Some property owners feel surrounded by wells
Peggy Utesch can stand in the middle of her four-acre property, turn in a circle, and point to a gas well in every direction.
Peggy and her husband, Bob Utesch, live up Dry Hollow, about 10 minutes south of downtown Silt. Dry Hollow is a tucked-away enclave, a bucolic setting full of little hills and valleys. The winding dirt road out to the Utesches’ place is almost like a roller coaster, as it follows the natural curves of the land.
“This was my dream,” said Peggy, looking around at the commanding views of mountains and sky. “We wanted to move out to the country and live a quiet lifestyle. We wanted a garden.”
In 2000, when the Utesches purchased their property, Dry Hollow seemed like the ideal setting.
But now, just four years later, they’re putting their house and property up for sale – and those gas wells Peggy can point to in every direction are the reason why. “I understand the gas industry wanting to come in here,” Peggy said. “But this is industrial development – and it is not appropriate in an agricultural and residential area.”
When the Utesches bought their dream property, they didn’t know what a mineral right was. They didn’t know that just because they bought four acres with a house, an outbuilding and a wetlands area where birds come to nest, they didn’t own the minerals underneath the land.
They do now.
“At the time, there was no such thing as mandatory disclosure,” said Bob, of the year-old law requiring property sellers to disclose whether mineral rights are included in a property sale. “We didn’t even know to ask.”
That’s because in 2000, there were no gas wells in sight of the Utesches’ land.
“We could see some stuff way off in the distance in the Mamm Creek and Hunter Mesa areas,” Peggy said. “But that was five miles away. There was nothing on Dry Hollow.”
Bob said two years ago, the couple started seeing gas activity coming closer.
“The tops of the derricks were just coming over the hill,” Bob said.
Around the same time, the couple heard from one of their neighbors. “They wanted him to lease his mineral rights to them,” Bob said, “and he was outraged.”
With activity decidedly ramping up around them, the Utesches decided to get together with concerned neighbors. They also became members of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance, a grassroots organization started in 1997 as a result of the Colorado Gas and Oil Commission’s decision to increase the density of gas wells in the Parachute area.
The Utesches were soon shocked at what they learned. “I remember Randy Udall telling us that our property was right in the middle of one of the richest known pockets of natural gas,” said Bob. “He told us, You’re right in the bull’s-eye.'”