Judith Blackburn

None so blind as those who will not see

I couldn’t help but laugh at the insights reported after the fracking accident near Windsor that released greenish fracking fluid for 30 hours on what looked like agricultural land. To the Loveland firefighters, the lessons learned had to do with the speed and accuracy of reporting such spills, compounded by the fact that nobody knew whose wells were spilling. Not mentioned are the even more important lessons that could have been learned:

1) The released fracking fluid is toxic (Halliburton’s safer CleanStim fluid imbibed by our governor is expensive and rarely used). No telling what the effects of this release will be on the adjacent land. What if this spill had occurred next to a home, school or park?

2) Accidents and spills are exactly the problems citizens are worried about.

3) Regulations (or city rules) do not make fracking safe.

4) Fracking poses dangers to workers, including local firefighters and hospital staff.

5) Local communities have to cover the costs of training for emergencies and for clean-up.

6) No one knows the long-term effects of fracking because the high-pressure systems now in use are relatively new.

Loveland Fire Chief Randy Mirowki is reported as concluding, “The more we work together with these companies, from an emergency response side, the better off we are.” I would come to a different conclusion: The more we resist the lure of so-called economic benefits and statewide pressure to extract oil and gas by hydraulic fracturing, the better off we will be.

Thank heavens Longmont residents had the foresight to vote to ban fracking within our city limits!

It may be legal, but it’s not right!

Some, including some in the press, are confusing the actions of the Longmont City Council on oil and gas drilling within Longmont with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont‘s charter amendment (The Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act). If passed in November, the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act would ban only the relatively new extraction process of directional hydraulic fracturing within city limits. It is not a blanket ban on fracking.

The many volunteers who collected more than 6,609 signatures do not consider themselves “anti-frackers,” as they are often described. They are ordinary residents who want to make sure Longmont’s people, particularly children, are protected and that schools, parks and property values are not compromised in the rush to get the last of the fossil fuel. The science is not yet in on the long-term effects of fracking.

There’s another issue, too. Should local communities have any say in what the state mandates for them? Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont thinks so. The Colorado Constitution allows home rule cities that right. We all realize that the oil and gas industry has vast sums of money to promote their interests whereas we at the local level are counting on volunteers and small donations to counter their oft-repeated and misleading claims. There comes a time when people realize that what is legal is not necessarily what is right. The abolishment of slavery and the inclusion of women as voters are testament to that principle.

Sometimes laws have to be challenged. Interestingly the lawsuit recently initiated against the city is not to be confused with this citizen-led ballot initiative. That lawsuit is the state’s protest against City Council’s updated regulations.

If you’d like to help Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont succeed in November, your can volunteer through our website.

The fact that the lawsuit came so quickly should be fair warning to Longmont voters that we are being unfairly stomped on and we need to stand up against the challenge.

The ball is in council’s court

Editor’s Note: The following address was given before Longmont City Council on March 14, 2012.

I have a new suggestion tonight relative to how we use the moratorium currently in place to delay applications on hydraulic fracturing within Longmont City Limits.  So far we have been talking about state regulation and the city’s limited authority to challenge it.  The question now becomes, have you heard enough and seen enough in the past few months to be just the slightest bit worried about the impacts of fracking to question its appropriateness in this place, our city?  Your answer to this question determines next steps.

I recently sent an open letter to each of you describing the difference between background research on fracking done by county staff at the direction of the commissioners and research done by city staff at your direction.  The difference was that county staff talked about the impacts of fracking on citizens: health risks, hidden infrastructure costs, property values, etc.—all things that elected officials are responsible for, whereas city staff has so far merely presented a legalistic framework for how to indemnify themselves and you in the face of state preemptions.  Well, it’s a good thing we have a little more time under the moratorium to research our alternatives further.

If—and I give the word emphasis—if you would like to prevent urban fracking if you thought you could, you might re-frame it as a rights issue rather than a regulation issue.  You could re-direct city staff to research the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution, and our status as a home rule city to challenge preemption at its core.  One course of action open to you while we’ve got a moratorium would be for you to revisit our city charter.  You could ask staff what it would take to initiate an amendment to the city charter banning fracking within city limits.  Or you could decide to put this momentous decision to the voters.  Many of us would help you with such a campaign. However, if you’re fine with big oil’s PR campaign, commissions, and now a task force about how safe and green and inevitable directional hydraulic fracturing is, then you probably won’t welcome this suggestion.  But there it is.  For now the ball is in your court.

Open Letter to Longmont City Council

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.

 

ROAR event take-aways

Last Sunday’s educational event at Trail Ridge Middle School was wildly successful by any measure. Nearly 300 people filled the cafeteria meeting room to hear experts and local residents explain what hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is and how it might affect Longmont unless something is done to slow down the momentum. Scott Rochat reported some of the take-aways of the afternoon (“ROAR urges tighter drilling regs,” Feb. 27), but did not summarize what were perhaps the most important facts introduced.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Recent studies on air quality in Erie and water pollution in Wyoming (not to mention the raised benzene levels near the Trail Ridge school itself) counter the industry’s claims to being safe.

The oil and gas corporations exert immense pressure at the state level to pre-empt local home rule regarding our rights to health, safety and protection at the local level.

There is no way to protect our rights even with strict regulations because inspection and enforcement are inadequate.

Costs for everything from road damage to emergency response must be borne by local communities.

We residents are not always told the truth about accidents and the long-range consequences of fracking. Or about such things as the effect of fracking on homes built over abandoned mines or wells that might not have been disclosed when the home was purchased.

Longmont’s 120-day moratorium expires April 17, but an extension of at least six months was recommended by Sunday’s speakers in order to tighten proposed regulations for Longmont and to consider other options that would ban fracking altogether within city limits.

For more information about fracking, visit LongmontROAR.org.