Neshama Abraham

Jones trounces Hickenlooper in debate

Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones clearly won the debate against Governor Hickenlooper about “Who Should Control Hydraulic Fracturing in Colorado” that took place at CU Denver Law School. The debate was held on April 1st at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law.  The complete debate may be heard here.

DSC_0395_EliseJonesHickenlooper 2Commissioner Jones was more persuasive in advocating for local governments to have local control to ban fracking in residential neighborhoods and other places. She also had better command of the facts for why the regulatory environment needs to level the playing field between fossil fuel and renewable energy development.

“Oil and gas fracking poses many risks to our health, to our air and water, to our property values, to our quality of life. Fracking for oil and gas is an intensive process with a heavy footprint. It is not something you want near your home, your kid’s school, your parent’s nursing home or your drinking water,” Jones said.

“Why are we having an argument about drilling in cities near schools and homes? That is a ludicrous place to drill. Allowing local governments to regulate and ban if they want, works better for a renewable energy future.”

Commissioner Jones presented compelling arguments in favor of local control. Take note on the points that follow as these and others can arm Boulder County with legally defensible reasons to extend the moratorium in Boulder County after it expires in June 2013. If we don’t extend the moratorium, the City of Boulder’s land in unincorporated Boulder County will be fracked.

She also referenced a 1994 Colorado Supreme Court ruling where a uranium mining mill in Weld County was not allowed to extract uranium out of the ground because of the radiation that could be emitted and cause harm to the public. The Colorado Department of Health won the suit and the company did not sue for lost resources.

During the debate, House Bill (HB) 1269 Conflict of Interest with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) was raised.

The COGCC was developed in 1951 at a time when there was a perceived need to foster oil and gas development. That need no longer exists as the oil and gas industry is now the wealthiest industry in the world and production continues to rapidly expand, despite public outcry against the permanent removal of what will be trillions of gallons of drinking water from the hydrologic cycle if allowed to continue in a draught state, and 9 percent or higher methane leaks that directly contribute to climate change.

Currently the COGCC is mandated to both promote and to regulate oil and gas, a clear conflict of interest. HB 1269 would remove the promotion mandate and allow the COGCC to focus on public and environmental health and safety exclusively. This would be a much wiser use of our taxpayer dollars and would begin to give renewables a fighting chance to compete.

As introduced, the bill also redefines “waste” to allow the commission to not extract hydrocarbons under the Earth when methods and locations would jeopardize human and environmental health; and prevents members of the commission from simultaneous working for and having a financial interest in the industry they are charged with regulating.

HB 13-1269 passed the full House of Representatives, but unfortunately not without amendments, both of which watered down a superior bill.

HB 1269 now moves to the Senate.

Neshama Abraham is the founder of Frack Free Boulder.

Boulder: Make it Frack Free

Boulder Falls - Photo by M. Douglas Wray

Boulder Falls – Photo by M. Douglas Wray

Does the City of Boulder need a ban on fracking? I say yes and here’s why.

We have 16 wells already in the City of Boulder — many immediately next to residences and open space areas. These existing wells are likely candidates for fracking to access the valuable hydro-carbons resting about 1,000 feet under our homes, schools and office buildings. Boulder sits on top of a large “shale play” extending as far north to Canada, south into New Mexico and east to Kansas. It is part of the same shale layer with economically-recoverable oil and gas that is actively being fracked in Weld County, where there are more than 19,000 active wells.

While you might think, “This is Boulder. No oil and gas operator is going to start fracking here.” The fact is they can, and right now we have no legal defense to prevent the oil and gas industry if they chose to frack in our city.

It has only been in the past year that the first peer-reviewed studies have been published about the health effects of fracking and they are alarming. Well-respected endocrine researcher Theo Colborn studied the air pollutants around drilling in Western Colorado and found high concentrations of toxic chemicals and carcinogens that cause severe health damage (see the natural gas video at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange).

Another peer-reviewed study by Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado Dept. of Public found that the air pollutants from fracking increase a person’s risk of cancer 60 percent (see resources on Frack Free Boulder). In the documentary “Gasland” by Josh Fox people who live near fracked wells in Weld County describe how their well water turned brown by the fracking solution containing hundreds of toxic chemicals that seeped into and poisoned the water table. These Coloradans — after wells were fracked near their home — got cancer, brain tumors, severe asthma, disorientation, tremors, migraines, continuous nose bleeds, etc.

Colorado residents are taking a stand. Citizens in Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking last November in a historic, citizen-driven effort. Fort Collins passed a moratorium on fracking with a unanimous city council vote in December. El Paso County passed a moratorium at the end of 2011. Colorado Springs passed a moratorium in 2012. Erie and Boulder County passed a moratorium in 2012. (On Thursday, Jan. 24, at 4 p.m., Boulder County Commissioners are holding a public meeting with time for citizen comments to decide whether to extend the moratorium on fracking in Boulder County.)

Boulder Falls - Photo by M. Douglas Wray

Boulder Falls – Photo by M. Douglas Wray

Boulder is falling behind and needs to join the rising tide against fracking. We must protect our citizens, land, air and water, and our property values. Who wants to buy a home near a fracking operation? Our quality of life and our economy are at stake. What athlete wants to train or a tourist visit a city with polluted air, unsafe drinking water, with 18-wheel trucks doing an average of 100 trips per day 24/7 to and from a well site, with stadium quality lights on at well pads all night?

Colorado State Legislators have placed fracking on the 2013 agenda. Citizen volunteers across Colorado are working to permanently ban fracking in their communities. The more cities that join this state-wide effort the stronger the message that Colorado citizens are demanding a state-wide ban on this dangerous and destructive process.

A ban on fracking is also consistent with our Boulder municipalization effort. It is only by having local control over the source of our electricity that we can first work to minimize our reliance on all fossil fuels, including natural gas, and then seek to find the cleanest, most “ethical” source for any remaining energy need. Importantly, natural gas doesn’t have to come from fossil fuel sources; it can be sourced from renewable sources, including feed lots, biomass gasification and sewage treatment plants.

Boulder is ready to move beyond fossil fuels. Banning fracking within city limits is a protective move to give us the greatest safeguards possible to prevent fracking next to our homes, schools and businesses, and is consistent with our vision for a clean energy future. It is also the right message to send to our politicians at the state level as this is a battle that needs to be won for all citizens in Colorado and the rest of the state needs our support. It’s time for Boulder to step up and ban fracking now!

Neshama Abraham lives in Boulder and is the founder of Frack Free Boulder.