Kate Johnson

Frackenlooper: No “Fair Witness”

Oil and gas lobbyists call him "a stud."

Hickenlooper 2On May 2, Gov. Hickenlooper participated in the FrackingSENSE lecture series at the University of Colorado. There he stated that he wants to be a “fair witness” of oil and gas development (particularly of fracking) in Colorado. 

The term “fair witness” was introduced in the 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. In this book, a fair witness is defined as an individual trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions. I would venture to say Hickenlooper is anything but a fair witness when it comes to fracking.

Frackenlooper ButtonConsider that he has appeared in paid advertisements for the oil and gas industry claiming that fracking is safe. He has been called a “stud” by oil and gas lobbyists, hardly an impartial reference. He intentionally misled a Senate hearing committee and the press with his claims of drinking fracking fluid, which in reality was not the kind of highly toxic and carcinogenic fracking fluid that is routinely used throughout Colorado. He has sued a local community, Longmont, for imposing a ban on fracking. He has not only continually threatened to veto just about any bills that would strengthen regulations or enforcement of existing regulations, but has pressured Democrats to kill such bills before they even reach his desk so he can avoid looking like the bad guy.

At this same conference Hickenlooper stated that “if we find unhealthy air quality around a community and something coming out of a well that is an issue, we will put the brakes on faster than you can imagine.” Oh really? NOAA recently reported air quality in Weld County that is worse than Los Angeles and Houston and is directly related to oil and gas activity, yet there is no slowdown on activity there. And a recent gas leak near Parachute allowed a carcinogen to seep into the ground near a large creek that feeds into the Colorado River, and I have yet to hear of any “brakes” being applied there.

Probably the most alarming statement that Hickenlooper made at the FrackingSENSE event is that the science on the impacts of fracking is far from settled and that scientists don’t know the impacts of wells on air and how that might affect the health of nearby residents. If this is true, then why are we continuing to drill, baby, drill? Shouldn’t we be implementing the precautionary principal and putting the brakes on fracking until we know the answers to these important questions? Shouldn’t we be putting state money toward studies that would answer these questions instead of toward costly lawsuits against residents who are trying to protect themselves? Instead, Hickenlooper’s appointee to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Dr. Urbina, specifically testified against HB 1275 that would have produced a study on health impacts.

The fact that our governor is saying one thing but doing completely the opposite leads me to believe that he is certainly no fair witness to oil and gas development and fracking but instead is a colluding representative of the industry.

Hickenlooper: Colorado’s dishonest governor

As if it isn’t bad enough that our governor is considered a “stud” by the oil and gas industry as he blatantly ignores the health and well-being of Colorado’s residents when it comes to fracking, now he is intentionally misleading the public about the safety of fracking fluid itself.

evil_clownHis recent comments about having taken a “drink of fracking fluid” are completely dishonest and misleading. He implies that because he drank it, fracking is safe. Only when pressed on the issue did he admit that what he drank was not the toxic brew of carcinogenic chemicals that is currently used throughout Colorado, but instead a type of a “green” fracking fluid that is made up of food-grade ingredients.

And to add insult to injury, in his follow-up statements he goes on to imply that this form of fracking fluid is in the “prototype” phase which is also untrue. It’s been around for several years but at a higher price tag than the chemical-laden mixture that is being injected into our lands throughout the state now.

In other words, while the oil and gas industry is making millions of dollars fracking throughout Colorado, they are doing it with toxic fracking fluids even though a green fluid is available now — just because it’s more profitable for them. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry should be ashamed of their blatant disregard for our residents’ health and well-being!

Fracking protests: justified and necessary

Editor’s Note: The following OpEd, which appeared in the Longmont Times-Call on December 11, 2012, is reprinted with the author’s permission. In today’s Boulder Daily Camera, Wendy Wiedenbeck, “hired gun” spokesperson for Encana, offered the usual oil and gas industry falsehoods. However, she outdid herself with inflammatory accusations and hysteria. FRL has had several conversations with those who were in attendance at the Boulder County Commissioners’ meeting on December 4, 2012, participants and non-participants in the protest. Ms. Wiedenbeck has intentionally interpreted frustration, fear and anger at her company as a threat to her personal safety. This is propaganda of the worst sort. She has destroyed her credibility, if she had any, as well as Encana’s, if it had any, in one fell swoop. Expect a tsunami of propaganda in the months (perhaps years) to come as the industry fights for it’s state/nation-sponsored privilege to threaten the health of citizens, in Longmont, in Colorado, and around the nation.


1806885996_1d29879109I attended the Boulder County commissioners’ meeting last Tuesday at the Boulder County Courthouse. I was there to put pressure on the commissioners to strengthen the proposed new oil and gas regulations, extend the moratorium to allow time to adequately implement the new regulations, and to consider some way to enact a ban on fracking in our county. I was not, however, a part of the disruptive protests you may have read about or seen on the news.

I’d like to make a few comments about this, though, from the perspective of someone who has been learning about hydraulic fracturing and taking an active stance against it this past year.

First, while I don’t condone some of the hostile actions taken by a few of those involved on Dec. 4, I don’t condemn the intentions and the reasons behind such actions. While some of the disruptions came from people who are not very well informed about the work that has been done by the Planning Commission, the county commissioners and the county staff to try to lay the foundation for better regulations that might eventually help lead to a countywide ban, some of those involved were people who are deeply concerned about the health of their own families, and they are coming from a place of fear, anger and frustration. Fracking is a dangerous heavy industrial process where toxic spills and water contamination are frequent. And it uses vast quantities of water at a time when we are in a serious drought with no relief in sight.

If allowed to continue to steamroll its way through our county, our state and beyond, it will have such a serious impact on climate change that we will reach the tipping point where we can’t undo the damage to the planet within as little as 15 years. And yet our state laws make it nearly impossible for a local community to control whether, when, how or where it gets fracked. While Longmont’s residents were able to vote to ban fracking, that may still be challenged. Boulder County does not have the ability to vote on such a ban at this point.

So I share the frustration and anger about the state of the earth and the sad state of our government. And I recognize that these strong emotions and the passion behind them can and need to be expressed productively and can potentially effect great change. At the same time, there are instances when hostile behaviors and approaches can cause the intended message to get lost and the overall effectiveness of the movement to be undermined. Many of us are working on this issue from a variety of different angles, and most of us are doing it with civility and respect of our fellow citizens.

I encourage anyone who has up to this point remained uninvolved and uninformed to step up your awareness and involvement. There are many good references out there to help you understand the seriousness of this issue and how it will affect every one of us. For starters, if you haven’t already done so, watch the movie “Gasland.” Then, when it premiers later this month, go see Matt Damon’s “Promised Land.” Visit http://environmentcolorado.org/reports/coc/report-costs-fracking for a good overview of the costs of fracking and the environmental damage it is causing. The facts you will begin to uncover will help you understand the fear and frustration that is driving some of the behavior that may be hard to condone, but is based on a real threat to our community and our planet and certainly warrants such strong emotions and concern.

Don’t treat kids like canaries

Longmont’s population aren’t experimental animals.

This November, Longmont residents will have a chance to vote on Ballot Question 300 to ban fracking and the storage of fracking waste within city limits. The No. 1 criticism the opponents of this measure make is that it denies mineral rights owners access to their minerals. Right now, the minerals in question are trapped in shale rock and until the last several years, access to them was denied by technology (conventional drilling couldn’t access shale oil). Then along came unconventional, horizontal fracturing, a largely untested and controversial process exempted from many state and federal regulations. Suddenly, access is possible, but not without huge risks and expenses that are often shouldered by the public.

From increases in air, water and noise pollution, to damage to roads, increased truck traffic, huge consumption of water and costs of emergency response when problems occur, most of the expense is passed on to the public. Banning fracking within Longmont city limits won’t deny mineral rights owners access to their claims. The minerals aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be there if and when a safer, better understood and more fully studied process for extracting them is developed. But do we really want our children to be the canaries in the coal mine while studies on the risks of fracking are being done? The National Science Foundation just awarded CU a $12 million contract to study the risks of fracking over the next five years. Shouldn’t these studies have been done before we fracked next to homes and schools instead of waiting years or decades to “prove” this method is safe (or more likely, not)?

Vote “yes” on 300 and keep this heavily industrialized process away from our residential areas. The minerals aren’t going anywhere but our community’s safety, health and well-being could be.

Having a say-so on fracking is our right!

Image courtesy of sxc.hu

The law should stand behind the people, not on top of them.

Thank you, Longmont City Council, for standing your ground against the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. The regulations that Longmont has put in place regarding oil and gas drilling are weak at best, but so common sense that it’s hard to fathom how the state could oppose them. Wouldn’t everyone hope that we’d monitor groundwater for possible contamination, keep heavily industrialized operations out of residential neighborhoods and have setbacks to protect our streams? Even those who fully support the idea that fracking is safe and necessary can see that in certain settings there should be limits.

The local community should be allowed to have a say in its own health, safety and well-being. And rest assured, there are safety issues when it comes to fracking. Just this week, a blast at an Encana fracking site in Weld County killed one worker and injured three. My heart goes out to the families of those workers. Do we really want to take the chance of something like that happening right next to a school, or playground, or our own backyard?

What’s at issue here is much more than whether or not fracking itself is safe or necessary. It’s an issue about whether or not a local community has the right to protect its own best interests. The COGCC is using its power to bully our small town. And when a bully gets its way, it only makes the bullying worse. If you ask me, the fact that they are actually suing our town over these minimal, common-sense regulations just builds a better case for why we, as a community, should assert our constitutional right to ban the practice of fracking within our city limits by voting for the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act in November.

Back door deal compromised clean water

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

Loopholes are supposed to be for defense, not offense.

If fracking is as safe as the oil and gas industry would like us to believe, then why in 2005 did Congress — at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of gas driller Halliburton — exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act? If fracking doesn’t affect drinking water, why would an exemption be needed? Don’t believe me? Just google “Halliburton loophole.”

When Colorado Oil & Gas Association and Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission officials say we shouldn’t complain about the dangers of fracking if we use natural gas, it’s like saying, we shouldn’t worry about keeping our water supply safe if we drink water. Huh?

So, what can you do about it? Join LongmontROAR.org and take back your rights to clean water and clean air.

Times-Call editorial naive and shortsighted

I am grateful the Times-Call editorial on Jan. 3 voiced the merits of the Longmont City Council’s decision to enact a 120-day moratorium on accepting and processing new oil and gas drilling applications. However, the editorial oversimplified the residents’ concerns and the reasons why this moratorium and the tighter regulations we hope are forthcoming are so important.

First, the editorial states that the oil and gas companies “rightfully argue that chemically charged fluids are pumped deep below the water table, that well bores are lined and that the surface is protected from used fluids” and so, therefore, they say, the fracking process should be allowed (presumably because those factors somehow mean it’s safe). I’m not sure I agree how “rightful” that argument is, but I can say it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the oil and gas companies would make it. Of course they would — they want to drill! I wouldn’t expect them to say there are known and unknown dangers and risks to this process, especially in a heavily populated area. But I certainly hope the City Council and city staff will take those arguments with a grain of salt and pay attention to the mounting evidence that argues differently.

The editorial goes on to say, “They (Longmont residents) have reason to be concerned about groundwater quality, even if the drilling company guarantees it won’t be tainted.” Wow, guarantees it? OK, I don’t know about you but I find that a little suspect. If they truly guarantee it, let them put the money up front that it would take to fix a groundwater contamination, if it were to occur, including all potential costs for health issues, environmental cleanup and lost property values. If they can truly guarantee it, they shouldn’t have any problem putting this money aside before they drill, since there is apparently no chance they’ll ever have to use it.

I believe this editorial was shortsighted and oversimplified. While it talks about the concerns about groundwater quality and a brief mention about property values, it fails to mention all the other concerns that residents “rightfully” have, including heavy truck traffic, noise, lights, vibrations, air pollution, the vast amounts of water that will be taken out of the water supply forever, to name a few.

These are among the numerous issues that I hope the City Council and city staff will be sure they fully understand as they develop new regulations and that they will take all necessary steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of Longmont residents and properties.