Energy

Seven “has been” mayors support propaganda

Editor’s note: Brian Hansen served on the Longmont City Council from 2007 to 2011.

Brian Hansen

If the seven former mayors who signed on as shills for the oil and gas industry’s assault on the residents of Longmont were aware of the horrendously expensive and deceitful attacks that would be made against Ballot Question 300, they should be ashamed at their disservice to the community.

The recently submitted Report of Contributions and Expenditures that are in the city clerk’s office shows $447,500 contributed by the oil and gas industry and not one dollar contributed by the seven former mayors who are speaking for the opposition.

By now, every voter has no doubt received multiple mailings of color brochures, complete with a photo of the former mayors against a beautiful mountain backdrop. The deceitful message in the ads is hidden in the white boxes, where fragmented quotations from respected federal officials are used to persuade you that hydraulic fracturing is “OK,” “inherently safe” and can be done “without harmful impacts.” The propagandists who prepared the ads or the former mayors (or both) must not have believed anyone would bother to verify the accuracy of the fragmented quotations.

I have looked up several of the citations, and I encourage you to do the same. I can assure you, the story told by the fragmented quotations is far from complete. The untold portion of the story includes two important omissions.

The first is numerous cautions made by the quoted speakers regarding the necessity for tough regulatory action to protect public health and the environment from the impacts of fracking. By the admission of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the commission, we know the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has never adequately regulated the industry in our state.

The second deceitful omission is a lack of candor regarding the fact that the quotations in the white boxes do not pertain to densely populated city environments. However, the propagandists want you to believe fracking is as safe in your neighborhood and near your child’s school as it is on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, in the Gulf of Mexico or on rural farms.

But what do you expect from an industry that is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to defeat the efforts of Longmont residents to appropriately regulate their industry?

The most recent full-page color ads arriving in your newspaper are attempting to have you believe passage of Ballot Question 300 will mean millions of dollars spent by residents to acquire mineral rights within the city. The owners of the mineral rights will have the same access to extract those assets as they have had for the past 100 years, before the highly industrialized extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing. Question 300 does not take anyone’s property rights; it merely reasonably regulates the industrial process that is allowed within our neighborhoods and near schools and population centers.

Longmont needs to stand up for itself and vote “yes’ on 300.

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.

Government’s wake-up call: Yes on 300

OF the oil companies, BY the oil companies, FOR the oil companies

OF the oil companies, BY the oil companies, FOR the oil companies

I shall vote in favor for several reasons, but principally because it draws a bright line expressing legitimate fears of citizens who are not comfortable that the State is protecting their interests. A friend of mine says the law is the law, and we must abide by it. And she thinks we would lose the suit, so why even set up for that defeat? Well, our elected representatives can change the law. And even if we should lose the suit, the entire governmental environment will have been changed in our favor.

Both the Governor and the COGCC present as being under the sway of commercial extraction interests to the minimization of looking after the public interests. The matter will play out in the courts, but I am proud that Longmont is likely in this election to make a strong statement favoring its own health and environmental interests — a statement that will serve as a wakeup call to all three branches of State government.

Legislative: Changes to COGCC laws should be rebalanced toward public interests, including enabling local government inspection and control, and oversight by field inspectors should be adequately funded. Executive: Protective regulations based on those changes to law should be written and vigorously enforced. Judicial: In the upcoming suit, so strong an expression of municipal self-interest will certainly influence the courts’ attitudes and likely decisions. Judges read newspapers.

And, almost without saying, City Council will necessarily prosecute the suit with full enthusiasm, despite the very puzzling slick-paper statement contrary to Question 300 by previous Mayors, paid for and distributed by unnamed sources. I am pleased that all the candidates in this election cycle are paying close attention.

Averaged over the Longmont populace, a Ballot Question suit might cost me two or four bucks. I think that’s a rare bargain.

Ballot 300 opposition: slick word choice for slickwater

It’s poison, in the water and in their words.

This election I am casting a “yes” vote on Question 300. I just want to take a moment to share some wisdom I’ve learned over the past year about this issue: Read carefully the information you receive on any issue and pay particular attention to word choice.

For example, the opposition to 300 points out that EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson has stated, “I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing.” Besides that fact that this is an outdated statement and much has happened since she said this, it is also a specifically worded statement, “the fracking process itself.” When the industry refers to the “fracking process” they refer to that very moment that water, combined with toxic chemicals and sand, is injected into the well and creates the fissures underground to release the oil or gas from the shale.

Here’s what they are not referring to: Any number of days or weeks before to years after the well has been “fracked” where well-bore integrity may have failed. Any spills or accidents of the frack fluid or chemicals used in it during transport or at any time before or after the frack. The backflow of fluid from the well after it is fracked. The transfer to tanker trucks for disposal. Any accidents or spills that tanker trucks might have on the way to a disposal facility. Any spills, accidents or integrity issues at the disposal well, or the disposal pit at the well. Any leaks or spills during the lifetime of the well.

Also not included is the process by which clean, drinkable, treated municipal water is combined with toxic chemicals to create fracking fluid. Yes, “Fracking pollutes the water our families drink.” Millions of gallons of the water meant for you, for me, for our children to drink is injected with chemicals and made undrinkable. It is forever removed as a source for human consumption and it is disposed of underground because it is toxic waste.

Also brought up by the opposition is how many water wells in Colorado have been polluted by “fracking” fluid from hydraulic fracturing drilling. Well, how many people in Longmont city limits are concerned about their well water being contaminated by fracking? I know I’m not. I don’t get my water from wells. Have the people who wrote this ad even visited Longmont? I get my water from a municipal water source. I am concerned about surface and groundwater contamination, though, especially in areas where children and animals play. You need only visit the COGCC’s website to see hundreds of such contaminations; one was by Trail Ridge Middle School.

Here’s what they also aren’t talking about: Air quality in close proximity to a well. Fracking a well releases not only natural gas and oil, but also VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other toxins into the air. Some of it is captured, but some of it isn’t and over the lifetime of the well, especially a multi-well pad site, it would certainly add up. These chemicals are known to have neurological and respiratory effects and many are known to cause cancer. How’d you like to have that in your backyard for 20 years? What about 50? Many scientific studies are raising serious red flags, and even the COGCC and the CDPHE have said they just don’t know what the health effects of living in close proximity to a well are. How’s that for instilling confidence in the citizens this is forced upon?

And regardless of air and water, this is still always going to be a highly industrial activity that is damaging to property values, quality of life and has safety issues that are a concern for every resident when it occurs in close proximity to where people live and children go to school.

Read carefully. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to choose wrongly because of semantics. Vote “yes” on 300 and “Keep Longmont a Great Place to Live.”

Why I support Longmont Ballot Question 300

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

The advertisement blitz against Ballot Question 300 is in full force. Although some may be impressed to see seven former mayors standing in unison against Question 300, voters are not getting the whole story from the slick, multicolor brochures and full-page newspaper ads. The blitz’s message is clear. Trust the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to adequately protect Longmont residents from oil and gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing. Unfortunately, mountains of evidence exist to show how ineptly the COGCC regulates the industry.

Opponents of Question 300 want you to believe it was placed before the voters by “activists with an agenda.” This is not the case. It is the result of more than 8,000 of our friends and neighbors expressing their concerns about their health, the environment and Longmont’s quality of life.

I will vote “yes” on Question 300 for several reasons. If you doubt the veracity of any of my reasons, you should do your own research with the COGCC and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or listen to the tapes of the COGCC Setback Review Stakeholder Group Meetings (February-September 2012).

The first reason I will vote “yes” should shame every official ever associated with COGCC. As unbelievable as it is, the COGCC’s setback regulations are not based on any standard aimed at protecting public health. The setback requirements are based on the distance fire officials believe is needed in case of a catastrophic safety issue such as rig collapse, explosion or fire.

The second reason I will vote “yes” is equally alarming. On June 14, I witnessed representatives from the CDPHE repeatedly say they have no way of knowing what negative health impacts may arise from toxic air emissions from oil and gas operations, including fracking, since they have insufficient scientific data on which to make a determination. It gets worse. At the same meeting, the CDPHE staff stated they had no plans to collect additional scientific data because neither the governor nor a majority of the state Legislature support funding scientific studies. It is incredible — millions of dollars in royalty payments received by the state, but no funds to conduct health research! However, have you noticed how frequently the governor and opponents of Question 300 proclaim that since there is no scientific proof that oil and gas operations are damaging our health, the operations must be safe? I refuse to accept such an illogical approach to public policy. I believe absent scientific data showing that these heavy industrial activities can safely operate within our cities, they should be banned or regulated by local governments.

The third reason I will vote “yes” is because on Aug. 15, while speaking to the oil and gas industry in Denver, Gov. Hickenlooper finally admitted there was a need for new initiatives to regulate oil and gas operations. His proposed initiatives include: well-bore integrity, water sampling, fugitive methane emissions and setbacks from densely populated areas. We all know that if the governor really thought the state regulations were defensible, he would not upset this friends in the oil and gas industry. On Oct. 1, the COGCC publicly acknowledged the inadequacy of its regulations and voted 6-1 to initiate a rulemaking process regarding: groundwater sampling, groundwater monitoring and setback requirements. At last, the state agency that has coddled the oil and gas industry for decades recognized that regulations are inadequate to protect communities from the oil and gas invasion. However, even with these admitted failures, the governor and opponents still want us to trust the COGCC.

I do not personally think Ballot Question 300 is the ideal method to address the legitimate concerns residents have regarding potential health, environmental and quality of life issues. The ideal solution would come from the COGCC in the form of adequate regulations based on scientific data followed by vigorous enforcement of the regulations. Unfortunately, the COGCC has repeatedly failed to carry out its legislative mandates. When the state fails, the next logical place to expect action is from the Longmont City Council. However, a majority of council members refuse to adopt comprehensive oil and gas regulations. Fortunately, our state Constitution provides a path for residents to follow when their elected officials fail to act responsibly. Ballot Question 300 is their first step in a movement to hold elected officials accountable for adopting appropriate oil and gas regulations based on scientific data.

I will vote “yes” on Ballot Question 300.

Gordon Pedrow is a former city manager of Longmont.

Yes on 300: Ban fracking in Longmont

The “high risk, low reward” of hydraulically fractured gas wells inside of Longmont is a compelling argument for not allowing it.

The blatant trampling of community self-determination (aka freedom) is alarming, shocking and in a word un-American when regulation of potentially harmful activity is denied the affected community. This is not a partisan issue; it is a matter of survival and common sense! Protection of community health is the highest of community responsibilities.

The risks and rewards fall into two basic areas:

Health: There are no upsides for the health of the community — period! And if you think the health issues have been overblown, then you have not done your homework. Ignorance, consideration of only one side of the evidence, trust in the “stated” good intentions of the well operators or taking TV ads at face value are not excuses. Be responsible; this is the lifelong health of children that you’re dismissing. There is a word for this kind of disregard: selfishness.

Financial: The hit on property values is obvious. The real estate community has raised this flag. And potential accidents and long-term environmental costs are born by the public sector (i.e., you and me).

I urge you to do the intelligent, the moral and the brave thing: Vote for Ballot Question 300 — ban fracking inside of Longmont.

This ballot initiative does not stop fracking anywhere except inside of Longmont. There is a place for natural gas in energy policy. However, its use should be measured, methodical and well thought out as to the full repercussions. For heaven’s sake, it should not be extracted next to our children’s schools and around our water supplies. Please think — vote yes on 300.

Fracking destroys vital water

I will vote “yes” on Ballot Question 300 because it will protect our lakes, our irrigation and our drinking water from the destructive effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). I have been wondering why proposed drill sites are often close to water, such as Union Reservoir and the St. Vrain State Park wetlands. What’s the attraction? As a spokesperson for EnCana explained: “It is always our preference to identify a nearby water source because it significantly reduces our truck traffic associated with the transport of needed water to the location” (Boulder Camera). Said in another way, they jeopardize natural and other water bodies because it is cheaper and more convenient for them.

What is the water plan for the development of fracking? There doesn’t seem to be one, even though water is an invaluable resource. Water used in fracking becomes contaminated with toxins that cannot be removed. Unlike irrigation water, this water cannot be reclaimed and restored to the system. The oil companies do not dispute that. We are about to make an irreversible decision on fracking. There’s no taking it back if we find out we should not have allowed it.

How much water does it take to frack a well? It takes 5 million gallons to frack it once. Most wells are fracked several times. Even if it’s only three times, that’s 15 million gallons per well. The oil companies now say they are going to put several well heads on one well pad. That’s 75 million gallons for just one new well pad with five wells, fracked three times. These 75 million gallons must be stored somewhere since it can never be used again, and it becomes a potential source of contamination of other water sources. What are our plans for storing 75 million gallons of poisoned water? This is just for one well pad.

When oil companies say they use only a small fraction of the available water, they are talking about present usage, not future use. It is misleading because what is planned is a large expansion of drilling along the Front Range, so the percentage of water that will be used, and destroyed, by fracking companies will be much, much greater than is being used now. Anadarko, another company trying to drill wells in this area, plans to create 2,700 new wells. Multiply that 75 million gallons by 2,700, and one begins to see how massive this danger can become. Do we really have this much water to spare, to sell, to destroy? Where will we store this much contaminated water? Will local lakes and creeks become silent and accidental repositories of seepage?

The cheapest method is open pits. These are pits dug in the ground, with a tarp lining. To see what one looks like, check out the DVD “Land Out of Time,” available on the Internet. This documentary shows an open pit, surrounded by the bloated corpses of animals that drank from it. It also creates air pollution since the toxins can become airborne. Covered pits are not much better. Over time the covers will leak. The use of “injection wells” is yet another alternative, but these wells can leak, just as fracking wells can leak.

Please join me in voting “yes” on Ballot Question 300, to ban fracking and waste pits in Longmont.

Fracking for oil and gas threatens health

A recent opinion piece in the Boulder Camera brought to light the struggle that two Colorado cities are facing in regulating oil and gas exploration, drilling and extraction in their cities. It was stated that Erie’s approach was more reasonable and sensible than Longmont’s. Erie is working with the oil and gas industry whereas Longmont is being sued by the state because its regulations are too strict.

My question is, who is to judge if Longmont or Erie’s approach is more reasonable or sensible? And which will protect its residents from harm?

If Erie’s leaders have chosen the most reasonable path, why are some people selling their homes to move away from the onslaught of the oil and gas industry in that town? Some of Erie’s residents say their health is being affected by noxious and toxic volatile organic compounds emanating from the oil and gas wells throughout the town, causing such problems as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, nosebleeds and asthma. One woman I know has been diagnosed with lesions on her spine that appeared after a gas well had been fracked near her home. Is this an exaggerated claim?

Is it reasonable or sensible to expose children, teachers and staff to toxic VOCs venting from a fracked well down the street from Fall River Elementary School? Is there a special air filtration system on the school that will keep them safe? Is the oil and gas company drilling in that area going to monitor the air quality or conduct health assessments? An independent study conducted by NOAA in Erie has measured higher levels of VOCs (notably ethane and propane) in the air than in urban Pasadena and Houston, although an “expert” hired by the city of Erie discounted these findings. A Colorado School of Public Health study has shown that people who live within one-half mile of these wells are likely to experience chronic and acute illness including a higher risk of cancer (Search for Health Impact Assessment for Battlement Mesa, Garfield County on the Internet).

These health effects are a serious issue. Dr. Theo Colborn of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange has produced a video titled “What you need to know about natural gas production” that can be found on her organization’s website (endocrinedisruption.com). Dr. Colborn stresses that the entire process of unconventional oil and gas exploration, drilling and extraction has a detrimental effect on humans, wildlife and vegetation. Is this risk to all life forms reasonable or sensible?

I believe the recent regulations passed by Longmont City Council will not protect residents because it contains loopholes that could allow oil and gas companies to drill in the city. This is why I joined many others to gather 8,200 signatures so that Longmont residents could choose to vote to ban fracking in Longmont city limits. Does this make us fanatics and mischief-makers or environmental extremists to want to protect our air, water and soil and maintain a clean environment? We are ordinary residents — families, grandparents and business owners — who want the choice to decide whether or not we want heavy industrial drilling in our city.

The oil and gas industry is wrought with deception and lies. They are exempt from the Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Drinking Water, Superfund acts and more. What have they got to hide? If their methods of exploration, drilling and extraction are so benign, why not allow themselves to be regulated by the laws that govern all other heavy industries in the U.S.? Yet they stand behind their coveted “Halliburton Loophole,” an exemption that was passed to avoid transparency so that the industry could “drill, baby, drill” at our expense.

I will vote yes on Ballot Issue 300 in November to ban fracking in Longmont because neither the oil and gas industry nor the governor has my health, safety and welfare in mind. I ask you to support us to keep our city a great place to live — a place where we can breathe the air without getting sick and not worry if our water supply will become contaminated — and to protect our health, our future, our Longmont.

Vote YES on on 300

There have been many claims that the dangers of fracking have been overstated. Much of this debate has been confusing to the average citizen. A new study published in Scientific American helps explain how the confusion came about and why it continues. The study’s authors analyzed 194,000 inspection records of “Class 2” wells, also called “injection” wells, which are used to dispose of fracking waste. They also provide a brief history of the regulations guiding these inspections.

A lack of adequate oversight for Class 2 wells was written into successive legislative acts. This was a tale of two political parties, who played their parts counter to type. The original Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, during the Nixon/Ford era of Republican presidents. In 1980, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, a liberal, sponsored legislation that allowed the oil and gas industry to bypass provisions of the Safe Water Act by choosing to be regulated by state oil and gas boards that were more lax. The EPA then attempted to bar underground dumping (injection wells) unless companies proved beforehand that their actions would not be a health threat. In response, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a Democrat, led the fight against the EPA’s hazardous waste regulation. Congress redefined any waste that resulted from oil and gas drilling as “non-hazardous.” Voila. Injection wells became safe. From then on, benzene from the fertilizer industry was a hazardous threat to health and water supplies, but the same chemical in the oil and gas drilling process was not hazardous! This is why so many reports on injection wells say that nothing hazardous was injected into the well.

Had enough of legislative double talk? Vote yes on Ballot Question 300 to ban fracking in Longmont. Our health and our future depend on it.

Mr. Frackenlooper’s Town Meeting

Father and daughter have a special view of the governor.

Big John Hickenlooper apparently only hangs out with the ‘real’ people, not those pesky ‘constituents. It tickled my heart to see all these folks come to say quite clearly that they wouldn’t stand quietly by as their lives and homes were bargained for.

Here’s the Flickr gallery of photos.

From Silver Creek Leadership Academy students:


A few educational notes about public photography

The following is from Petapixel and is the text of a reference on photographers rights. If you’d like to submit a photo to Free Range Longmont, please be sure these rules have been observed:

  1. You can make a photograph of anything and anyone on any public property, except where a specific law prohibits it. i.e. streets, sidewalks, town squares, parks, government buildings open to the public, and public libraries.
  2. You may shoot on private property if it is open to the public, but you are obligated to stop if the owner requests it. i.e. malls, retail stores, restaurants, banks, and office building lobbies.
  3. Private property owners can prevent photography ON their property, but not photography OF their property from a public location.
  4. Anyone can be photographed without consent when they are in a public place unless there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. i.e. private homes, restrooms, dressing rooms, medical facilities, and phone booths.
  5. Despite common misconceptions, the following subjects are almost always permissible:
    • accidents, fire scenes, criminal activities
    • children, celebrities, law enforcement officers
    • bridges, infrastructure, transportation facilities
    • residential, commercial, and industrial buildings
  6. Security is rarely an acceptable reason for restricting photography. Photographing from a public place cannot infringe on trade secrets, nor is it terrorist activity.
  7. Private parties cannot detain you against your will unless a serious crime was committed in their presence. Those that do so may be subject to criminal and civil charges.
  8. It is a crime for someone to threaten injury, detention, confiscation, or arrest because you are making photographs.
  9. You are not obligated to provide your identity or reason for photographing unless questioned by a law enforcement officer and state law requires it.
  10. Private parties have no right to confiscate your equipment without a court order. Even law enforcement officers must obtain one unless making an arrest. No one can force you to delete photos you have made.

These are general guidelines regarding the right to make photos and should not be interpreted as legal advice. If you need legal help, please contact a lawyer.


Here’s a few more good references on photographer’s rights:

The Photographer’s Right by Bert P. Krages II, attorney at law. PDF Pocket Ref.

Photography & the First Amendment

Know Your Rights: Photographers

Colorado Needs to Protect Residents Exposed to Fracking Operations

Editor’s Note: Mike Chiropolos is Chief Counsel, Lands Program at Western Resource Advocates.

Minimize quantities of toxics and maximize setback distances as part of a comprehensive approach

As the State of Colorado considers how much to increase residential setbacks from oil and gas drilling and fracking operations, Western Resource Advocates is leading efforts for comprehensive improvements. Our letter is posted online.

Colorado needs to approve significant increases to setbacks in a comprehensive framework of updated rules addressing today’s technologies and formations – by implementing the legislative mandate that COGCC rules “protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public in the conduct of oil and gas operations,” C.R.S. 34-6-106(11)(a)(II).

Public health considerations trump any interest in developing oil and gas. The operator/lessee has the right to request a waiver of the setback, but no right to obtain a waiver where public health could be compromised. Setbacks need to be increased so that the presumption is that the operator cannot drill and frack too close to homes for safety and public health purposes – putting burden of obtaining waiver squarely where it belongs: with industry.

As drilling expands across the state and the Front Range, more and more Colorado citizens are suffering health problems from drilling and fracking operations within a few hundred feet of their homes. Cities and counties across the state are approving stronger protections for their citizens, only to be threatened with litigation from a state government apparently willing to intimidate its political subdivisions rather than address real problems consistent with state law. Litigation is not a solution nor will it make these issues go away. The State needs to act.

Unfortunately, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment appears to be ignoring the basic principle that prevention is the most effective public health approach. See http://cogcc.state.co.us/library/setbackstakeholdergroup/Recommendations/CDPHE.pdf Mitigation and various BMPs [Best Management Practices] might address some symptoms and nibble around the edges of what’s making people sick – but they don’t get at the root cause: allowing far too much industrial activity utilizing toxic chemicals that pollute our air and water, far too close to homes and communities resulting in far too much exposure.

Ample science and experience establishes that the statutory mandate of protecting human health and the environment in the conduct of oil and gas operations will be furthered by 1) minimizing the quantities of emissions and other toxics, and 2) maximizing the distance between these industrial sites and both residences and public places. These two principles should guide state policy on oil and gas activities in populated areas.

Colorado’s current 350 foot setbacks (only 150 feet in rural areas) are lagging far behind other states. Maryland requires 1,000 foot residential setbacks. Pennsylvania, North Dakota and parts of Louisiana require 500 foot setbacks. Colorado has a current rule on well location providing that wells drilled 2,500 feet or more “shall be located not less than six hundred (600) feet from any lease line[.]” Surely, homeowners and families are entitled to greater setbacks than arbitrary lease boundaries?

Western Resource Advocates and its partners at San Juan Citizens’ Alliance and Western Colorado Congress called for increasing Colorado’s setbacks to 1,000 feet for homes, and 1,500 feet for schools and hospitals. The letter outlines a comprehensive package of reforms building off four initiatives announced by Governor Hickenlooper: setbacks, well integrity, water quality, and fugitive emissions (air quality, health and climate). Improved planning subject to “Comprehensive Drilling Plans” and “Geographic Area Plans” (COGCC Rules 216 and 503) are integral to exploring win-win solutions to perceived conflicts.

Advanced technologies and planning tools offer the ability to significantly limit impacts and focus the footprint of development. Colorado must enact strong new regulations that serve as a national model for balancing public health and environmental protection, including wildlife and habitat, with energy development.

Two upcoming meeting on September 14 and 27 will determine the State’s course of action. The Colorado Oil & Gas Commission should remember that legislators and local government will continue to pursue meaningful protections for citizens and the environment if state agencies fail to do so. Half measures will not suffice: comprehensive reforms are needed.

Yes on 300 to ban fracking in Longmont

Longmont has been my home for 35 years. Like most young couples raising children, we didn’t have time to pay attention to every issue that came before City Council unless the issue became localized — personal.

There was a time when the buzz word was “infill,” developing property that already used city services. We worked with council to minimize the number of houses built near an alley. The alley was re purposed to serve the development and was given a street name. During the same period, a different development was stopped because it didn’t meet our home rule cul-de-sac and traffic codes.

We now have an industry that not only ignores our home rule zones and codes but threatens to sue if it cannot have its way to do business wherever and whenever it wants within our city. This industry threatens not only our property values but our right to clean air and water. In 2005 the oil and gas industry went rogue. With unregulated new technology, the industry is making billions of dollars. Science has not been able to keep up with the new technology but the first reports are alarming. Longmont residents paid attention, bringing tons of individual research and personal testimonials to council meetings. They urged and pleaded for home rule regulations. Because we have a mayor who allows us to talk and listens, a councilman in Brian Bagley who fought for us on the task force, we now have some regulations protecting our city.

However, these regulations and the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with TOP Operating are weak and do not fully protect us. They are filled with loopholes that allow the industry and council to ignore home rule. Thus the petition drive enabling us to vote to ban fracking within our city limits. The regulations and petition drive are causing a furor at the state level. That’s OK. We are not apathetic residents.

During the petition drive folks were willing to talk and ask questions when I told them it was a nonpartisan effort. One of the big concerns was jobs. I’ve had this same concern and asked council how many jobs would be created for the unemployed in Longmont. Councilwoman Finley was the only one who responded to me but it was to send me to the Encana Oil website. No answer to the number or types of jobs to be created has come from the industry. The drilling is done in phases with TOP drilling subcontracting out the fracking.

Toward the end of the petition drive, people wanted to know why we were pursuing the effort since council passed the regulations. As the regulations stand, the little word “exemption” in the residential drilling is a huge loophole for the industry and City Council to jump through. This word will allow TOP drilling or other companies and council members to use whatever reason they want to ignore the 750-foot setback. The MOU concerning setbacks is a baseline with the owner of the mineral rights, TOP Operating Co. in this case, to protect city/public surface rights. The MOU doesn’t pertain to any other drilling companies. These are rules that can be changed at any time by council if the drilling company says it cannot get to its minerals. The vote in November is to amend the City Charter, which is law and is much more difficult and time-consuming to change.

I’m voting to ban fracking because I do not want to wait 15 to 20 years to see if the cement used by the oil and gas industry cracks, causing carcinogens to leak into our water supply, harming my 3- and 6-year-old neighbors. I don’t want to bet on whether companies will relocate in Longmont with methane in the air and the city dotted with oil wells. I don’t want council to sell the surface rights of our public lands, which I voted to purchase with my tax dollars. I’m tired of waiting to see how many jobs will be created for our residents. I can’t wait for the science to catch up to the technology used. Just like with the tobacco industry, hindsight can kill us.

Please vote “yes” in November to ban fracking under the Longmont Health, Safety and Wellness Act.

Factions and “Frack-tions”

Image courtesy of sxc.hu

Zoning law has supported municipal power for nearly a century.

The uproar over oil and gas operations isn’t going away, regardless of the result of the Longmont election this November. Since I won’t be filing an “amicus” brief with the court in the COGCC suit, I will release here some of my “secondary batteries.”

The governing body of a home-rule city, in this case the Longmont City Council, has virtually unlimited authority in Colorado to regulate, limit, or prohibit one or more uses of land within it corporate boundaries (or attach conditions to such use or uses). My experience as an urban/regional planner spans some 50 cities and towns, a dozen metro districts, and three dozen counties, nearly all in Colorado. Zoning law and theory have supported this municipal power for nearly a century. What is the reasoning behind this body of (mostly) common law? The answer is, the concept of “nuisance.”

If an owner of a parcel of land in a city wants to, say, process animal hides to make piles of money, he is not likely to get far if his neighbors will endure or will probably – even possibly – endure noxious or dangerous fumes, flows, effluents, vapors, odors, or noises. Normally when the effects of a use of land in this manner fail to cross the operator’s property boundary, everything CAN be fine. But cases exist where even ugliness has defensibly prompted limitations on use(s), and even interruption of sunlight has made the cut. It should be noted that the effects of “fracking” can and do travel across property boundaries, both above the ground (usually by “accident”) and below it (by design).

What makes the petroleum crowd think it can avoid these kinds of precepts and precedent? Just because a previous occupant of the White House gave them a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for hydrofracturing, with regard to a few major federal environmental measures enforced by the dreaded and leftist EPA, they must be encouraged – forced, if necessary – to remember that in the final analysis, all politics is local. If that means a “hodgepodge” of regulations evolves, what of it? Some places will likely WELCOME drilling.

In my view, at the core of this contest is one question: does municipal zoning govern only the surface of the land? Or are the subsurface and even the air rights above it also subject to zoning? Anyone who has built or bought a condominium knows or should know that zoned air rights make up what he is selling or building. As for what is below, a gigantic land-use case from the early 1920s is instructive (Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon). There the court concluded that the owner of the subsurface owed a duty to the surface (emphasis added), and to its owner or owners above, to prevent a loss of support. Loss of support often leads to subsidence (read “sinkhole,” or worse), which can also happen as a result of oil and gas extraction. By very limited and logical, reasonable extension, this landmark decision illuminates the concept – the need – for mineral operations to tread lightly, if at all. Witness provisions in countless U.S. land patents reserving one or more minerals, together with [only] so much of the surface as is required to access the mineral estate (sic). That kind of language places a mineral owner or lessee in the legal position of operating via an easement. Whether a prescriptive (indispensable) easement, or an easement of necessity, is not truly material. Drillers, of course, consider the matter as we now encounter it, to be a true “necessity” and count on our love affair with SUV’s and other motor vehicles, to shelter any and all abuses, accidental or otherwise.

How I wish Colorado or at least its cities would by now have adopted (there’s still time!) the mechanism of a “mineral resource overlay,” as a zoning convention. Such has served states such as the Republican bastion of Wisconsin well. An overlay can operate as a means of exclusion or one for inclusion, generally by “special review” and intensive deliberation. Jefferson County (and not the “socialists over near the Flatirons) studied and considered such an overlay early in the 1970s. A thorough review of Colorado’s Constitution and statutes will reveal that Colorado’s cities enjoy significantly greater powers than do its counties.

Courts may focus on a needle’s eye, but the instant matter is a much broader issue that should receive only the most thoroughgoing consideration. For insurance, let us hope the City of Longmont henceforth includes as a condition of every future plat approval a “Covenant of Non-Development.” Many jurisdictions in Colorado apply and require such a provision; it means no mineral processing or extraction on, in, under, or through the premises forever. There is nothing new or radical there. If a developer or property owner sits atop even a partially severed mineral estate, it is thereby incumbent upon him or her to first “make a deal” with the owner of the subsurface estate PRIOR TO application for development.

It’s only right.