I think one of the factors in passing Initiative 300 to ban fracking is that many in Longmont are tired of having out-of-town big businesses spending large sums of money to influence Longmont issues. This would not have been so bad had the oil and gas interests made any attempt to provide pros and cons and state their positions and the reasons for their position. Instead, just like the telecom industry on the fiber optics issues, glossy fliers inundated our mailboxes with very little truth.
Certainly there are many things to consider in a complex issue. The oil and gas industry, in the fliers they mailed, and by their compliance, the seven former mayors, failed to take seriously the considerations of the community. No mention of lost property values and quality of life. These cannot be denied. One council person said it affects only a few people, something like a tax paid by the few and the unwilling. I don’t think that is how we should support our neighbors.
It remains a question as to whether the former mayors just signed on without a chance to vet the fliers or whether they agreed with everything that was contained in each flier. I do not have a problem with former mayors or city managers joining in the debate as long as misinformation is not part of the discussion.
The argument that the fracking process has not caused any contamination or harm to people is totally misleading. Contamination has occurred right here in Longmont. It is a distinction without a difference. Whether the contamination occurred because of deep underground activity or at the surface does not change the pertinent facts. Any industrial process is prone to mishaps. Having the mishap occur next to homes of schools is not acceptable.
Benzene exposure may not be any greater than that encountered at a service station, but we all should have the right not to be exposed by the actions of others. What is a real concern is the undisclosed other chemicals. While some companies are willing to disclose, most are not or only under very limited circumstances. My guess is that no one knows the toxicity of many of these chemicals and certainly not the toxicity of the mixtures. This is already an issue with Longmont water and other water departments when they try to plan for response to a release that affects our water. You cannot plan to treat chemicals whose identity you do not know.
I am glad Longmont stood up on principle. It is a principle the 81 other communities that have objected to fracking in their communities should also stand up for. Personally, I believe fracking can be a viable process when done correctly and in appropriate locations. Accidents will happen, but strong precautions are needed and easily afforded by this extremely profitable industry. We must insist that Oil and Gas Conservation Commission act in a responsible manner that makes decisions in the interest of all Colorado residents.
It was particularly grievous that threats of increasingly large dollar amounts were presented for loss of mineral rights and used at the last minute as a scare tactic. Nowhere was the loss of surface value and property values discussed. Nowhere was it mentioned that some families would be unable to move because they could not get enough money for their homes to buy an equivalent house somewhere else. It was also not lost on many of us that none of the former mayors, the governor, members of the Oil and Gas Commission, or drilling companies management volunteered to live near a fracking site.
Maybe there is a lesson somewhere in this. If you want to gain public support, be straightforward and discuss pros and cons. Do not tell mistruths or half-truths. Then you may have a better chance of gaining the outcome you desire. This should also apply to commercials for and against candidates. Are we teaching our young that telling lies to get a desired outcome is acceptable?
There are maybe other lessons to be learned from this year’s elections. In a large number of elections, money did not win the election, but it did smear the democratic process. Unfortunately this money was used to smear candidates and mislead voters and non-voters alike. I saw in this paper a few days ago that it is illegal in Colorado to provide false information to influence the outcome of initiatives, and I assume, selection of candidates.
Bob Norris has lived in Longmont since 2000. He has spent 30 years as an environmental consultant and a long time ago did research on hydraulic fracking leading to two U.S. patents.