Voices Topics Info

The Social Impacts of Natural Gas Drilling

Adriane Ohanesian

The culture of Crestone is inseparable from the pristine landscape which encompasses the entire San Luis Valley. Crestone’s main cultural scene revolves around the numerous religious and spiritual centers. These centers each nestled into the side of the mountains provide individuals from both near and far, the chance to be enveloped within both a spiritual and environmentally powerful place. With the threat of Lexam’s plans to drill for natural gas, the community of Crestone has come together in order to preserve their unique culture and landscape. Many feel that their community will cease to exist or at least will never be the way it once was if the drilling were to occur. This notion is exemplified by Robert Demko, who states that: “Community is extremely important to me and anything that threatens that value and that sense of community is something I have to focus on”. (Robert Demko, Subud, Arlo F). Some individuals believe that:

If the thing proceeds it seems impossible that all levels of the environment won’t be degraded. And you know the town, the funny funky little semi depressed town, depends almost entirely on people coming here to do spiritual pursuit and I think there are a lot of people who probably would not come here if they had a gas field in the front yard. If I had the money I would go somewhere else if there was a gas field in the front yard. (Seltong, Tibetan Buddhist nun, interviewed by Whitney)

The economics of the community are reliant on the religious and spiritual retreats. Just as the spiritual communities draw on energy from their beautiful surroundings, the religious communities need the recognition and patronage from outsiders. Participation in retreats is necessary in order for the centers to continue to sustain themselves. Many individuals strive to live off the grid, although sources of income can be difficult: “The economy is really hard here… it’s hard living here, people try to do sustainable living, and grow their own food, they rely on each other, they swap services…you have to give up a lot if you want to live here.” (Vicky Feb 27 2008, Adriane Ohanesian) While people have done their best to remain self-sufficient, the fact of the matter remains that Crestone and its religious and spiritual communities rely on the contributions of outsiders:

Well you look at it, what is the economy of this place? It’s people on retreat. There is about 20,000 people coming every year on retreat, so they buy the food, they rent the places, they pay for the teachings, the publications. This is one of the most unique economies in the entire country. This economy would collapse. Nobody’s going to want to come to a place where there’s dirty air, noise from drills, and lack of the essence of what everyone’s here for…The economy would collapse, people would leave, nobody would want to look at these drills, smell the pollution. You look at the chemicals they have to put into the drill, and there goes the water. So the air, the water, the land, the animals, the peoples everything! (Jacob Reuter and Ben Copp interview with Hanna Strong 2/28/2008

Some individuals can see that the addition of natural gas drilling into the community may have its economic benefits, however, there is an important point to be made; as of now, Crestone sustains itself fairly well without the extra income that drilling may provide: “There would be some economic advantage to it, there’s always a trade off. It might improve my economy, but most people didn’t move here for the money.” (Lonnie Roth, Crestone Creative Trade Co. Interview by Caroline McKenna) The community relies on spiritual and religious organizations to bring individuals into Crestone. Much of this tourism is directly correlated with the marvelous landscape where the plains meet the mountains. With the addition of drills into the community it is believed that the once preserved landscape will be irreplaceably destroyed:

This drilling is a huge intrusion. It is a wildlife refuge, we are not even allowed to walk on it! The animals – my life is about the animals. We already intrude on the animals too much! We should use this land to build more solar farms, not oil and fuel companies. (Julie Quinn, Citizen's Alliance. Interviewed by Rachel Johnson)

They’ll ruin our night skies and our air quality. The noise and the vibrations of the equipment will disturb the wildlife and destroy the quietude, which is much better to practice in. In other words, they’ll destroy the whole economic and social basis of this community.” (Ralph Abrams, White Jewel Mountain Zen Center, V. Richardson)

The environmental and economic impacts on the community are so closely linked to the destruction of the environment which may very well mean an economic collapse for the small town of Crestone. The permanent community is so closely tied to the land that even long time residents feel that they may need to abandon their homes. While some feel that the threat of drilling may tear the community apart others see Lexam as a challenge that they’re ready to take on as a community determined to protect their sacred land:

Now what its actually doing for our community I think is actually bringing us together and saying wow okay there is something bigger than our in fighting…actually Lexam is a blessing because Lexam has gotten us at the same table and said okay, what are we going to do. The real test for us is not to get stuck in the fighting of Lexam but actually like start being proactive about what we are about and what we want to get done, and really go the legal route about Lexam. (Kristina Cabeza, Ben Copp and Eli King)

With the threat of natural gas drilling in the San Luis Valley, Crestone, and the unique community of religious and spiritual centers find that their way of life is being threatened. If the drilling were to occur, the animals, people, environment, economics, and society of such a distinct culture would undoubtedly be forever altered.

Top of Page