Drilling/fracking before Council tonite (Tuesday)

Here’s an interview done by KGNU with Kaye Fissinger.

Those who are following the issues of drilling (and fracking) oil and gas on City of Longmont property will want to attend the City Council meeting tomorrow Tuesday, November 15th. The meeting begins at 7:00 PM.

Appearing before the council will be representatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (industry trade group), the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (the state agency that authorizes oil and gas development), representatives from Boulder and Weld counties, and Phillip Barber (an attorney who specializes in oil and gas hired by the city).

TOP Operating, who owns mineral rights beneath Union Reservoir and other city properties, has approached the City of Longmont for a conditional use permit to drill on city-owned properties. Five drill pads are under consideration: two on the west side of Union Reservoir, one at Sandstone Ranch, one on the “Sherwood property” at County Road 20-1/2 and one known as Evans #8 (somewhat near Sandstone). A surface use agreement is intended to be a companion to the conditional use permit.

The city adopted oil and gas regulations in 2001. Those standards include well and production site setbacks from occupied buildings and public right-of-way, production site containment, visual impacts and aesthetics, access road design and maintenance, noise mitigation, floodplain compliance, oil and gas transport, air quality, wildlife mitigation, signs, screening and landscaping.

Some of the Colorado Commission’s answers to Frequently Asked Questions is extremely bothersome. The following is a sampling.

    • The COGCC’s authority to prevent and mitigate significant environmental harm does not negate its obligation to encourage development of the oil and gas resource.
    • As long as there is severed mineral interest ownership in Colorado law which protects the property rights of mineral rights holders to access their mineral estate, and as long as the COGCC’s statute charges the COGCC with promotion of oil and gas development, the COGCC will be limited in its ability to satisfy surface owners or to stop oil and gas development.
    • Cases of public safety impacts from oil and gas operations are extremely rare and generally non-existent in Colorado
    • The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) provides for a defined “cumulative impacts” analysis for proposed projects classified as “federal actions”.  Colorado law does not provide for a NEPA “cumulative impacts” analysis for projects proposed on private or state-owned lands.  The COGCC can consider cumulative impacts within the limits of its authority under state law.

Within the city’s Municipal Code, there may be opportunity for greater protections than are expressed in some of the answers provided by the Commission.  Specifically, the city code states, “To the maximum extent practicable, a well site and a production site shall be located away from prominent natural features such as distinctive rock and land forms, vegatative patterns, river crossings, city-owned and city-designated open space areas, and other designated landmarks.

Considerably more details from the city’s municipal code can be found in the packet  for tomorrow’s meeting.

This issue is extremely complex.  Securing the best possible outcome will require genuine environmental concern from the sworn city council, stewardship and commitment from city staff, specialized legal counsel willing to push the envelope as far as legally possible, and outside expertise willing to stand up for the needs of Longmont residents who strongly object to drilling and fracking, particularly on Longmont Open Space.

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