The advertisement blitz against Ballot Question 300 is in full force. Although some may be impressed to see seven former mayors standing in unison against Question 300, voters are not getting the whole story from the slick, multicolor brochures and full-page newspaper ads. The blitz’s message is clear. Trust the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to adequately protect Longmont residents from oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing. Unfortunately, mountains of evidence exist to show how ineptly the COGCC regulates the industry.
Opponents of Question 300 want you to believe it was placed before the voters by “activists with an agenda.” This is not the case. It is the result of more than 8,000 of our friends and neighbors expressing their concerns about their health, the environment and Longmont’s quality of life.
I will vote “yes” on Question 300 for several reasons. If you doubt the veracity of any of my reasons, you should do your own research with the COGCC and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or listen to the tapes of the COGCC Setback Review Stakeholder Group Meetings (February-September 2012).
The first reason I will vote “yes” should shame every official ever associated with COGCC. As unbelievable as it is, the COGCC’s setback regulations are not based on any standard aimed at protecting public health. The setback requirements are based on the distance fire officials believe is needed in case of a catastrophic safety issue such as rig collapse, explosion or fire.
The second reason I will vote “yes” is equally alarming. On June 14, I witnessed representatives from the CDPHE repeatedly say they have no way of knowing what negative health impacts may arise from toxic air emissions from oil and gas operations, including fracking, since they have insufficient scientific data on which to make a determination. It gets worse. At the same meeting, the CDPHE staff stated they had no plans to collect additional scientific data because neither the governor nor a majority of the state Legislature support funding scientific studies. It is incredible — millions of dollars in royalty payments received by the state, but no funds to conduct health research! However, have you noticed how frequently the governor and opponents of Question 300 proclaim that since there is no scientific proof that oil and gas operations are damaging our health, the operations must be safe? I refuse to accept such an illogical approach to public policy. I believe absent scientific data showing that these heavy industrial activities can safely operate within our cities, they should be banned or regulated by local governments.
The third reason I will vote “yes” is because on Aug. 15, while speaking to the oil and gas industry in Denver, Gov. Hickenlooper finally admitted there was a need for new initiatives to regulate oil and gas operations. His proposed initiatives include: well-bore integrity, water sampling, fugitive methane emissions and setbacks from densely populated areas. We all know that if the governor really thought the state regulations were defensible, he would not upset this friends in the oil and gas industry. On Oct. 1, the COGCC publicly acknowledged the inadequacy of its regulations and voted 6-1 to initiate a rulemaking process regarding: groundwater sampling, groundwater monitoring and setback requirements. At last, the state agency that has coddled the oil and gas industry for decades recognized that regulations are inadequate to protect communities from the oil and gas invasion. However, even with these admitted failures, the governor and opponents still want us to trust the COGCC.
I do not personally think Ballot Question 300 is the ideal method to address the legitimate concerns residents have regarding potential health, environmental and quality of life issues. The ideal solution would come from the COGCC in the form of adequate regulations based on scientific data followed by vigorous enforcement of the regulations. Unfortunately, the COGCC has repeatedly failed to carry out its legislative mandates. When the state fails, the next logical place to expect action is from the Longmont City Council. However, a majority of council members refuse to adopt comprehensive oil and gas regulations. Fortunately, our state Constitution provides a path for residents to follow when their elected officials fail to act responsibly. Ballot Question 300 is their first step in a movement to hold elected officials accountable for adopting appropriate oil and gas regulations based on scientific data.
I will vote “yes” on Ballot Question 300.
Gordon Pedrow is a former city manager of Longmont.