I attended the hearing for Boulder County Commissioners last Thursday, March 1, about terminating, renewing, or amending their Moratorium on accepting applications for oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder County. I don’t know if the commissioners had directed their staff differently from how Longmont City Council directed its staff in doing background research on this issue, but I can report that the two reports had a decidedly different focus. Whereas Longmont city staff framed their report along legalistic lines, the Boulder County staff looked at the impacts of oil and gas development on citizens, landscape, and finances.
In addition to hearing testimony from the public, the Boulder County Commissioners heard detailed reports from county staff representing the Land Use Department, the Parks and Open Space Department, the Transportation Department, and—most importantly—from Public Health officials. Staff from each of these departments presented research and analysis on everything from the inadequacy of county roads to hold up against heavy truck traffic to scientific studies detailing water pollution in Wyoming and air quality in Erie, Colorado, where oil and gas development had compromised public health. I don’t recall that Longmont even considered requesting input about public health from city staff. In Longmont that aspect of planning has had to come from the public.
Boulder County staff also looked at some of the dilemmas faced by administrators in the face of pressure from state regulators. For instance, county roads might have to be rebuilt at considerable expense before they could be safely used by large semi-trucks servicing the industry and before revenues could be collected. Furthermore, anticipated income from oil and gas development might not even cover the county potential expenses associated with mitigation and litigation. Boulder County staff also pointed out that the area’s reputation for healthy living, hiking and biking, would be adversely affected by the higher ground ozone levels that accompany large scale oil and gas development. Again, I don’t believe quality of life was a topic of consideration for Longmont staff input to Council.
Appeals to the “inalienable rights” guaranteed under the U.S. and Colorado constitutions, which county and city officials are pledged to protect, were mentioned by many of the citizens offering public testimony. Among these are the right to clean air, water, health, and safety—all of these under threat by an overbearing industry in a hurry to preempt local authority. Legal appeals on these grounds may carry more weight than adjustments to existing regulations in stemming the tide.
In conclusion, I would like to suggest that there are many more avenues of research related to limiting or preventing fracking in the city of Longmont that city staff has so far explored. Please direct them to study impacts and options for resistance as we move forward with our extended Moratorium.