Energy

How much risk to take? Let the people decide.

Courtesy of David Schemel

It is the middle of the night as I write this. Many things keep me up at night. Sometimes I worry about my small business. Sometimes I worry that my children will be scarred for life by my poor parenting skills. Tonight I am awake because I’m worried about fracking. Working these past months to keep fracking and oil and gas development a safe distance from my family isn’t something I enjoy.

However, whenever I think “what is all this for?” I think of my friends, neighbors and family. I talk to my best friend in Ohio about my concerns about the chemicals in the air near oil and gas wells; about whether we could sell our home in the current market if a multi-well pad is drilled, as originally planned, near our home. She has a 5-year-old child with autism. He doesn’t speak. I tell her I know my concerns are nothing compared to her realities. But she tells me not to give up. She tells me about the many hours of sleep she loses because she wonders what caused several women on her street to give birth to children with autism. She wonders what was in the air, the water, the food she ate out of her garden. She wishes she had known and she could have done something to change her son’s lot in life.

I think about my neighbor who was an athletic, seemingly healthy, non-smoking 50-year-old who recently died of lung cancer. Another neighbor told me he had wondered in his last days if he should have gotten radon mitigation done on his home. I think of his wife, who will be haunted by all the “what ifs” about the environment he lived in that might have caused his death.

I don’t wish the “what-ifs” on anyone. And I don’t wish the “it’s too late now” on my family and neighbors. I am not the type of person who enjoys a good fight. I just want to be able to sleep at night.

I don’t think every person living next to every well will get sick and die. I don’t think the sky is falling. But I do think as time passes, we will likely find — like asbestos, lead paint, cigarettes — that living close to oil and gas wells has made some people sick. We will find that the regulations in place and the government’s ability to enforce them have been inadequate to prevent this from happening.

I understand people depend on oil and gas for their livelihood and that we all depend on oil and gas in a multitude of ways. This is a complex issue for all of us. However, I don’t think that not drilling everywhere we possibly can is the end to jobs and the economy or will guarantee we will never be free from foreign sources of energy (talk about “the sky is falling”). I believe American ingenuity and common sense can find a solution without destroying our economy or our communities in the process — and without compromising our constitutional rights to health and safety.

Our children, our families and our homes are worth, well, everything. Just talk to someone who has lost a mother, brother, child to a disease, or has watched them struggle with a health issue, like severe asthma. These are not risks we should take lightly.

So this weekend, I will ask my neighbors to sign a petition for a ballot initiative to ban oil and gas wells using hydraulic fracturing from city limits. I think it’s time we put the choice into the hands of the residents on whether they want a future of “what ifs” or whether they want one less thing to keep them up at night.

Facing the truth will sustain the planet

The earth, all that sustains us, is in deep trouble. The soil, the air, the water, the creatures that sustain our ecosystem are crying out and we are afraid to hear them. Here is just one example that moved me to write today:

“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.” (propublica.org)

So how do we enjoy our lives and the gifts many of us have and at the same time we acknowledge such facts? Indeed, it is not healthy to dwell on a constant diet of terrible facts. So there are also the facts of human kindness, the companionship and wisdom of animals and plants, and the grandeur of nature around us. To acknowledge all of this makes us whole.

It is possible to acknowledge suffering caused by climate change “elsewhere” and to other people and species. Such suffering of “others” is our own future. Looking at that squarely allows us to use a great gift humans have been given: creativity. If we have lived long enough, we have all faced terrible personal problems and most likely endured and created a better future with the help of others. So it is possible now, as we and all we love face a terrible collective future, to support each other and call on our deeper honesty, speak the truth and be creative. Let’s admit that our air, water, soil and food are being spoiled for short-term profit. Let us admit that the gifts we older people had in our lifetime will be denied to our children and grandchildren. Let’s come together and be creative.

But first we have to stop lying to ourselves.

We have to admit that our natural resources are limited. We have to admit that our politics are broken. We have to admit that our political and economic systems are fixed and when something is fixed it cannot function naturally and freely. It eventually withers and dies. We have to admit that those politicians, regardless of “party,” who do not speak and act truthfully should not have our support. Let’s admit that our current economic austerity has been manufactured.

Let’s not be afraid. Let’s rejoice that “We all do better when we all do better.” Let’s call forth our human creativity in all of our individual ways and use it collectively to sustain life on our planet.

Put Fracking Issue on November Ballot

Photo courtesy of ErieRising.com

This could be Longmont – wells and chemical storage tanks in your neighborhood.

We the people of Longmont are circulating a petition to put the issue of fracking on the November ballot. This will give Longmont residents the opportunity to indicate where they really stand. Do you want fracking within the city limits? You will be able to vote on this issue in November if our petition drive collects enough signatures.

You will find petitioners at many public places and events in Longmont over the next month. We’ll also be on downtown sidewalks, in front of businesses that have allowed us to collect signatures, and going door to door in neighborhoods. You must be a registered voter and resident of Longmont to sign.

I want to emphasize that this is a citizens’ initiative. It has no relation to any government office. It is not sponsored by any political party or candidate. It has no relationship to the Occupy movement. We are ordinary citizens who believe that Longmont residents should decide if fracking should be allowed within city limits.

Many public officials and businesspeople have pretended to know what Longmont residents want on this issue. They say they are representing the public interest, but in fact everyone has been guessing about what the people of Longmont really want.

We say, let the people decide. We urge you to speak for yourself by signing the petition and by voting in November.

The ballot issue proposes a ban on fracking within Longmont city limits.

It would further ban the storage or disposal of materials and wastewater connected with fracking, including a ban on open waste pits. A citywide referendum is a reasonable action, given that every person in Longmont will be affected by whatever decision is made on fracking.

Go to www.OurLongmont.org for more information on the petition.

Oil and gas industry ignores safety

Most of the natural gas industry has turned its back on reasonable public health and environmental protections, and government oversight and enforcement needs to rebalance the equation.

As one of America’s oldest and largest environmental organizations, the Sierra Club’s oil and natural gas policies have evolved as we have learned more about adverse effects on our health and environment, as science evolves, and as we identify operational failures by both the government and industry.

The harms caused by the entire process of producing oil and natural gas must end. Despite claims to the contrary, groundwater contamination caused by drilling and fracking practices is prevalent and must be brought under control.

In February, Shane Davis, the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Oil & Gas Research Manager, announced statistics on a sampling of 1,000 spill reports from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) website, dated after 2008. Davis stated, “We know that in Colorado, 43 percent of all spills contaminate groundwater, and 100 percent of all spills contaminate soils with toxins like deadly benzene, ethylene, toluene and xylene. There are horrific volumes of toxic and radioactive liquids that are never recovered from groundwater and soil.”

Compounding the problem of spills, drilling and fracking operations are running in the heart of Colorado communities. We are alarmed that state and local governments continue to allow heavy industrial activities as close as 350 feet to occupied residences. The industry’s operations are far from Best Management Practices (BMPs), due to their inherent failure rates. Overturning the numerous federal exemptions would be the first step in implementing BMPs for the oil and gas industry.

The Colorado School of Public Health states that people living within a half-mile radius from active oil and gas production suffer a greater risk for health complications and illness. If a resident complains of industrial odors to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, they often take 48 hours to respond, allowing the pollution to dissipate, eliminating the chance to properly investigate the report, and offering no answers for the homeowner. Some dangerous vapors are not even detectable by the human nose. There are no studies on the health impacts of drilling pad air toxins, and we agree with The Denver Post editorial board that comprehensive health impact studies are needed. In the meantime, Coloradans are exposed, yet unstudied, guinea pigs.

How do Colorado families protect their health and safety if an accident occurs next to their home or children’s school? We believe this hazardous industrial activity must not continue to be exempt from human and environmental health protections, or allowed to operate next door to homes with growing children, elderly people, and other vulnerable populations.

The Sierra Club holds COGCC accountable in its mission, part of which states, “Responsible development results in … the prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts.” COGCC can no longer be allowed to fail in this mission. The commission, the governor, and the industry should not be publicly defending the impacts of drilling that uses fracking. They should be mandating protection over profit. Every day we hear more about families being unable to drink their water due to fracking.

Colorado needs to move forward with our abundant, clean, inexpensive, healthy, jobs-generating, domestic, and renewable energy supplies. Because of the hazards created by production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas, we need to move beyond these fuel sources as expeditiously as possible. Natural gas is a bridge fuel to further harming the planet, including our local environment and human health.

Rushing ahead to drill and burn more oil and natural gas while allowing the industry to operate in secrecy with inadequate protections will continue to harm people and wildlife, squander clean water, air and soil, and slow the development of cleaner forms of energy. We must act now for a better energy future.

Joshua Ruschhaupt is director of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter. Other members of the Oil & Gas Team contributed to this commentary.  Reprinted with permission from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter.

Get out of the fracking foxhole

Where's council?

Where’s council?

Just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, so neither Republican nor Democrat is likely to be found. When under fire, there is but one common thought: survival. That and perhaps “Love thy neighbor.” Hold that thought.

Longmont is under siege and, without being overly dramatic, it is obvious to most concerned residents that in fact our city is in a foxhole and under fire from the state and oil and gas industry regulations. At the moment and under current regulations, a fracking well could be sited on a Longmont golf course, a cemetery, a park or within easy breathing distance of a school — and the city cannot at this point do one damned thing about it. Is there room here for partisan politics? I think not, but it is widely assumed to be so.

I care that the Republican, Democratic and independent voters out around Union Reservoir are already seeing their property values slowly circling the drain because the city cannot at this point do one damned thing to protect them. I care that a block or two south of First Avenue there may be open tanks filled with poisonous fluids. I care that no industry will want to be anywhere near these foul pits, thus limiting our city’s ability to attract new enterprise — and I’m enraged that the city cannot at this point do one damned thing about it.

I care that the laws that are now being forced down our throats were promulgated back in the ’80s when no one outside of the oil and gas industry had ever heard of fracking, and that this multibillion-dollar industry wrote its own rules, which were passed by a state Legislature where many (if not all) were bought and paid for by the rule writers. Is there anyone in state or civic government today who believes these extraordinary laws, which pre-empt county, city and local ordinances, would pass today? Would any sane politician under the golden dome even suggest such laws? And what can the city do about it? See above.

Let me be clear. I do not want to ban fracking or oil and gas drilling in Colorado or anywhere else. But think: If laws that would allow an industry to set up shop 150 or 350 feet away from a home or a school or a church were not born in a cesspool of corruption, perhaps we need a new definition of corruption. Ponder that, fellow golfers — a short wedge shot from your backyard lies a drill pad, all brought to you in the 1980s by folks in Denver now likely buried deep in some corporation’s mineral estate.

Back to the foxhole and the siege. Council has proven thus far to be woefully inadequate in defense of this city. It is palpably obvious that certain council members have abandoned their lofty ideals, which originally gave us a 7-0 vote in favor of new regulations and now, in a bizarre dance of twisted logic, they attempt to justify their new rationale to kill the strengthened regs and negotiate under the old and weak. Here, on an issue likely larger than any ever brought before council in modern times, some have caved in and embraced the enemy.

Absent the protection of council, a new movement has grown and is seeking an ordinance that would ban oil, gas and fracking operations from all city property. Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont is gathering signatures on a petition to ban these operations from within city limits. If successful, the issue would be placed on the November ballot for all Longmont residents to vote. I certainly don’t speak for this group, but firmly applaud their cause — not because I’m a Democrat or a Republican, but because I’m a Longmont resident who wants desperately to protect our values, our safety and the health of our treasured children.

You will see Our Longmont volunteers all over the city — at the library, shopping plazas, restaurants and walking down Main. Please take a moment to sign up in defense of Longmont. We are under siege and there is no room for politics of any hue. We either put aside our political differences or we will all suffer the consequences.

Let’s join hands to bring this petition to a vote in November. There is just over a month to gather 5,800 signatures and one final opportunity to get out of that foxhole.

Bensten pulls curtain back on Boulder City cronyism

Photo by M. Douglas Wray

Strider Bentsten

Longmont’s Strider Bensten rightly pulls back the curtain to expose the rampant cronyism shamelessly reflected in the Boulder City Council’s endorsement of Elise Jones for Boulder County Commissioner District 1.

There are those in my community who love to bash Boulder County and who will not be voting for either Jones of Garry Sanfacon in November. So be it.

As to the rest of us, the many active, dedicated progressives in Longmont and even those Democrats who do not necessarily embrace that description, we would like to see a Boulder County Commissioner majority that has a focus beyond the city limits of Boulder. And we are more than a little annoyed at the “machine politics” that have rallied behind Jones’ candidacy.

Those of us living outside the hallowed halls of the City of Boulder would like to have genuine representation. We take note of candidates who show up only during election season to stroke us for our votes and/or money. And we find it offensive.

Free Range Longmont endorses Strider Bensten’s willingness to call a spade a spade. We applaud him whether or not he has the official backing of the body politic known as Longmont Area Democrats.

Free Range Longmont also enthusiastically endorsed Garry Sanfacon in March in advance of Boulder County Democratic Assembly. We repeat that endorsement as the June 26 primary approaches.

Strider Bensten for the Daily Camera:

I offer my strong support for Garry Sanfacon for Boulder County Commissioner District 1.

While I rarely endorse candidates, Garry has proven to be an outstanding leader, hard worker, and friend. In addition to a record of broad competence in non-profits, community work, business, social justice, and environmental stewardship, Garry is possessed of a deep humility — a quality quite rare in a social leader.

We have wealth of competent candidates for local offices, for which we can give honor to our local history, and our network of activist involvement and education.

Boulder County is a vast area with mountain communities which also need and deserve representation. While I do not disparage the experience of opponent Elise Jones, I have concerns about the “Boulder Rules” game. If any or all members of Boulder City Council thought her to be their best choice, without, however, any acknowledgment of Garry’s credentials, that is their prerogative. But, to endorse as a body seems deeply improper, and perhaps a violation of the Colorado Open Records Act.

Having been recently a member of a quasi-judicial body, the Longmont Election Committee, we were required by law to pre-announce all meetings of more than two members, and that all meetings must be public.

I know of no such public meeting of Boulder City Council to discuss this matter, nor that the public had any right of either input or scrutiny. That Ms. Jones’ twin sister is a member of the council might be a factor.

Sheriff Joe Pelle has given highest praise for Garry’s work as Fourmile Canyon Fire Recovery Manager. We can expect more such emergencies with our cooking climate.

Garry Sanfacon is a visionary and a solid grass roots guy. He has held numerous meetings drawing creative input toward such community vision.

STRIDER BENSTON
Longmont Area Democrats

FSSW Stand Up For BO&G

The laugh's on US

The laugh's on US

It’s hard to see how the City Council acted to ensure the safety and health of Longmont’s residents from fracking threats as described in last Saturday’s editorial, “Drilling rules show city puts residents first.” Big Oil & Gas finally showed its cards and in no time Councilors Finley, Sammoury, Santos and Witt (FSSW) folded, abandoning the new regulations which at their request had been painstakingly produced by city staff. Now why on earth, I wondered, would they do that?

A few months ago, the vote to craft new regulations was 7-0. All hands were gung-ho to beef up the old 2000 regulations in order to protect the well-being, health and safety of Longmont and its beloved residents. Go, team, go!

But slowly, things became weird.

Councilor Katie Witt, in a convoluted mush of logic turned upside down, having earlier announced she was balancing her duty to protect Longmont against her political future (shouldn’t these be one and the same?), proceeded to vote against the new regulations. So much for protecting Longmont; so much (one hopes) for her political future.

Declaring great optimism, hope and faith that TOP Drilling along with BO&G would negotiate, moderate, mediate and in general do a host of nice things they heretofore had never before done anywhere or for anyone, Ms. Witt demonstrated a novel approach to negotiations: cede everything first, then expect one’s opponents to hand back over whatever is requested.

Councilwoman Finley : limit public's time to thirty minutes

Councilwoman Finley : Frack my constituents!

Councilor Bonnie Finley’s approach was more rational, at least on the surface. She objected to the new regulations because they might bring a lawsuit, despite being told by the legal suits that the regulations were defensible, until finally faulting the preamble as a cover for her “no” vote. Councilor Bagley advised her on at least two occasions that the preamble had no effect in law, offering at one point to shorten it to a brief paragraph, but to no avail. Ms. Finley had her talking points and stuck to them, absurd as they were.

Alex Sammoury, on the team

Councilors Santos and Sammoury, to this point having supported the regulations, had remained quiet as the debate raged around the chamber, until Councilor Sammoury gently opined that an extension to the existing moratorium would give them a chance to try again for cooperation from the quaintly named Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. Despite being reminded that earlier efforts to negotiate had been rebuffed and then rewarded with threats of lawsuits from the state attorney general’s office, the motion passed. These, by the way, are the nice folks who Ms. Witt is confident will bend and bestow great favors if only asked politely.

Gabe Santos, big money's inside man

So where are we? It’s ugly. The revised regulations are tabled. A vote at the next council meeting approving the new 45-day moratorium will be held under “emergency rules,” which requires at least six “aye” votes to pass. If it does, we have more than 45 days to negotiate with TOP and the COGCC (but still under the old regulations). If two councilors — say, Finley and Witt— vote “no,” the moratorium passes but won’t go into effect until three days after the current moratorium ends.

That would leave a gap for TOP to apply for permits to drill under the old regulations — and you can bet they will not be negotiating.

In the end, the stench of BO&G permeates the chamber; in the next election, we may or may not remember this disgraceful chapter in council’s history, but by then, most or all of the players will have moved on — far and away from the drilling rigs, methane gas and gutted property values. There will be no shortage of alibis and excuses, none of which will matter a damn.

Mayor Coombs and Councilors Bagley and Levison held their heads above the stench and may yet prevail in seeing the new regulations passed into law. FSSW (remember them?) have done everything possible to ensure that the safety and health of Longmont and its residents are left in the hands of BO&G. Shame on them.

Balance needed

U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-3630

Oil Seepage in Pond (Foreground), Olin-Mathieson Plant in Background 1972

Most of us take a pretty one sided view of many issues.  A balanced view should be better.

Where is the balance with respect to hydraulic fracking.?  On the one hand we as a nation (and world) are a consumer of fossil fuels and will continue to be until alternate energy sources combined with greater efficiency meets our needs.  On the other hand there are risks associated with this process.  The risks are largely encountered by one group of people while very significant profits are realized by a much smaller group.

Drilling and production of oil and gas has increased dramatically over the last few years.  Currently we both import oil and export refined products.  There are advantages to not importing oil, especially from countries with limited stability.

What are the facts?  The oil and gas representatives that support hydraulic fracking appear to have either avoided some information or intentionally been misleading.

Claims that there has not been a single case of ground water contamination from hydraulic fracking are misleading.  There are several examples where groundwater has been contaminated from the necessary activities that are always associated with the process.  Where groundwater has been contaminated, the distinction is not important.

It is often stated that fracking chemicals are only 0.5 percent of the injected fluid.  This appears to be deliberately misleading.  The risk is a product of the inherent toxicity and concentration of the compound, and exposure (for example amount of water consumed over what period of time).   A concentration of 0.5 percent is 5,000 parts per million (ppm) or 5,000,000 parts per billions (ppb).  The maximum concentration limit (MCL) for benzene in groundwater set by the US EPA is 5 ppb.  We do not know the toxicity of many of the fracking chemicals, or even what they are and it may be that toxicity has not been determined for many of them.  Furthermore, the risk of a mixture may be even greater.

An article in the Times-Call claimed there was no problem because benzene and propane were well below the levels for a 10 hour exposure.  While propane has low toxicity it is ludicrous to talk about a 10 hour exposure rather than a longer term exposure.

Benzene, is a carcinogen as might be other compounds in the fracking fluid.  There is no threshold limit for carcinogens.

The proponents of hydraulic fracking have not in my experience acknowledged the disruption of the lives of families living close to the drilling sites – or the impact on schools for that matter.  Decreased home values are another problem.

It is difficult for most of us to believe what we are being told when so many obviously misleading statements have been made.

The argument has been made that the fracking industry would be challenged to operate under a different set of rules in each community and thus the need for state control.  Of course many housing contractors do operate in a number of communities with differences in construction code.  But if you do allow for some benefit for uniformity, that does not negate the need for communities to protect their own citizens, real-estate values, and schools when state organizations do not.

The state group controlling fracking (Colorado Oil and Gas Commission) has historically been largely controlled by oil and gas interests.  As a result, it is hard to see how that group will not focus on profits over other considerations.  It does not appear to me and many others that  the need for energy sources and profits has been fairly balanced with the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the communities being impacted.

We are now producing more refined fuels than we need and are exporting record amounts helping the balance of trade.  Concern has been raised that the US is likely to have insufficient storage capacity for natural gas by the end of the year.  Then why the need for drilling close to homes and schools?  Why not limit fracking to less hazardous locations including those with minimal potential for groundwater impact?

Why indeed!  Oil companies realized profits in the tens of millions of dollars. The “realized” pay for the CEO of Exxon/Mobile for 2011 was 24.6 million dollars or three times that in 2009 and four times that in 2006.  By how much has your pay increased over this time? By what factor is his pay greater than yours?   CEO pay should be higher than that for most people, but by how much?  Where is the balance?

Bob Norris
Longmont

Bob has lived in Longmont since 2000 and has been active in community issues including having served on the Longmont Board of Environmental Affairs.

How did we get here?

Our country is being hijacked right in front of us.

Our homes and safety are being hijacked

How did we get here?   As a nation, a state, a community, how did we get here?

How did we lose so much of our humanity that we would by word and deed and law allow the profit of the few to trump the genuine needs of the many?

How did we get to the point where our President listens to an industry and apparently accepts their lies, their propaganda, or perhaps just doesn’t want to be crosswise with it and those with whom it has sway during an election year?

How did we get to the point where our Colorado legislature allows an industry to write legislation with the likely help of organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council?  I ponder the word “exchange” in its name.  In exchange for what?

How did we get to the point where our governor, elected to represent all of the people, runs interference against communities who DO want to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens?

How did we get to the point where our Attorney General in collusion with the oil and gas industry threatens legal action against communities who dare to seek to preserve our quality of life, paramount of which is our health?  Do you know that the oil and gas industry has threatened to bankrupt communities who don’t fall in line?  It will not surprise me when they try to do the same to Longmont, even in the face very tepid regulations.

How did we get to the point where members of our own city council value business above all else?

When did we lose our humanity?

Romney visit in Ft. Lupton – Wed. May 9

Taking with both hands

We just received word that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is making a stop near Fort Lupton tomorrow morning (Wednesday). Romney will reportedly give a speech at an oil drilling facility northwest of town at 10AM.

It’s terribly short notice, but we need you to join us tomorrow morning to counter Romney’s visit.

K P Kauffman Company Inc.
10137 County Road 19, Fort Lupton
Click here for a Google map

For months, Romney and his right-wing allies have claimed that energy production in America is being “held back.” But it’s not true: domestic oil and gas production is actually at its highest level in years, and America even exported refined petroleum products last year.

Rather than calling for responsible development of our natural resources, Romney and his friends in the energy industry are pushing for an irresponsible rollback of environmental and health protections for citizens who live near energy production.

Don’t let Mitt Romney frack our future: join us tomorrow in Fort Lupton.

We’ll have “Romney in the Tank for Big Oil” signs for everyone, or bring your own! And above all, thank you for standing up at a moment’s notice for Colorado’s clean air and water.

Come, Exploit, Leave

I’ve resided in Longmont since 1986; in the same house north of Lake McIntosh. My kids have gone to school at Hygiene and Westview; with one now at Niwot.

I’m also an avid skier, to put it mildly; my wife would tell you it is more like addicted. So, I’m am keenly aware of the situation in the central Colorado mountains (Summit county especially) in the winters.

One excellent source for information about the snow pack in Colorado is the “snotel” site maintained by the Department of Agriculture folks in Lakewood – Snowpack Summary graph. It is one ski industry standard sources of data about the status of the snowpack in the state. It is updated every federal business day.

I had the April 17th graph. It showed the average, that of last year (which was a record big snowfall,) and that of this year – which is a record small snowfall. The percentage of normal, as of that date, was 40%.

Since then, that has fallen to something in the 25% to 27% range. That situation has already triggered Denver Water to issue restrictions. Boulder might soon. I know a City of Ft Collins planner who is very concerned about the impact in Larimer county.

In considering the regulation of fracking, which consumes significant amounts of water, the availability of water is a major concern!

From year to year, now days, it seems that the variability in snow pack, and so water, has become large; frighteningly so Some years may be OK, a few great, and some, like the snow season we just didn’t really have.

It is really kind of like a flood plain risk. In the case of water, what are the odds of two or three tiny years in a row? At what point is there not enough water for the residents, and everybody the City of Longmont water servers?

Who knows, Longmont itself may well have to end up going on water restrictions before the summer out. This could, sadly, get fairly ugly quickly.

The other point I made to Council was that Longmont is home to major high tech companies; it has been since IBM moved in down The Diagonal in the 1965. If the situation with the water is adversely impacted by fracking, that is not good. If the fracking causes air pollution that ruins the quality of life, that is not good(!) Part of what makes Longmont very desirable to high tech is the quality of life here; it is both a brand, and a lived reality.

Longmont could end up trading a set of long term, high paying jobs for a set of temporary, not that high paying jobs.  (and make no mistake, the oil industry is a “come, exploit, leave” kind of deal!)

That’s would be a simply stupid choice!

An open letter to the Longmont City Council

Where's council?

Where's council? Might as well not be there.

Mayor Coombs and fellow Councillors:

Council, you (with the notable exception of Sarah Levinson) have lost my trust. I doubt that I’m alone in suggesting that you have betrayed your fellow citizens with your pusillanimous decision to follow a staff recommendation offering compromise and “Fast Track” permits to the oil and gas boys instead of approving an extended 6 month moratorium.

Week after week your Tuesday chamber was filled with your constituents pleading for time. How many from without the industry appeared before you in support of OCGCC regulations? None that I saw or heard.

Did those who appeared before you represent a majority of your constituents? Yes. Did you respond to their passions? No. You told them to go to hell, just as the COGCC told you a week ago when rejecting your proffers of appeasement.

Ex-City Manager Pedrow, once out of office, suggested you take a stand and fight. Instead you have chosen what you thought to be a compromise and have been solidly kicked in the butt.

Big Oil & Gas has threatened you with virtual bankruptcy if you choose to fight what at best was a modest proposal for modification of existing OCGCC standards. Offering such insulting defenses as “the state’s robust regulatory framework”- (a damned lie if ever there was one) their intention is obvious: Kill any and every effort of modification lest it spread to other communities.

You’ve been told to be good boys and girls or else; so exactly what do you now propose? More conciliation? More tinkering around the edges?

Will you forgive and offer a permit to that paragon of corporate citizenry TOP drilling which has been and still is “remediating” the benzene problem at Trail Ridge school whilst ignoring the robust discipline of the COGCC since 2009? Does their application for more drilling permits not concern you? Exactly what in hell does it take to persuade you that you are on the wrong track?

I have a suggestion. How about taking a step back and re-visiting the proposal to extend the moratorium for another 6 months? Much is happening at every level of government and within that time frame anything decided today may well appear foolish tomorrow.

It takes gonads to admit error and great political courage to stand for your constituents against the pressure of campaign dollars from entities such as Big Oil & Gas. The accusation that some of you have been so influenced has been made; please show us that those accusations are incorrect.

Why not begin a robust campaign to enlist all Front Range communities from Trinidad to Fort Collins in a concentrated effort to change state law? It may take one year or ten but this issue will never be decided at the municipal level, so face reality and work to undo what was undoubtedly a corrupt process.

Ask yourselves how it came to be that an entity such as the COGCC was given the right to tell a municipality that their regulations could be pre-empted and then answer the question without thinking of campaign dollars. The deal stank then and continues to stink- and you know it.

Thus far, Council, you appear weak, fragile and timid. For God’s sake step up to the plate and start batting! You were elected to lead, so start leading.

Fracking within our community is likely the biggest and most dominant issue you as council will ever face; that is until you are up for re-election. What you do in the coming weeks will be long remembered. To paraphrase JFK: “Think not what you can do for your political future but what you can do for Longmont”.

City council, restore needed regulations


Editor’s Note: The following is an Open Letter to the Longmont City Council. On May 8, 2012, Longmont’s oil and gas regulations will appear on the council’s agenda on First Reading (Consent Agenda). Several necessary regulations were removed from the Draft Regulations prepared earlier this year.

I would like to see the following provisions become part of the city’s regulation of fracking wells and other wells.

1) RESTORE THE PROVISION REQUIRING CLOSED PITS.
Open pits are a source of contamination, both through evaporation (airborne contaminants), and through undue exposure to animals and, potentially, children on nearby playgrounds. A CLOSED SYSTEM WOULD BE BEST.

2) INCORPORATE THE NEW EPA REGULATIONS ON METHANE CONTAMINATION. The EPA has just issued new regulations regarding methane leakage in fracked wells. The city should require that any wells drilled now should be in conformity to these new regulations, since the new wells will be operating when the EPA regulations go into effect.

3) DO NOT ALLOW THE OPERATION OF WELLS DURING A DROUGHT. The state already has a mechanism for declaring a state of drought, and it should be strictly observed.

4) MONITOR SMOG POLLUTION, INCLUDING ADVANCE TESTING TO ESTABLISH A BASELINE.
The city should require testing using the new technique just published by NOAA, which is able to differentiate sources of smog pollution. There should be a baseline test of Longmont’s air quality at the present time, before the moratorium is lifted, and future tests should be measured against it. I am especially concerned about the numerous medical studies published by a variety of sources–easily found with an Internet search–that show strong links between smog and an increase in asthma, stroke, and heart attacks. The recent study in Erie that commented on 10 minutes of exposure is ridiculous. If there are wells, there is going to be chronic exposure. The studies of the effects of chronic exposure to smog need a detailed review and the city needs to fund its own monitoring of smog.

Thank you for your attention to these matters. I look forward to seeing these important elements of regulation incorporated into the City of Longmont regulations.

Is fracking really safe?

On April 30, Katherin Engelhard touted the safety of fracking. From her self-proclaimed “extensive research” she quoted, “In 65 years of hydraulic fracturing of 1.2 million wells, there’s no proven case of its contaminating drinking water.”

However, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission reports that between Aug. 28, 2003, and Jan. 5, 2012, there were 427 incidences of groundwater contamination caused by oil and gas wells in Weld County alone. Groundwater contamination of this magnitude definitely poses a threat to drinking water.

A serious, more immediate safety threat Ms. Engelhard fails to mention is the air pollution documented by many new studies being released, such as the 2012 NOAA study demonstrating that, from 200 fracking wells, Erie’s air has more methane, propane and ethane than Houston, Texas. Another recent study (March 2012) by the Colorado School of Public Health at CU concludes that people living within a half-mile of fracking operations are 250 percent more likely to have chronic health impacts and 60 percent more likely to develop cancer mainly from exposure to airborne benzene, a known carcinogen associated with the more modern, “unconventional” fracking.

Fracking is astoundingly exempt from regulation by the EPA, Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act. Ms. Engelhard refers to the fracking her father did “in West Texas 40 years ago,” but this is definitely not your father’s fracking. Modern “unconventional” fracking (less than 10 years old) is considerably different and involves far more health, safety and environmental impacts due to the additional chemicals, newer technology and vastly greater allowable number of wells per pad. A quote Ms. Engelhard uses from the EPA claiming safety around this industrial activity was from 2004, when there was very little information on the impacts of the new “unconventional” fracking.

Which natural resource will prevail?

What do you think of when you hear the words “natural resource”?  OK, let’s narrow the field.  Do you think of water?  Or do you think of oil and gas?

Colorado Senate Bill 12-107 sponsored by Senator Morgan Carroll may just pit those two resources against each other.  That shouldn’t be the case.  In Colorado, the clear frontrunner should be water.  Most Coloradans are well aware that we have no water to spare or to waste.  Yet that precious life-sustaining resource is under siege by the oil and gas industry’s drilling and production technology known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Senate Bill 107 will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 1:30 PM.  You can register your support for the passage of the Water Rights Protection Act here or here.  Your support will indicate the value you place on Colorado’s water and on the health and safety of Coloradans.

The legislative declaration of SB 12-107 states that “energy exploration by means of hydraulic fracturing should be conducted in a responsible way that ensures the safety of Colorado residents and Colorado communities” and that “water quality and an adequate supply of water are essential to Colorado’s economy and are topics of great concern to Colorado’s cities and towns, Colorado’s agricultural economy, and the outdoor recreation and tourism for which Colorado is known across the nation and throughout the world.”

Among the Water Rights Protection Act provisions are a requirement that before drilling commences that the operator provide to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Department of Water Resources a good-faith estimate of where and how the operator intends to acquire the water and a good-faith estimate of the amount of water that will be required for hydraulic fracturing.  After completion the operator is required to report where and how the operator actually acquired the requisite water and the amount of water actually used.

Before an operator is authorized to frack, it must collect water quality samples related to potential impacts from fracking from all active water wells located within one-half mile of the oil and gas well.

The Water Rights Protection Act also provides for water-based setbacks.  An operator will not be allowed to conduct fracking “within one-half mile of any surface water, including a pond, reservoir and other natural or artificial impoundment or stream, ditch or other artificial waterway unless the operator uses a closed-loop system.”  This provision offers some measure of protection for the waterways within Longmont and, of course, Union Reservoir.

The Act also requires that “an operator shall not insert into the ground any quantity of chemicals known to cause or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer,” such as benzene, toluene, ethybenzene, or xylene.

These and the other provisions of the Water Rights Protection Act are common sense requirements to help protect both the quantity and quality of the water we need for survival and are necessary to protect the public’s health and safety.

It only takes a minute or two to let your representatives know that you value Colorado’s water resources and that your health and safety must be protected.