Energy

‘Cultural divide’ shapes Colo.’s clash with city drilling rules

Mike Soraghan is a reporter for Energy Wire, and division of E&E News. Free Range Longmont extends a heartfelt thanks for the gracious permission given to republish his article. Visit E&E News and Energy Wire for great coverage of both energy and the environment.

EnergyWire:

 

LONGMONT, Colo. — Kaye Fissinger can point to where every oil and gas well will be drilled around Union Reservoir. Not that she’s welcoming them.

As a breeze broke the stillness, lifted the branches of shade trees and pushed a small catamaran across the small lake on a Wednesday afternoon last month, she pointed to the one already there.

In the distance was a beige tank battery, the pipes, tanks and other equipment that remain after a well is drilled. It is the first of eight wells expected to be drilled at the city park around the lake under an agreement between the driller and the city government.

“Look at what it’s going to do — derricks, trucks, tank batteries …” said Fissinger, activist and campaign manager for a local anti-drilling effort called “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont.”

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The question of whether there will be more derricks, wells and tank batteries is the subject of a legal fight between that same city government and the state focused on who can regulate drilling. The City Council passed rules in July barring oil and gas wells from residential neighborhoods. Within days, the state sued to block it.

Longmont is where the spread of drilling on Colorado’s high plains, spurred by advances in hydraulic fracturing, is slamming into the sprawl of Denver suburbs along the state’s Front Range. It is not the first place where advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have pushed drilling deeper into suburban and even urban areas.

State officials have banded together with the oil and gas industry to head off regulation by both federal and local governments, arguing simultaneously against a federal “one size fits all” approach and the “patchwork” that would be created by giving cities and counties control over exploration and production.

In Pennsylvania, local governments sued the state after the Legislature passed a measure limiting local control over drilling. In New York, drilling companies such as Colorado-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. have been losing legal challenges to local bans.

But the Colorado suit is the first case in the nation’s current drilling boom in which a state agency has gone to court to prevent a local government from asserting jurisdiction over drilling. The city’s formal response is due by Friday.

The plaintiff in the suit is the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a state body charged with policing and promoting development. But Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has led the charge against Longmont’s ordinance, calling Longmont’s rules “to a certain extent too forceful” in a recent speech and saying they would put “intense pressure” on other local governments to create a patchwork of different rules.

“I think there’s got to be a limit to it,” Hickenlooper said (EnergyWire, Aug. 16). “We literally begged Longmont not to go forward.”

Drilling in suburbia

Anti-drilling critics have taken to calling the popular governor “Frackenlooper.”

Those critics say exempting oil and gas from city zoning amounts to special treatment for a powerful industry that endangers people’s health.

City governments can generally decide where to allow factories, convenience stores, subdivisions and strip clubs. State governments such as those in Pennsylvania and Colorado are asserting that those city governments have no such say about oil and gas production.

“Name another industry to me that doesn’t have to comply with local, disparate zoning regulations,” said Michael Bellmont, another Our Longmont leader, sitting in his long-term care insurance office in Longmont’s trendy Prospect New Town district.

In Texas, where drilling is more entrenched in the culture, cities do have jurisdiction over oil and gas wells. Two years ago, the Texas Legislature rejected efforts to give the state’s oil and gas agency — called the Railroad Commission — authority over drilling in cities.

“The state has very minimal guidelines for where you can drill. What the cities have done is try to fill in the blanks,” said Terry Welch, a lawyer who represents cities in Texas. “The cities said, ‘Why should every city have the same rules?'”

But some local officials agree that rules should be uniform across the state.

“COGCC rules in Colorado work well for the industry,” said Bonnie Finley, a Longmont City Council member who opposed the zoning ordinance, “and I think that’s all we need.”

Driving north out of Denver on Interstate 25, sprawled-out townhouse complexes slowly give way to cows, hay farms and then pumpjacks, frozen in time. Just off the highway, one pumpjack gyrates slowly next to a line of frack trailers, looking like a cow chewing its cud next to the thoroughbred barn.

Four miles closer to the mountains, Longmont restores the suburban feel. But it is still a town of contradictions. It is a former farming town on the western edge of Colorado’s High Plains. But it is on the eastern edge of Boulder County, home to the University of Colorado and the famously liberal county seat of Boulder. The city has both the county fairgrounds and the “Anti-Corporate headquarters of Oskar Blues Brewery.”

Longmont does not have the history with extractive industries that some of its neighbors do. In the decades before Denver’s growth spilled into the area, pumpjacks were common to the east in Weld County. Not in Longmont, though, where the economy revolved around agriculture. People who moved there in the 1990s and early 2000s had little indication they might find themselves dealing with drilling.

“It’s a cultural divide,” said Sean Conway, chairman of the Board of Commissioners in neighboring Weld County. “They don’t have the benefit of experience and battles fought.”

Powerful forces

Fissinger, the anti-drilling activist who moved here from California in 2006, wants Longmont to retain some of that unique identity. Driving through Firestone, the city to the east of Longmont in the more growth-friendly and agribusiness-oriented Weld County, she started pointing out each beige tank battery.

“There’s a tank battery. … There’s a battery,” she said. After just a few moments, it started to seem pointless, like pointing out burgundy cars on the interstate.

“That’s what I mean,” Fissinger said. “We don’t want Longmont to be another Firestone.”

And that is why her group is taking things a step further than zoning wells out of neighborhoods, pushing for a total ban on hydraulic fracturing with a proposal that will be on the city’s ballot in November (it would not cover drilling without fracturing). If it passes, it will likely be subject to the same legal challenges as the zoning ordinance.

Oil and gas drilling companies say Longmont and Firestone, and other areas of the state, should have the same rules. The industry says it needs a “predictable regulatory environment” and that allowing Firestone and Longmont to have different rules slows permit approvals. In comments sent to the city in February, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) noted that state officials process about 5,000 permits a year, which result in the drilling of about 2,000 wells each year in the state.

“If each well approved by the state is also forced into a months-long local permitting process, the number of wells annually drilled in Colorado would plummet, along with tax revenues, economic activity and jobs,” the industry association wrote in comments to the city.

Powerful forces are arrayed around this fight. Fissinger’s group is getting help from Food and Water Watch, a national environmental group that split off years ago from the Public Interest Research Group and now has an $8 million annual budget.

Longmont’s elections have been shaped by the American Tradition Partnership, a conservative group based inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway that has been active in state and local elections in Montana, Oklahoma and Virginia and pressed a pro-drilling agenda in Colorado’s Garfield County.

And Hickenlooper, a popular governor whom some envision as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, has come down firmly on the side of industry. Hickenlooper became prominent in Colorado as a brew-pub pioneer in Denver. But before that, he was a petroleum geologist.

Hickenlooper did a radio ad earlier this year for COGA, asserting the industry talking point that since rules were created in 2008, the state hadn’t “had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”

But oil and gas commission spill records show 255 incidents in which groundwater was “impacted” during 2009, 2010 and 2011.

And before the new rules, Colorado was already the scene of a few of the nation’s highest-profile groundwater contamination cases.

‘Once they invade, they’re here’

Laura Amos of Silt, Colo., blamed hydraulic fracturing chemicals for the rare tumor she developed after a well near her home blew out in 2001 during the fracturing process. State regulators concluded fracturing was not to blame for the problems but fined the operator $99,400 because gas was found in her well.

Nearby in 2004, a drilling crew poured a faulty cement seal around another well in 2004 that allowed gas and benzene to seep into a nearby stream, called West Divide Creek. The state hit Encana Corp. with a fine and declared a drilling moratorium in the area for several years.

People complained in 2009 that gas was once again seeping into the creek, but the state rejected the claims. The residents’ complaints were detailed in the 2010 anti-drilling documentary “Gasland.”

In 2008, COGCC asked gas drilling companies to investigate whether they had contaminated the drinking water at Ned Prather’s hunting cabin near DeBeque, Colo. (Greenwire, Oct. 12, 2009). Tests showed the water had benzene and related chemicals at a concentration 20 times the safety limit. The companies determined they had not caused the contamination. The state went back, hired its own consultants and fined the lead company more than $400,000.

Through a spokesman, Hickenlooper declined to comment beyond what he’d already said publicly.

In Longmont, groundwater around a well 360 feet from a middle school has been contaminated with carcinogens such as benzene, which was measured at almost 100 times the state limit.

Underscoring some of the dangers of drilling, the same day Fissinger pointed out the tank batteries in Firestone, a well blew up and killed a 60-year-old well worker not far away in the Fort Lupton area of Weld County (Greenwire, Aug. 17).

State and industry officials say that Colorado has some of the most comprehensive state rules in the country. Even if that is true, state oil and gas regulation across the country is looser than regulation of other industries and is characterized by minimal fines and built-in conflicts of interest (Greenwire, Nov. 19, 2011).

Industry is guaranteed three seats on Colorado’s nine-member commission, down from five of seven in 2007 (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2011). And its mission is to “foster” development while also protecting health. To Finley, whose day job is with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, something of a state chamber of commerce, that makes sense.

“You want people who know what best practices and safe practices are, and those are the people from the industry,” she said.

But it leaves Fissinger and her colleagues with little faith that the state will protect residents from the ills of drilling. She and her fellow drilling opponents say the state agency is interfering with rights granted in the state constitution, including residents’ right of “seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

Camouflaged with beige paint against the arid, drought-darkened landscape, the tank batteries at Union Reservoir don’t leap out like a neon sign for a strip club or car wash. Even if they’re not that hard on the eyes, she said, they can still be rough on the lungs and the rest of the body.

She added that Colorado has only 17 full-time field inspectors; state officials note that an additional 20 people conduct oil and gas inspections as part of their work.

“Air pollution, fugitive gases, spills,” Fissinger said. “By the time they get around to looking at it, the damage is done. Once they invade, they’re here.”

Click here to see Longmont’s final zoning rules.

Click here to see the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s comments on Longmont’s proposed oil and gas zoning rules.

Click here to see the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission’s lawsuit against Longmont.

 
The City of Longmont’s answer to the COGCC complaint can be found here.

Why censor, Times Call?

Times-Call handcuffs public opinion.

Readers of the Longmont Times-Call might be interested to know that what they read on the Opinion Page is not always what was written by the author. Our guaranteed Freedom of Speech was intended to apply to government censorship. Over the years it has come to mean censorship by anyone. That’s stretching things a bit. Certainly privately owned and operated organizations have the right to determine was is or is not communicated under their names. But newspapers and other media?! Aren’t they supposed to be the Fourth Estate?

Certainly freedom of speech is not absolute. The much-used example of not been free to holler “fire” in a theatre applies. But come on Times-Call. There is nothing in the Letter to the Editor by Ann Kibbey that appeared in the Sunday Times-Call, September 9, 2012, that justifies censorship. And, indeed, it IS censorship. (Censored items italicized in the letter by Ann Kibbey, republished below.) The letter came in under the Times-Call limit of 300 words. So that’s not an excuse. It wasn’t obscene, a personal attack, etc.. All the contents were valid and fair game. So TC — here’s my question for you, “Did you take out parts you didn’t like because you like the targeted oil and gas industry and want to serve as its de facto public relations watch dog?”

We’ll be watching Times-Call — especially over the next two months leading up to the election on November 6. Here’s what will be watching for: Where’s your bias? And how are you displaying it?

Editor, Free Range Longmont

I support the ballot issue that would ban fracking in the city of Longmont, and also ban toxic waste pits within the city limits.  There are way too many unknowns about the impact of fracking on ground water, on lakes, on the air we breathe and the food we eat.  The industrial use of roads in residential areas will cause noise pollution as well as damage to the roads.  The oil and gas companies are claiming that there aren’t any known dangers from fracking.  Anyone who has seen movies like Gasland knows that this is not true.  The oil companies, instead of doing the studies that are needed, just pretend that no studies are necessary.   They equate absence of proof with proof of absence. This is not credible.

Importantly, the oil and gas companies have refused to make a complete disclosure to the public of the materials they will use in fracking.  Since it is common knowledge that benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, is being used in fracking, one can only wonder what chemicals are being concealed.   The oil companies claim that they need to keep secrets for proprietary reasons.  I find this impossible to believe.  They obviously collude with each other in many ways to get what they want, and anyone who showed up at a drilling in progress would have easy access to the materials being used by another company.  It seems, instead, that they just don’t want us to know all the chemicals being used.  In the 1970s, radioactive material was used to generate explosions.  Is this still being used?  We need proof of absence, not absence of proof!  We need full disclosure.  Without it, a ban on fracking is the only reasonable course of action.

Ann Kibbey, Letter to the Times-Call Editor

Longmont voters entitled to Home Rule

Editor’s Note: Gordon Pedrow served as Longmont City Manger for 18 years prior to his retirement in March of 2012.

Nov. 6 is Election Day. Be sure to cast your ballot for the sake of your city, county, state and nation. Tucked in amongst the myriad partisan races is Longmont Ballot Question 300. This question is worthy of your careful scrutiny because it is a proposed charter amendment.

Is this what you want in Longmont?

Ballot Question 300 deserves careful attention for several reasons: It will amend the city charter, it is an important public health and quality-of-life issue, and it was initiated by thousands of your friends and neighbors. Usually, we look to the City Council to appropriately act to protect citizens from negative impacts of heavy industrial activity. However, when a majority of our elected representatives fail to carry out their responsibilities, the city charter and state constitution provide means by which the citizens can initiate actions they believe necessary to protect their community.

Beginning last November, the City Council studied how best to regulate the negative impacts of oil and gas operations within Longmont. This is an industry that is poorly regulated and coddled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with regulating its operations in order to protect public health and the environment. Until June, when it came time for the City Council to adopt its comprehensive regulations, it appeared that most council members were in favor of acting to protect the community from oil and gas operations. However, at the last moment, under extreme pressure from the industry’s big-money lobbyists and state politicians, a majority of the City Council capitulated to the industry and refused to support comprehensive regulations. When it really counted, only Mayor Coombs and council members Levison and Bagley were willing to adopt adequate comprehensive regulations to protect Longmont residents. Most citizens would agree that an appropriately regulated oil and gas industry can be a win for everyone.

After it became obvious that the City Council majority would approve only a weak, watered-down set of regulations, a group of citizens opted to circulate petitions to amend the charter as proposed in Ballot Question 300. More than 8,000 citizens signed the petitions. All registered voters can now have a direct say in the outcome of the proposed amendment.

This issue deserves your careful attention now for a couple of reasons. First, you need to understand what it says so that you can assess whether or not it reflects what is best for our community. Second, you should examine the merits of the amendment prior to the misinformation tsunami that will soon be launched by the oil and gas industry, along with affiliated special interests, as they try to persuade you to vote no on 300. (Do you remember the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of propaganda our community received from the cable industry when Longmont voters were considering home-rule control of telecommunication matters?) I encourage all residents to study the issues early so that you can adequately assess the veracity of information provided by both sides. Because the citizens who initiated the proposed amendment will have meager resources, it will no doubt be a very lopsided campaign.

It is easy to anticipate a few attack lines you can expect to hear from the well-funded opposition. These include: The industry will sue; Longmont has a representative form of government, so it is a City Council matter; the COGCC adequately regulates the oil and gas industry; and finally, Colorado has the most stringent oil and gas regulations in the nation.

As the attack ads appear, consider the following questions: Do you want to capitulate just because a multi-billion-dollar industry wants to resist adequate regulation and threatens to sue if it fails to get its way? If a majority of our elected representatives fail to protect our health, safety and the environment, doesn’t the city charter and state constitution provide a means for citizens to act? If the COGCC regulations are adequate, why did the governor on Aug. 15 tell the industry that new regulations are necessary for the industry’s “integrity and trust” and that citizens’ concerns about fracking must be addressed? Finally, do we care how stringent Colorado regulations are if they do not adequately protect public health, safety and the environment? Just last month, the governor admitted the state’s regulations are not adequate.

Voters, the issue belongs to you. Do your homework and cast your ballot.

Hey, Gov! Which mouth are we to believe?

Editor’s Note: Gordon Pedrow served as Longmont City Manger for 18 years prior to his retirement in March of 2012.

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

I have found newspaper coverage about the recent oil and gas association conference in Denver somewhat baffling. On Wednesday, Aug. 15, the governor spoke at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference. The Times-Call ran articles covering the speech on both Thursday and Friday with these headlines: “Hickenlooper says Longmont drilling rules must be challenged,” and “Gov. Hickenlooper: Drilling regulations need more work.”

It would appear that the governor was speaking out of both sides of his mouth last week.

Out of one side of his mouth, Gov. Hickenlooper outlined a new set of state initiatives to oversee oil and gas operations to create “integrity and trust” in energy development in our state. According to the article, the focus of the initiatives includes: well-bore integrity, water sampling, fugitive methane emissions and setbacks from densely populated areas. He also remarked that public concern about hydraulic fracturing must be addressed.

After catching his breath, the governor then spoke out of the other side of his mouth. At that point, Gov. Hickenlooper threatened to take the city of Longmont to court to quash its recently adopted comprehensive oil and gas drilling regulations. He stated that the Longmont City Council should accept his word that the state rules governing oil and gas regulations have sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of local communities. These are the same rules that, when speaking out of the other side of his mouth, he said must be revised to bring “integrity and trust to the industry.”

Only a politician would even attempt to sell such convoluted logic to the public. There is no doubt in my mind which entity (state of Colorado or city of Longmont) I want protecting the health and environment in my community. The governor threatening to use the courts to keep the elected Longmont City Council from protecting its residents is unconscionable.

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.

The Finley Poison Pill

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the August 16, 2012, issue of the Boulder Weekly.

Not red or blue, it’s completely clear: all about the MONEY.

I read with both amusement and a bit of consternation the article describing Longmont City Council Member Bonnie Finley’s attempt to inject a poison pill onto the November ballot.  She’s apparently so frightened that the charter amendment, The Longmont Public Health, Safety, and Welfare Act, will pass and be upheld by the courts (if and when it’s challenged) that she’s looking for a method to scare the bejesus out of the Longmont electorate.  What better way to do this than to start talking about taxes, always a “four-letter word” in Longmont.

Longmont is entitled to a fair election on the issue.  Blatant voter manipulation is an abuse of the democratic process.  And that’s precisely what Bonnie Finley is proposing.  Ms. Finley ought to be ashamed of herself.  Furthermore, it’s unethical and likely also illegal for the Longmont City Council to participate in Finley’s manipulation.

The Longmont Public Health, Safety, and Wellness Act would prohibit the extremely hazardous process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as well as waste injection wells within the city limits of Longmont.  Fracking lowers property values, damages tax-payer funded roads, endangers our health and safety, and contaminates the air we breathe and water we drink.  But apparently, Bonnie Finley wants to derail a citizen effort to keep Longmont a great place to live so that the oil and gas industry can frack next to our homes, schools and Union Reservoir.

Finley first slipped her proposed Finley Tax into discussion during the “Mayor and Council Comments” section of the July 24 city council meeting.  Her position is predicated on her belief that mineral rights owners would be deprived of the property right to access those minerals.  Ms. Finely grossly, and probably intentionally, misreads the language of the charter amendment.

The Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act prohibits only the extraction method of hydraulic fracking.  It does not ban oil and gas drilling by other methods.  Owners or lessees of minerals are free to use, and have used, other methods of acquisition besides hydraulic fracking.  They are not being deprived of all economically beneficial uses of their minerals.

Think of the oil and gas industry as a fisherman.  When the Longmont voters pass the hydraulic fracking prohibition, they will be effectively saying, “You can’t fish with dynamite.  You can buy a rod and reel and go fishing and eat all the fish you can catch by that method.  You just can’t blow up the lake because it’s a faster way to get a whole lot more fish.”

In essence, the charter amendment is telling the oil and gas industry and their political supporters like Ms. Finley that they can’t access and sell these minerals using an inherently harmful process to do so.  Make no mistake; fracking is harmful to children, families, the community, and the environment.  The evidence keeps mounting, much to the dismay of the oil and gas industry and those people and agencies that facilitate the industry’s wishes.

Finley is employed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), which serves as the Colorado chamber of commerce.  On the CACI board of directors is the Vice President of Encana USA, with substantial interest in drilling and fracking throughout Colorado. In a war there are always “minders.”

The Finley Tax is a blatant attempt to scare voters.   Apparently Council Member Finley wants voters to make a false choice between their family’s health and safety and their wallets.   All Longmont voters should be highly suspicious of Finley’s motives in proposing this tax.   So who is she representing?  I’d say the oil and gas industry – hands down.

Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont is made up of people like you, your families, friends and neighbors who believe in Longmont’s quality of life and want to preserve it for ourselves and our children.  Please join us by voting for the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act when you receive your ballot.

State sues Longmont to drill in residential areas

On Monday, July 30, 2012, the State of Colorado filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court to prevent the City of Longmont from implementing a ban on drilling for oil and gas in the city’s residential neighborhoods. The suit was filed by Jake Matter, Deputy Attorney General, on behalf of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

The COGCC has consistently refused to acknowledge the right of local governments and their citizens to exercise control over heavy industrial activities in their communities. The suit claims that “No possible construction of the disputed provisions of the ordinance can be harmonized with the state regulatory regime.” The state wants the court to throw out the city’s regulations without so much as a trial.

This suit is a stab in the back of every resident in Longmont. The state has essentially said, “We don’t care what you want. If the oil and gas industry wants to drill next to your homes and schools, we will allow it. It’s our right to let them and we will take you to court to shut you down.”

This is a very disturbing, although predictable, action by the State of Colorado. The state, its agencies, and its elected officials have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the State of Colorado, which guarantees citizens’ rights to health, safety and well-being.

The citizens of Longmont should not and will not be intimidated or bullied by any government entity. Voters in Longmont must stand firm in November and vote for the Charter Amendment, The Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act, sponsored by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. The amendment prohibits the hazardous practice of hydraulic fracking and waste injection wells within Longmont’s city limits. Fracking is harmful to children, families, the community, and the environment.

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.

Longmont Charter Amendment Advances to Ballot

Today, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont) announced that its charter amendment, the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act, has qualified for the November ballot. The Longmont City Clerk, has declared that Our Longmont’s signatures are “sufficient” to place the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act, before the voters on November 6, 2012. In doing so, Longmont will be the first city in Colorado to vote on banning the controversial oil and gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

“Today is a historic day for the City of Longmont and for the State of Colorado as Longmont leads the way to prohibit fracking within city limits,” said Michael Bellmont, a member of Our Longmont. “Fracking threatens our constitutional rights to protect our health, safety and property. We believe Longmont citizens have the right to decide whether this dangerous and destructive practice should take place next to their houses and their children’s schools.”

In early June, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont launched a petition drive to amend the city’s charter with the support of Food & Water Watch. In order to qualify for the ballot, 5,704 signatures of Longmont registered voters are required. With the dedication and hard work of nearly 100 volunteers, members of Our Longmont submitted over 8,200 signatures to the Longmont city clerk on July 20, 2012.

“The democratic process is alive and well in Longmont despite threats from the State of Colorado and the oil and gas industry to deny our city and its residents local control. Longmont citizens emphatically support their right to vote on whether or not fracking should take place next to their homes, schools and reservoirs,” Bellmont said.

“Our Longmont is a grassroots organization of Longmont citizens who believe that every citizen has the constitutional right to health, safety and wellness and that they are entitled to a voice in the guarantee of those rights. We are your neighbors, friends, and co-workers. We are business owners. We are retirees. We are mothers and fathers. We are ordinary Longmont citizens,” said Bellmont.

The state of Colorado is attempting to sue the city of Longmont over its oil and gas regulations. This is a blatant attempt by Governor Hickenlooper, an outspoken cheerleader for the oil and gas industry, to strip local control from Longmont so that his oil and gas friends drill next to houses, schools and parks in Longmont.

Longmont area native and Food & Water Watch’s Mountain Region Director Sam Schabacker has been supporting the efforts of Our Longmont. “Food & Water Watch is honored to help Our Longmont in its commitment to protect the Longmont community’s constitutional right to health, safety and welfare,” said Schabacker. “The actions that Our Longmont has taken are indeed trailblazing. If the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act is passed by Longmont voters in November, Longmont will be the first community in Colorado to ban fracking,” Schabacker said.

Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, is a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont. We believe that Longmont has a right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. Our goal is to preserve the quality of life in our exceptional city by protecting the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. By so doing we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for ourselves and future generations.

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume are safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

Mothers Project heads to D.C.

Local moms to attend fracking rally in D.C. and deliver letter to Colorado senators signed by constituents statewide

As the oil and gas industry moves full speed ahead with the fracking boom, residents across the state are organizing to protect their health, environment, property values, way of life, communities, and future generations from the impacts of oil and natural gas extraction, including fracking. Two Colorado mothers, Jodee Brekke and Diana Caile, are traveling to Washington D.C. this week to join a nationwide coalition of citizens, communities and organizations in a mass rally on July 28 and to hand deliver a letter to Senators Udall and Bennet signed by constituents statewide. The name of the rally and the message in the letter are the same: stop the frack attack.

“Since our elected officials and government agencies aren’t protecting our basic human and constitutional rights to clean air and water and from numerous other threats imposed on us by the oil and gas industry, then we need to call them to task,” said Ms. Brekke. Ms. Caile said, “the state is suing communities that want to keep the heavy industrial, toxic process of fracking away from neighborhoods and children’s schools. It doesn’t belong there. Period. Our government should be protecting the people of Colorado, not corporate profits at our expense.”

The Mothers Project - United for Sustainability

The Mothers Project, Inc. is launching in Colorado and is hosting the letter to the senators, written by local mothers, on their website. Founded in March, 2012, by Angela Monti Fox, mother of Josh Fox, creator of the documentary Gasland, The Mothers Project is a coalition of mothers advocating for immediate, full-scale investments in renewable energy and opposing extreme fossil fuel extraction, including fracking and its attendant impacts. Currently active in New York and Pennsylvania, where there is widespread opposition to fracking, The Mothers Project provides support to grassroots groups fighting to protect their health, environment and communities.

In addition to individual signatures, seventeen grassroots groups or nonprofit organizations fighting to protect communities through Colorado have signed on to the letter. To view the letter and add your name, go to TheMothersProject.org and click on the slide that says Calling On Mothers at the top. Send inquiries to press@TheMothersProject.org.

Participants in the D.C. rally include Bill McKibben of 350.org; Allison Chin, Sierra Club President; Josh Fox, Director of Gasland; Dr. Catherine Thomasson, Physicians for Social Responsibilities, plus several citizens from affected communities.

Oil and Gas Law Unsettled

Colorado constitutionIn a letter to the City of Longmont, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association insists that the citizens of Longmont do not have the right to protect their property, safety and health from the negative impacts of hydraulic fracking. Industry’s refusal to respect these inalienable rights is premised on their insistence that we must instead “respect the primary regulatory authority vested in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).”

Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont believes that the Colorado Constitution gives all citizens the right to protect their property and live safe, healthy lives.  It is the authority to which all of Colorado’s statutes must be subordinated and thus it does not give the oil and gas industry the freedom to damage our property values, endanger our families or pollute our air and water.

Despite protestations to the contrary, case law covering the interaction between the COGCC, Colorado’s designated agency for oil and gas development, and local governments is unsettled law.  Colorado case law is a mixture of rulings that apply to dissimilar forms of municipal government. Such disparate rulings have been cobbled together and used by the oil and gas industry and the COGCC to intimidate municipalities from exercising their responsibilities to protect their citizens and their communities.

Municipal government comes in many forms, among which are counties, home rule cities and statutory towns and cities, each of which allows for different degrees of authority and independence. Among the powers afforded home-rule cities like Longmont is the authority to regulate the use of land on the basis of its impact on the community or surrounding areas and to regulate the use of land so as to provide for its orderly use and the protection of the environment in a manner consistent with constitutional rights.

The “findings” included in Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont’s proposed amendment to Longmont’s city charter identifies another constitutional protection.  “The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals in the state, including the citizens of Longmont, certain inalienable rights, including ‘the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness,’ Color. Const. Art. II, Sec 3.”

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) violates these constitutional rights by threatening our health, endangering our children, diminishing property values and contaminating our water and air.

Frequently cited case law has not ruled on the constitutional protections afforded Colorado citizens but instead has focused on the statutory authority delegated to the COGCC.  Also, new technology and the effects of multi-well pads using directional high volume fracturing have not been considered in past case law.

The COGCC, through the Attorney General’s Office, and the oil and gas industry have been seeking a court ruling on complete preemption of municipal control for years.  The courts have refused this interpretation.  As recently as the 2012 Colorado legislative session, a senator sponsored a bill (SB-88) that would have accomplished that objective for the oil and gas industry.  The bill was killed in committee.

The arguments that are being put forth by the industry and COGCC are intended to intimidate local governments and dissuade Colorado citizens from asserting and claiming their Constitutional rights.  Such arguments are inaccurate and blatantly indicate that the issues surrounding oil and gas drilling in Colorado have not been legally settled.

Neither the courts nor the COGCC have adequately addressed the Oil and Gas Act’s legislative mandate to “foster the responsible, balanced development, production, and utilization of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources” (emphasis added), the first and presumably overarching restriction on all other directives contained within the Act.

The proposed Longmont charter amendment seeks to restore constitutional and statutory protections for our “health, safety, and welfare.”  It does not seek to ban all drilling for oil and gas within the Longmont city limits, but to ban only one specific, particularly harmful extraction method, hydraulic fracturing, in order to guarantee and preserve constitutionally protected individual rights to health, safety and well-being.

800 lb. gorillas, elephants, & wizards behind curtains

The following address was presented to the Longmont City Council on July 10, 2012, in response to a “last-minute” attempt to dismantle oil and gas regulations that are already meager.

I speak tonight as Kaye Fissinger.  My words are solely my own and do not represent any other person or organization.

Some weeks back a gentleman approached this council at Public Invited to be Heard and minced no words in describing this Longmont City Council as the most unresponsive to its citizens as any he had ever witnessed.  He couldn’t have been more accurate and more honest.

And once again the people of Longmont who have made it clear to you that fracking in Longmont is a threat to their health, safety and welfare are being jerked around by most of you as you manipulate the process to allow for drill-baby-drill by an industry who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything but their own profits.  Not only have they no interest in the well being of people, they have no interest in the well being of this nation.  They are multinationals.  And their God is MONEY.  Anywhere.  Anyway.  Anyhow.  Anytime.

After nine months, city staff must be beside itself.  This council majority never wanted to go down the oil and gas regulation road in the first place and did so only to appease and manipulate.

Council Member Finley has her britches in a twist about the Preamble.  Her alleged dispute with its contents is as phony as a $3.00 bill.  She won’t vote for the regulations under any circumstance.  Frankly, she should recuse herself.  She works for the Colorado chamber of commerce and an Encana vice president sits on its board of directors.  You’ll never convince me or a huge number of Longmont citizens that she is carrying water for anyone but the oil and gas industry.

Council Member Witt is a Romney Colorado operative.  She’ll take no position contrary to her candidate’s position.  So she’ll vote “NO,” no question, and will give a poor imitation of Council Member Santos’ tactics of trying to have it both ways.  He speaks about the industry and COGCC needing to put up or shut up, but he covers his eyes for the wink-wink so only the industry sees it.

What can I say about Council Member Bagley.  He wants TOP Operating to be able to drill.  And NOW he’s using his lawyerly skills to override the months of work by staff attorneys.  To what purpose?  Who benefits?

To the citizens of Longmont who listen and view these council proceedings there’s an 800 pound gorilla in this room sitting next to an elephant of partisan noteworthiness.  The oil and gas wizard behind the curtain is on full display.

Gibbs gives Jr. a spanking for lying

Maybe it’s the thin air

You, the pesky commoner, have no right to expect a high quality of life, according to Benjamin C. Harper Jr. (Open Forum, May 1 and June 29). Stop “sniveling” about the constant jump plane noise. When you “green stalwarts” feel compelled to speak up about the health and nuisance concerns associated with fracking, just zip it. In his view, we should all gladly live with these inconveniences “in the spirit of coexistence” so that businesses may operate with unbridled freedom. I heartily disagree. The burden of accommodation should be placed where it rightly belongs, on the industry — not on the backs of ordinary citizens.

Mr. Harper’s derisive and inaccurate comments have one aim: to silence critics of the airport and the oil and gas industry. And he gets it wrong on all counts. First, there is no effort to “shut down” Mile-Hi Skydiving. The Quiet Skies citizen group that I represent has repeatedly asked the city to adopt reasonable regulations aimed at curbing the excessive noise. So far the city has failed miserably in that regard.

Second, Mr. Harper states that the city of Longmont, the entity that owns and operates the airport, has no authority to determine whether the airport is expanded. Nonsense. The city has exclusive authority over whether to allow airport expansion.

And finally, he repeats the well-worn lie that only three people are really bothered by the jump plane noise.

We have worked hard to achieve a congenial solution to the jump plane noise nuisance, so far to no avail. A similar scenario has played out with fracking, an issue with truly major consequences.

You, the voting public, can stand up for local quality of life issues by voting out the Longmont City Council members who have no idea what it means to be a true public servant.

Video: The Truth About FRACKING

VIDEO SHOWING
Saturday, July 7, 2012
2:00 pm – 4:45 pm
Longmont Library, Rooms A & B
409 4th Ave.

Learn about heavy industrial drilling and fracking technology. Hear about the dangers to our health, air, water resources and property values in Longmont.

Presentations by Wes Wilson, retired EPA engineer; Phil Doe, Environmental Issues Director for “Be The Change”; and Shane Davis, research biologist, Sierra Club.

More information at www.LongmontROAR.org

An open letter to all politicians

Politicians have a difficult job representing a varied constituency. But you function under certain “givens” with which I cannot agree.

You tell us what “the American people” are thinking, and in the past we believed you. In public you swear to uphold the Constitution of Colorado or the Constitution of the United States. Privately, you acknowledge that you must bow to the “power structure” and “political realities.” These are just labels. We, the public, often accept them as real because you, the politicians in positions of power, say they are real. You say the public just does not understand “political realities” because we don’t deal with them every day.

What we deal with every day are the true realities, the realities of nature, such as the fires around Colorado that kill people and destroy property. We deal with terrible health problems, pollution of our air and water, and loss of property values that occur as a result of fracking for natural gas, which you say you must permit because “political realities” demand it. We deal with the consequences of a broken social contract.

Your “power structure” is a euphemism for multinational corporations and the .01% who pay for your campaigns and to whom you remain indebted. But there are other power structures. One power is the people, who are beginning to wake up and get their information from their actual experience instead of constant, force-fed propaganda. The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals in the state certain inalienable rights, including “the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining happiness.” (Art II, Sec. 3) There is nothing “inalienable” about your “power structure” and your “political realities.” You could be indebted directly to the people’s vote and be free to work for the common good. Or you can continue, for a time, to rely on votes bought by devious means.

You dupe us by saying that everything is terribly complicated. But only falsehood is complicated! When you tell the people one thing and do something completely different to please corporate masters, you complicate the problem.

The solutions to our current problems are actually simple. Create jobs with investments in infrastructure and clean energy instead of promoting and subsidizing dirty fossil fuels. Fund education and support genuine learning instead of ineffective and dubious testing. Provide Medicare for all. End the wars for oil. And guarantee that our elections are clean and fair rather than sold to the highest bidder while voters are stripped of their rights. These things are actually simple and achievable. They are made difficult only because it is difficult to maintain a lie in the face of the truth.

In response to the fires behind his home and along the Front Range, a wise friend of mine said, “Nature is having her say.” Yes she is, and she is not bought by money or swayed by propaganda. Will you work with her or choose to work against her very real power?