Shelley Bassman

Disneyland > Pinocchio > Weld County Commissioners

Recently in the Times-Call, Weld County Commissioners made their county sound like the new economic Disneyland with its high employment, balanced budget, low taxes and skyrocketing property values. I was contemplating a move from Longmont to Frederick to become Mickey and Minnie’s newest neighbor until I learned what their prosperity is based on.

By their own admission, at least 25 percent of Weld County’s proudly balanced budget comes from oil and gas revenues, “Fracking” in particular which is often associated with extracting natural gas. Natural gas prices in the U.S. are currently very low. However, demand is increasing and there is evidence of an estimated 20 percent of our shale gas reserves were quietly committed to overseas buyers. Since foreign countries pay up to 5 times more for natural gas, whom would you sell to?

Any economist would say this foretells rising prices domestically. Happily for Weld County, their oil & gas revenues will likely grow as prices increase. Modestly assuming the oil and gas portion of their income increases by 1 percent per year from the drilling boom, 55 percent of Weld’s budget in 30 years could rely upon income from oil and gas. Almost no one predicts that the boom will last more than 30 years, when reserves are projected to run out.

This mimics Houston in the early ’80s, when the bottom dropped out of the oil and gas industry and that region suffered severely as a result of their extreme dependence upon the industry. This time there will be no recovery, as price cannot bounce back for a resource that does not exist. Will Weld County be the new Houston when their economic carnival is victim to a catastrophic reversal because of the inevitable oil and gas bust?

Also, according to a recently released study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a mere 200 wells in Erie are responsible for higher levels of propane and ethane than occur in Pasadena, Calif., which is essentially Los Angeles — one of the most polluted cities of our country. “Well” County currently has more than 18,000 wells, which is 90 times the number in Erie. Does this suggest that their air pollution will be 90 times worse than Erie’s which is worse than LA? Forget Mickey and Minnie. I’m moving to LA to get away from the pollution.

Why does Weld County think it is so important to share their precarious “jackpot” of an economic success with us through our local newspaper which has little circulation in most of Weld County? Are they now marketing their amusement park brand of economics to the citizens of Longmont? In particular why do they feel it is so critical to inform us that an inordinate amount of their balanced budget comes from a heavy industrial activity that is being allowed in residential areas and is a known cause of significant air pollution?

Oh, and did I mention ground water contamination from the dangerous chemicals used in the Fracking process? Based on public record, between Aug. 28, 2003, and Jan. 5, 2012, there were at least 430 incidences of groundwater contamination caused by oil and gas wells in Weld County alone.

Could it be that the Weld County Commissioners are simply “carnies” for the oil and gas industry paid off by a tiny sliver of that industry’s huge profits at the ultimate expense of Weld’s citizens? Are they running a deceptive sideshow attraction that is a cartoon reality based on “bottom line” accounting alone?

I believe they will find citizens of our fair city considerably more thoughtful about what type of industry we are willing to welcome. They will find us reluctant to sell away our future for a temporary amusement park ride of a financial boom based on a high profit, doomed industry that relies entirely upon a soon to be exhausted natural resource. Weld County, I’m afraid you’ve been “Fracked,” and I for one am not getting in line to buy that ticket.

Council gives thumbs up to “local control” — or not

A funny thing happened at “the Forum,” that is, City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Toward the end of the meeting, assistant city manager Sandi Seader reported on the 100-plus bills in this year’s state Legislature that she is tracking on behalf of Longmont. She wanted direction from council.

Seader is tracking one bill that proposes to make installing residential fire suppressant sprinkler systems compulsory throughout the state.

An ever-lugubrious member of the council’s majority spoke passionately about the importance of “local control.” She’d just hate to see anyone building a home in Longmont being forced to install a ceiling sprinkler system just because the state says so. Unanimous agreement. Local control, yes!

Later, HB 1277 was described (kinda). Sandy paused, then meekly agreed with a usually quiet councilwoman who had quickly opined, “This doesn’t change anything.” Two other councilmen agreed.

The bill’s title is: “Concerning Strengthening Local Governments’ Regulation of Oil and Gas Operations, and, in Connection Therewith, Strengthening Local Government’s Zoning and Land Use Authority Over Oil and Gas Operations.”

In the real world, this bill changes the very basis of the state’s pre-emption of all meaningful local control of oil and gas drilling and extraction.

It simply and succinctly says that “local government regulation of the impacts of land use and development (including oil and gas operations) furthers the state’s interest in orderly land use and environmental protection.”

Without HB1 1277, Colorado state law and case law sustains that the extraction of oil and gas is so vitally important to the state, that only the state can regulate it. The viewpoint of the tyrannical Colorado Oil & Gas Commission is that home rule and local control must be pre-empted.

Without HB 1277,

Can the city zone hazardous multiple gas well pads to the city’s heavy industrial zone? Nope.

Require setback distances from wells to actually protect the people in homes, hospitals, churches, schools, parks, playgrounds, surface waters and home property values? Nope.

Refuse to allow large gas wells on city open space and wildlife sanctuaries?  Nope.

Prohibit open pits of toxic waste water?  Nope.

Set noise levels?  Nope.

Monitor and regulate toxic emissions?  Nope.

Inspect the well and well site?  Nope.

Have city fees and/or fines to recoup city expenses of monitoring and inspecting the well?  Nope.

All of the above local land use and zoning prerogatives are currently pre-empted for oil and gas wells.

HB 1277 clearly states that “an operator” (oil and gas corporation) “is also subject to zoning and land use authority and regulation by local governments, as provided by law.”

The summary of HB 1277 states that it “clarifies that oil and gas operations are subject to local governments’ authority, as well as the authority of the oil and gas commission. The bill establishes that oil and gas operations are subject to the same local control as is established for other mineral extractions.” That is, a lot of Local Control.

HB 1277 concludes: “Safety clause. The general assembly hereby finds, determines and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

HB 1277 is on one side of one piece of paper.

An ever-bellicose council member thundered: “This bill does NOTHING! We gave Representative Jones (the bill’s sponsor) a whole long list of things we wanted. This is only one sheet of paper.” Holding and shaking the piece of paper above his head he roared, “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on!” and tossed it aside.

Council voted to not support HB 1277. Instead, it was relegated to the bin of the hundred or so bills on Ms. Seader’s city watch list.

Strong local control over home fire sprinkling systems? Hell, yes! Longmont’s government lobbies for it!

Stronger local control over oil and gas drilling and wells? Hell, no!  Longmont’s council will not endorse.

It really would be funny, if it weren’t so pathetic.

Let’s all, as individuals, contact the House Local Government Committee members to support HB 1277.   It is scheduled for hearing Monday afternoon.

Contact information is available at