is indeed a fossil fuel and though it does burn cleaner, its extraction process is not clean by any stretch of the imagination.”

The documentary is one of four films included in the Vail Film Festival’s activism showcase, a first in the festival’s seven-year history. Vail Film Festival organizers decided to screen the film in order to spotlight an issue local residents might not know much about, even though it’s happening just 75 miles west of the Vail Valley, said Megen Musegades, the festival’s associate festival director.

Anderson has a theory about why the general public might not know a whole lot about the issue.

“Communities that are impacted by oil and gas development can’t afford to publicize their story and the industry has very deep pockets and can easily publicize its point of view,” Anderson said. “Activist films are important because they can shine a light on stories that might otherwise go unseen and in a film one can step into the life of a person in a unique way and see and feel what they are going through in a more visceral way than one always can in other medias.”

Even though the film has been out for a while now, Anderson and two other people have made a full-time job out of promoting the movie.

“I think it’s as important to do an outreach campaign after the release of the film as it is to make the film in the first place and that’s what we’ve done with ‘Split Estate’ in communities who are facing oil and gas development, all over the country and in other countries, so that people can make informed decisions when faced with the industry in their backyard,” she said.

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High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or

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