Energy

Longmont, you’re fracked. OK by Council

The following address was presented to the Longmont City Council on April 17, 2012 in response to the the “draft” dilling/fracking regulations. The Longmont City Council ignored the testimony and pleas of the community, the advice of four of its boards and commissions and advanced on a 6-1 vote a gutted version of the regulations to ordinance. Sarah Levison provided the protest vote.

Fracked behind closed doors

Fracked behind closed doors

This document of Longmont’s proposed oil and gas regulations shames this city.  And it should shame you.  But I suspect it won’t.  It is nothing more than a capitulation to the oil and gas industry and a betrayal of the citizens of Longmont.

As a home rule city, you have the legal opportunity to do much more.  You met in executive session on March 27 and April 3 to discuss draft oil and gas regulations and to receive legal advice and obtain instructions regarding the same.  It does not take a Philadelphia lawyer or a rocket scientist to determine when and where your decisions took place.  Tonight’s discussion is likely to be nothing more than a dog and pony show to once again pretend to the Longmont public that you are listening to their testimony, the evidence of the dangers of drilling within the city and the threats to human health, safety and welfare from fracking.

Our health, safety and welfare are constitutionally (both United States and Colorado) and statutorily guaranteed.  Yet our Democratic governor, our Republican attorney general and the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission, the oil and gas industry sock puppet, prefers to thumb their collective noses at the people and smile all the way to the bank to deposit campaign contributions from their benefactors.  The same holds true of most members of the Longmont city council who occupy their seats by virtue of the financial assistance and dirty campaign tactics of Western/American Tradition Partnership and its local sympathizers who do not know enough or care enough to even protect themselves and their families.

It was no accident that American Tradition Partnership first showed its rabidly anti-people face in Longmont in 2009.  This organization, funded by the extraction industries and the Koch Brothers, knew the oil and gas industry was moving its way to the western end of the Wattenberg Field and the Niobrara Play and needed a Longmont city council that would “play” ball with them – pun intendedThey got it and they got more of it last year.  And now the people of Longmont are getting fricking fracked.

So you’ll sacrifice your personal integrity, the well-being of your community and the health and safety of your families on the altar of oil and gas profits and I suspect you’ll even use the nauseatingly familiar buzzwords of your political party to justify the decisions you made weeks, if not months, ago.

But don’t expect respect or support for your choices and don’t expect that the community will take your actions lying down – or bending over.

This is not over until the proverbial fat lady sings – and you can be sure that she is just warming up.

Sanfaçon Community Forum

Garry Sanfacon 2011

Garry Sanfacon, District 1 Boulder County Commissioner candidate

Boulder, CO– Garry Sanfaçon, candidate for Boulder County Commissioner, District 1, is hosting a community forum to help inform the public about the risks to Boulder County, including the City of Boulder, from natural gas extraction, including hydraulic facturing, commonly called fracking. The forum will take place on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 6:30 -8:30 p.m., at the Nomad Theater, located at 1410 Quince Avenue, in Boulder.

The forum will consist of a presentation by leading experts on the impacts of fracking on the environment, public health, and overall community well-being, including data specific to the City of Boulder and Boulder County. They will also present data about the failure of state regulations to prevent adverse environmental and human health impacts. The experts will answer questions from the audience following their presentation. Local youth with the environmental education and youth empowerment group, Earth Guardians, will perform their latest song about fracking and, as always, remind us that their future is in our hands.

Boulder County, including the City of Boulder, is already experiencing significant adverse impacts from natural gas extraction and fracking. With over 1800 wells that can potentially be fracked in unincorporated Boulder County (that number does not include wells in incorporated municipalities within the County), this is only the tip of the iceberg. This heavy industrial, toxic activity is occurring in neighborhoods, next to schools and on County open space.

The experts presenting will be Shane Davis, Wes Wilson and Phil Doe. Shane Davis is a research biologist and leading investigator into adverse environmental and human health impacts related to fracking in Colorado. Wes Wilson was an environmental engineer with the EPA for 30 years. He was featured in the movie Gasland as a whistleblower on the EPA’s failure to regulate fracking. Phil Doe spent his career working on water issues with the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation. He is currently the Environmental Issues Director for the grassroots advocacy group Be the Change, and an activist for protecting our most precious resource, water.

Disneyland > Pinocchio > Weld County Commissioners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snooker train a-comin’

Who was driving again??A series of public outreach meetings conducted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC and the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is headed Longmont’s way.

I call it the Snooker Train. Contrary to the publicly described purpose, this is a dog and pony show intended to snooker communities into believing that they have a meaningful seat at the table of oil and gas drilling. There is no credibility in outcome of these so-called “outreach” gatherings anymore than there has been for Governor Hickenlooper’s Task Force on Cooperative Strategies Regarding State and Local Regulation of Oil and Gas Development.

Here’s what they tell you is the purpose:

The meetings will provide information on the respective regulatory roles of the state agencies. Information will be provided on existing regulations for oil and gas development in Colorado. Staff from each agency will be available to answer written questions about aspects of oil and gas development as well as speak individually with interested residents.

But what Hickenlooper, the COGCC and the oil and gas industry and their shills throughout the legislature and the task force have intended from the get-go is to get local government off their back.

When all is said at done, their premise of preemption will not have changed, not even a nano change. But many local governments and some in those communities will be led down the garden path of thinking that there has been change.

Reproduced directly from the COGCC website is it’s MISSION STATEMENT:

The mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is to foster the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.

Responsible development results in:

The efficient exploration and production of oil and gas resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare

The prevention of waste

The protection of mineral owners’ correlative rights

The prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts

The COGCC seeks to serve, solicit participation from, and maintain working relationships with all those having an interest in Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.

Where are YOU in this? NOWHERE. That’s where. Unless you think that being a GOAL is good enough. Because a GOAL is all we are:

GOALS

  1. Promote the exploration, development and conservation of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources
  2. Prevent and mitigate adverse impacts to public health, safety, welfare and the environment
  3. Demonstrate balanced leadership in the regulation and promotion of oil and gas development in Colorado at the local, state and federal levels

The fundamental issue that they will not address because it would provoke a monumental change that the industry will not tolerate is that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is failing to live up to its legal mandate:

§34-60-102 – Legislative Intent – “It is declared to be in the public interest 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 (§34-60-102(1)(a)(I)).   [emphasis added]

Simply stated, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is in violation of the law, §34-60-102.

So the COGCC will show up in Longmont, and other localities, with the CDPHE in tow to take your written questions. Yes, that’s right. Written. This is how they will pick and chose what they wish to answer and avoid (they hope) embarrassment and confrontation.

So we’ll see you on May 7th and will see how well things go as planned.

WHEN:      Wednesday May 7, 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

WHERE:    City of Longmont
Civil Center
350 Kimbark Street
Longmont, CO 80501

Drillers and frackers want farmers’ water

Dust bowl farm

You can't eat sand

As I read this article in the Longmont Times-Call the other day, I shook my head with disbelief. On the very same page was an article titled “Driest March in City History ends with heat” and then looked at the snow percentages (of normal) in the weather section:

Copper Mountain 57 percent; Independence Pass 46 percent; Vail Mountain 12 percent; Lake Eldora 32 percent; Loveland Basin 69 percent; Niwot 62 percent; Wolf Creek Summit 69 percent; Rabbit Ears 39 percent; Hoosier Pass 64 percent.

Something isn’t adding up. If oil and gas companies are buying up the water that our farmers need to grow our food, then what will we eat? Can we depend on other states to provide our food when they’ve suffered from the same dry spell we have? This is a clear example of market demand gone haywire. Our water (the water that belongs to the people of Colorado) is being sold to the highest bidder (oil and gas companies) so that they can make record profits at our expense, while in the meantime, we will get very thirsty and hungry and have our air, water and soil poisoned. Can you squeeze blood from a turnip? Where is this water going to come from? There isn’t enough water. Since when do we put the needs of corporate powers over the needs of the people? It was recently reported that natural gas is going to be shipped to the highest bidders in Asia. An LNG terminal on the West coast has been reconstructed so it can now export liquid natural gas.

What I’m seeing here is voodoo math. Our water is being stolen from us so that oil and gas companies can ship their products overseas while we are left hungry, thirsty, and then footing the bill for oil and gas company profits.

It’s time to conduct a thorough investigation on the economics of screwing the people of Colorado. There is no time to waste.

Drilling will harm Longmont’s businesses

Much has been said about air and water pollution, damage to roads, noise and light pollution, and in general the dangers of having fracking wells close to homes and schools.

However, there are other matters that the City Council must study and investigate that have hardly received any attention. It has been said that fracking is good for economic development. It seems to me that fracking is actually bad for business in Longmont.

Fracking is the kind of business that drives away most other businesses. Weld County is a fine example. The more wells you drill, the more wells you drill. Longmont strongly relies on retail development for significant sales tax. Business at existing stores will be seriously jeopardized, particularly on the main retail arteries of Hover and Colo. Highway 119. These areas are bordered by vacant lots that offer many opportunities to fulfill setback requirements and are likely to see fracking wells in abundance, with all the industrial traffic and pollution that goes with it.

Name one business that thinks their retail sales would improve if you drilled a fracking well in their parking lot, or put a well 350 feet from their main entrance. Businesses always worry about the impact of construction activity, even if it’s only for a few weeks and improves the roads to their business. The impact of fracking would be far greater and it would be continuous and detrimental. Will the redevelopment of Twin Peaks Mall include a fracking well in the surrounding lots? Who would shop there if it did? Will South Main be subjected to the same treatment? It isn’t just the well construction that would be harmful. As Erie’s current experience shows, the air pollution would jeopardize business throughout Longmont. The City Council needs to generate a thorough investigation of how the business of fracking would impact existing businesses and the plans for development that are in the works. That is, we need a study of the business environment as well as the natural environment, and for the same reasons: to thoroughly understand the possible adverse effects.

And speaking of regulations, how exactly will they function? Even supposing that we arrived at some agreement about suitable regulations, how will these regulations be enforced? At the present time there are only 17 inspectors in the entire state! We’d be lucky to see one in Longmont every five years, and then only for a day. At best. A passer-by and someone who was fishing downstream spotted the recent leak at Suncor that contaminated the South Platte in Denver, not inspectors or Suncor personnel. Should Longmont hire an army of fishermen and inquisitive pedestrians to patrol the anticipated 850 wells at full build-out?

The regulations are only as viable as the inspectors who have the responsibility to enforce them. The negligence that we are now seeing concerning the older wells drilled near Longmont residents is probably typical of what we can expect unless a major new plan of inspection is created and fully funded.

Fracking will be a plague in Longmont, not a means of economic growth. Think of how much time and expense have already been put into dealing with this issue. It’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what we are in for if fracking actually gets under way. It will tear this community apart, it will monopolize city staff time and city resources, and it will be an endless drain on Longmont’s budget. The city should investigate these matters fully.

BoCo Obama nomination not unanimous

Perhaps solidly Progressive Democrats were not listening carefully to Barack Obama in 2008.  Perhaps they were just too anxious to oust the worst U.S. president since Herbert Hoover.  Perhaps the millions of dollars in contributions from Wall Street corrupted his vision for America.  Perhaps Barack Obama was “corporatist” all along.  Whatever the reasons, there are those within the Democratic Party who are not pleased with President Barack Obama’s first term record. It is not what they expected when they ardently worked on his behalf and cast their vote in November 2008.

They expected a single-payer healthcare system.  They earnestly lobbied Obama for “Medicare for All,” or at a minimum some sort of “public option.”  But Obama didn’t listen.  In fact, he came to the negotiating table having given away nearly all of his bargaining chips.  And stalwart Democrats were left to ask, “Why?”

Progressives believed that there was no acceptable moral or ethical action but to hold Wall Street responsible for its corruption.  But Obama followed the lead of George Bush and continued to bail them out.  He might have, at a minimum, held individuals responsible for the near catastrophe that they brought to the American – even world – economy by bringing criminal charges against the perpetrators.  But three and a half years later, no such actions have taken place – and they appear not likely to take place.

Obama could have held Vice President Dick Cheney and President George Bush accountable for their lies about Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9-11 attacks and for the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the lies that hoodwinked the American public into accepting an unwarranted war against Iraq that cost lives and treasure.  But he insisted that the country should look forward, not back.  Perhaps Obama, too, was lustful of Middle East oil.

And then there is the environment and climate change.  For every two steps forward, our president follows with another one back while the extraction industries rape and pillage the land and threaten the atmosphere for the coming generations.

There are other areas of consternation, but however it all came about, some in Boulder County took the principled position to send a message to our Party’s president:  That far but no farther.

At Saturday’s Boulder County Democratic Party County Assembly and Convention, there were 288 delegates available for the Colorado Democratic Party Convention in Pueblo on April 14.  Of the 354 county delegates remaining for the afternoon session that nominated President Barack Obama for a second term, 55 of those delegates rose in opposition to the president’s policy choices.  Those 55 delegates amounted to 16% of the votes and “met threshold.”  As a consequence, there will be delegates in Pueblo to carry the Uncommitted message.

It is not known whether other Democrats throughout Colorado rose to send the same message to our president.  I can only hope that they did.  As one who rose, I had no idea how few or how many would do so.  There was no coordinated effort, no campaign.  It was heartwarming to see so many committed Democratic progressives stand in protest.

It has been disheartening to watch the Democratic Party drift steadily to the right, election after election, since 1980.  It is disheartening to observe how the Democratic Party has been repeatedly played by the ever-growing fascistic and totalitarian elements in the Republican Party as they accomplish a goal and then move the goal-post further and further to the right.

While the action today was small, I hope it will be a harbinger of changes to come.  I hope it will be both an indicator and a motivator for other progressive Democrats to say, “We will no longer allow our Party to be high jacked by those who would compromise our values.  We will not let our Party become a watered down version of the Republican Party of Corporate America.  We will no longer watch the future of our families and friends and our environment slip into inevitable decline, if not disaster.”

So let this be the beginning as we “take back” our Democratic Party as well as the direction of our nation.  The journey of a mile begins with one step.

One Last Shot…

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

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

For the life of me I do not understand why 100% of city council would not be in favor of extending the current fracking moratorium an additional 6 months. Instead, at next Tuesday’s meeting we’re looking at yet another 4-3 or possibly 5-2 vote to leave things alone. Come June 17, city staff will begin final negotiations with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). Staff will be hoping to gain a few concessions and in return will issue permits to drill without lengthy or critical review.

Please understand- COGCC is the servant of the Colorado Oil and Gas industry. The word “Conservation” in their title is an insult to anyone truly concerned with the environment and conservation at any level. Read this and ponder: Of 516 oil and gas spills reported in 2011, only 5 fines were levied. The benzine spill at Trail Ridge Middle School was first reported in 2006 and is still a festering stink, all brought to you by TOP, the folks that are working for drilling permits around Union Reservoir.

TOP has had at least 10 “NOI’s” (Notice of Intent) from COGCC which I understand have been essentially ignored. This is not the kind of “Good corporate citizen” I would want in my community. I’m not sure if the benzine problem has – 6 years later- been fully resolved.

So why an additional 6 months moratorium? Because communities from New York to Pennsylvania and into Colorado are fighting like hell to defend and preserve their air, water, vistas and infrastructure- otherwise known as “Quality Of Life”. Almost daily, new legislation, new strategies and new alliances are being formed to fight for these rights, and they are exactly that – human and community rights. New York has banned fracking state-wide. Some cities are challenging big oil and gas in court to establish their right to ban fracking on municipal property. Take a peek at the Colorado Constitution article XX which informs us that the rights of Home Rule municipalities such as Longmont take precedent over the state and its agencies.

Stuff is happening at almost every level of government in all states facing the threat of fracking, and this city council should stand up and start fighting instead of caving in to threats of legal action. I wish this mess had opened up last October when we the citizens had an opportunity to examine the issues and the candidate’s responses. I suspect there would be a different tune played today- and likely from a different band. But wishful thinking will get us nowhere- if it did we’d all be Lottery rich.

Instead, please take a stand. Sign this petition: http://longmontroar.org/email-city-council/ then write directly to your council rep, pass this along to your neighbors and Facebook pals- and if you have the time, turn up at next Tuesday’s council meeting.

Remember the 1976 movie “Network”? “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”. An apt slogan for our city and our times.

Hickenlooper’s oil and gas fling; Coloradans watching

Near Evans, Colorado. Courtesy of David Schemel

Governor Hickenlooper had a few particularly cozy days with the oil and gas industry the other week. First, he appeared in industry-funded ads in newspapers and on radio stations across the state, proclaiming that no water in Colorado had been contaminated by fracking. After being forced to issue a weak mea culpa amid cries of ethics violations over his unabashed hawking of the oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper then claimed that fracking fluids are edible: “You can eat this — the CEO of Halliburton took a big swig of this thing. And not to be outdone, I took a swig of it myself.”

Then, the governor issued an Executive Order to create an industry-dominated task force that will examine how to take local control away from communities across the state that don’t want drill rigs near homes or their children’s schools.

And now, satisfied with a job well done, Governor Hickenlooper jetted to Houston, Texas, to be the keynote speaker of an industry conference touting fracking.

If these antics have you thinking that Governor Hickenlooper no longer represents the people of Colorado and works full-time for the oil and gas industry, you’re not off base: Governor Hickenlooper took over $75,000 from the oil and gas industry for his gubernatorial campaign.

Even so, the grassroots movement that opposes fracking in Colorado is starting to win. Up and down the Front Range — from Colorado Springs to El Paso County, from Erie to Longmont to Boulder County — communities are standing up to pass moratoria on fracking. Why? Because their air quality is 10 times worse than Houston, Texas, as a result of oil and gas drilling. Or because there is a fracking well being planned 350 feet from their children’s elementary school. Or because their home values have plummeted due to proposed fracking in their neighborhood.

Grassroots, community rights organizations across the state are emerging. LongmontROAR, Erie Rising, What the Frack?! Arapahoe County and several others are talking to their neighbors, asking questions and pressing their city council members and county commissioners to say “no” to fracking. These aren’t dyed-in-the-wool activists, they are everyday Coloradans who love their families, their mountain air and their clean water. The mothers, insurance agents, pharmacists and retired people who don’t want a drill rig in their backyard or next to their child’s school are leading a fracking rebellion that is sweeping the state. And with some brass-nosed organizing, we are winning.

So when El Paso County and Boulder County — arguably the most conservative and progressive parts of the state, respectively — both pass moratoria to stop fracking in their communities, Governor Hickenlooper has a problem on his hands. A big problem that won’t make his oil and gas pals very happy.

And I make this prediction: industry-sponsored ads, slick oil and gas talking points, threatening letters from Attorney General John Suthers and the huff and puff of the oil and gas industry will not stop concerned citizens from demanding their rights to protect their children, homes and water from the harmful impacts of fracking and from organizing in a smart, strategic way to win. They will actually tick us off more and encourage us to fight harder.

The recent defeat of Senate Bill 88, which would have stripped communities of their local control to protect their water and citizens from fracking, is Exhibit A of this burgeoning grassroots movement. After generating thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls, dozens of regular citizens crammed into an obscure committee meeting on a Thursday afternoon to defeat this industry-sponsored bill.

Governor John Hickenlooper

So I encourage all Coloradans to get involved with this movement to ban fracking. For a first step, email Governor Hickenloopertoday and ask him to pull his misleading industry ads. He’s done enough for the industry. It’s time he sticks up for Coloradans for a change.

This article was first published in Huffington Post and is republished with the permission of the author.

The ball is in council’s court

Editor’s Note: The following address was given before Longmont City Council on March 14, 2012.

I have a new suggestion tonight relative to how we use the moratorium currently in place to delay applications on hydraulic fracturing within Longmont City Limits.  So far we have been talking about state regulation and the city’s limited authority to challenge it.  The question now becomes, have you heard enough and seen enough in the past few months to be just the slightest bit worried about the impacts of fracking to question its appropriateness in this place, our city?  Your answer to this question determines next steps.

I recently sent an open letter to each of you describing the difference between background research on fracking done by county staff at the direction of the commissioners and research done by city staff at your direction.  The difference was that county staff talked about the impacts of fracking on citizens: health risks, hidden infrastructure costs, property values, etc.—all things that elected officials are responsible for, whereas city staff has so far merely presented a legalistic framework for how to indemnify themselves and you in the face of state preemptions.  Well, it’s a good thing we have a little more time under the moratorium to research our alternatives further.

If—and I give the word emphasis—if you would like to prevent urban fracking if you thought you could, you might re-frame it as a rights issue rather than a regulation issue.  You could re-direct city staff to research the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution, and our status as a home rule city to challenge preemption at its core.  One course of action open to you while we’ve got a moratorium would be for you to revisit our city charter.  You could ask staff what it would take to initiate an amendment to the city charter banning fracking within city limits.  Or you could decide to put this momentous decision to the voters.  Many of us would help you with such a campaign. However, if you’re fine with big oil’s PR campaign, commissions, and now a task force about how safe and green and inevitable directional hydraulic fracturing is, then you probably won’t welcome this suggestion.  But there it is.  For now the ball is in your court.

The curtains are sheers

Who is that man behind the curtain trying to fool?  I suppose it’s the “uninformed voter.”  Or perhaps it’s those who believe television and radio commercials. Or maybe it’s piggybacking on the groundwork that has been so tirelessly laid by Republicans to scare the bejesus out of the population.

We’re going to have gasoline that costs $10 a gallon.  My shower is going to run cold.  I’m going to need a half dozen blankets to stay warm in the winter.  I’m going to cook in my home in the hot summer.  No.  No.  NO NO NO NO NO!

Or maybe he doesn’t even care if we’re fooled.  Maybe it’s a matter of creating a political trail for additional campaign contributions.  Or maybe its groundwork for higher office.  Just think of the power of the presidency, especially if you have a like-minded, bought-and-paid-for Congress who won’t stand in your way.  Mighty stimulating, wouldn’t you say?

Heads-up, Governor Hickenlooper, there is enough of us out here in Colorado and along the Front Range who will make it a mission to see to it that you are not successful – regardless of your motive.  We value our rights to health, safety and welfare; and we intend to protect them.  Make no mistake, our call is clarion.

 ~

How often has your phone rung over the last five or six months?  And who was on the other end of those calls?  Let me guess.  Tisha Schuller (Executive Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association)?  Stan Dempsey (President of the Colorado Petroleum Association).  David Neslin (Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission) or his newly-appointed clone.  Any number of CEO’s from the major oil and gas companies that are drilling and fracking throughout Colorado.

And just why might they have pressed the panic button?  Could it be that several Colorado counties, towns and cities have said, “Hold on now.  Wait just a @#$%^&* minute! We don’t want no damned drillin’ and frackin’ by our homes, our schools, our parks, our reservoirs.  Just who the hell do you guys think you are?”

 ~

Senator Ted Harvey’s bill (SB12-088) which would have removed all local control over oil and gas drilling fell flat on its hideous face in the Local Government Committee of the Senate with the help of a packed room full of Colorado citizens who were furious, disgusted and legitimately fearful.

Your buddies in the House—yes, the REPUBLICAN House and YOU a Democrat – slapped down local-control efforts and reaffirmations and even killed severance disclosure.  All this even though the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is already nothing more than a shill for the oil and gas industry.   That still wasn’t good enough.

You had to make damned sure that a rowdy public – growing in numbers by the hours, days and months –  didn’t get any traction, much less results.

 ~

Frackenlooper digs in against communities

So along comes your Executive Order, Governor John Hickenlooper, an order to create a “Task Force on Cooperative Strategies Regarding State and Local Regulation of Oil and Gas Development.”

You remind us in your order of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Act and its authority, but never mention that the COGCC’s main mission is to facilitate oil and gas development in the state with barely an afterthought to the subservient portion of public health, safety and welfare.

You speak to case law as if we are to accept that matters of rulemaking are essentially settled law.  But you give away a secret.  The industry doesn’t want to go to court and litigate, on a case-by-case basis, what is or is not a local regulation that is in “operational conflict” with state regulations.  As you state, “Parties hesitate to pursue resolution in court because proving operational conflict is an adversarial, cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive process.” (Readers, take note where the burden lies in the above quote.)

So you want everyone to play nice on the playground and work “collaboratively.”  We know how to read that, Governor Hickenlooper.  You’re going to have the task force pretend to listen, pretend to accommodate the public, and to delay, delay, delay while the COGCC diddles around over process and the development of the role of the Local Government Designee until the operators get as many drills in the ground as they can and then the entire issue becomes MOOT.

 ~

And then there’s the matter of the make-up of your Task Force.  Kangaroo Court is the phrase that comes to mind.  It goes well beyond the balance, or rather imbalance, of the categories themselves to the biases of the actual appointees.  And I see a stacked jury.  I see two, maybe three, at the most four, of the chosen ones who actually will represent the people, local communities and the environment.  And here might be a good place to insert the comment made by Department of Natural Resources Director Mike King, the task force chair, that there is not enough time to work through everything and come to a consensus.  Translation:  The answers will be by majority and the majority is predetermined.

I’ll give you this much, Governor Hickenlooper, the scope of the task force as outlined in your Executive Order is admirable.  You’ve got Mission.  You’ve got Substance.  You’ve got Process.

Some pretty important stuff is delineated under the substance portion of the order.  Things like setbacks and other restrictions on location of oil and gas wells and production facilities.  Things like floodplain restrictions, noise abatement and dust management.  Things like protection of wildlife and livestock.  And air quality.  And then there are operational methods, perhaps like closed-loop systems.  And traffic.  And financial assurances.  And there’s also inspection and fees.

Oh, but there’s a hitch in this git-along.  We’ve already got jury instructions and they’ve pretty much skipped right over that substancy thing.  So, no, Governor Hickenlooper, it’s not working for us.

Mr. King, as with any good bureaucrat, is most interested in process not substance.  He’ll leave that stuff to the big boys over at COGCC.  He’s already predetermined that there will be two subcommittees:  one on “development of a process for local concerns to be brought to the COGCC through the Local Government Designee,” and the second on protocols and training for local inspectors (though not enforcers).

And then there’s King’s Part 3.  He admits that the reason the matter of oil and gas drilling has such visibility throughout Colorado is the issue of jurisdiction.  He admits that it is likely to be the most controversial.  Oh, but wait.  He says that “maybe it’s the least important.”  How can that be, you might ask.  Well you see, he’s already figured out that the first two will provide the itty bitty local governments an opportunity to request (not necessarily be granted) a VARIANCE from state standards.   These variance requests will be neatly, pat-on-the-head neatly, “considered” by the COGCC.

And with that, and only an hour into the meeting,  Mr. King set up weekly meetings for Thursdays, between 9 AM and Noon and postponed subcommittee selection until the next meeting on March 15.  Go figure.  All this foot-draggin’ and the the task force is supposed to report back to Governor Hickenlooper in a mere six weeks.

And then there’s this.  There may a glitch on audio streaming of the meetings.  If the full task force has to meet in a different room, it probably will have audio streaming.  But the same cannot be said of the subcommittee meetings.  Well, golly gee, isn’t that special.  Whatever guts and glory there might be in these proceedings may actually be conducted behind closed doors at least for those who are unable to trek all the way into Denver to sit and listen.

Governor Hickenlooper, you’re off to a very poor start.  But then you didn’t mean for this effort to be genuine in the first place.  Now did you?

Back door deal compromised clean water

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

Loopholes are supposed to be for defense, not offense.

If fracking is as safe as the oil and gas industry would like us to believe, then why in 2005 did Congress — at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of gas driller Halliburton — exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act? If fracking doesn’t affect drinking water, why would an exemption be needed? Don’t believe me? Just google “Halliburton loophole.”

When Colorado Oil & Gas Association and Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission officials say we shouldn’t complain about the dangers of fracking if we use natural gas, it’s like saying, we shouldn’t worry about keeping our water supply safe if we drink water. Huh?

So, what can you do about it? Join LongmontROAR.org and take back your rights to clean water and clean air.

Open Letter to Longmont City Council

I attended the hearing for Boulder County Commissioners last Thursday, March 1, about terminating, renewing, or amending their Moratorium on accepting applications for oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder County.  I don’t know if the commissioners had directed their staff differently from how Longmont City Council directed its staff in doing background research on this issue, but I can report that the two reports had a decidedly different focus.  Whereas Longmont city staff framed their report along legalistic lines, the Boulder County staff looked at the impacts of oil and gas development on citizens, landscape, and finances.

In addition to hearing testimony from the public, the Boulder County Commissioners heard detailed reports from county staff representing the Land Use Department, the Parks and Open Space Department, the Transportation Department, and—most importantly—from Public Health officials.  Staff from each of these departments presented research and analysis on everything from the inadequacy of county roads to hold up against heavy truck traffic to scientific studies detailing water pollution in Wyoming and air quality in Erie, Colorado, where oil and gas development had compromised public health.  I don’t recall that Longmont even considered requesting input about public health from city staff.  In Longmont that aspect of planning has had to come from the public.

Boulder County staff also looked at some of the dilemmas faced by administrators in the face of pressure from state regulators.  For instance, county roads might have to be rebuilt at considerable expense before they could be safely used by large semi-trucks servicing the industry and before revenues could be collected.  Furthermore, anticipated income from oil and gas development might not even cover the county potential expenses associated with mitigation and litigation.  Boulder County staff also pointed out that the area’s reputation for healthy living, hiking and biking, would be adversely affected by the higher ground ozone levels that accompany large scale oil and gas development.  Again, I don’t believe quality of life was a topic of consideration for Longmont staff input to Council.

Appeals to the “inalienable rights” guaranteed under the U.S. and Colorado constitutions, which county and city officials are pledged to protect, were mentioned by many of the citizens offering public testimony.  Among these are the right to clean air, water, health, and safety—all of these under threat by an overbearing industry in a hurry to preempt local authority.  Legal appeals on these grounds may carry more weight than adjustments to existing regulations in stemming the tide.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that there are many more avenues of research related to limiting or preventing fracking in the city of Longmont that city staff has so far explored.  Please direct them to study impacts and options for resistance as we move forward with our extended Moratorium.

 

HB 1164: Republicans kill disclosure bill

Photo by Grig courtesy of sxc.huIt should have been a “no-brainer.” But in a Republican controlled Colorado House, it’s a no-brainer by a different definition.

Believing that oil and gas drilling was about “grasshoppers” out in the middle of fields, the public has been blinded-sided by the sudden and horrendous prospect that heavy industrial drilling activities may come to their backyard — in some cases, literally.

The vast majority of urban and suburban homeowners have never thought to investigate whether or not there were minerals under their homes, much less severed mineral rights. Severed rights refers to mineral rights owned by an entity other than the surface owner. If you own a home you are the surface rights owner, but you may not be the mineral rights owner. That’s right; someone else may have a claim to what you thought was your property and your property alone.

Colorado Representative Marsha Looper introduced HB12-1164. Looper is a Republican, but that didn’t help her one iota in the Judiciary Committee who heard her bill. Looper represents House District 19, El Paso County.

El Paso County was one of the counties that tried to exercise some control over oil and gas drilling in its jurisdiction, only to receive a letter from Jake Matters in Attorney General John Suthers’ (R) office threatening litigation if they didn’t back off. And they did.

Looper’s bill would simply have required disclosure of severed mineral rights.

According to Colorado Capitol Watch:

Beginning in 2013, listing contracts, contracts of sale, and sellers’ property disclosures for real estate must include a notice regarding whether the mineral estate has been severed from the surface estate and a surface owner’s right of first refusal to purchase the mineral estate when the taxes on the mineral estate have not been paid. The seller must provide to the buyer a copy of each instrument that severed the mineral estate, the name and contact information of the owner of the mineral estate, and the name and contact information of any known current lessees of the mineral estate, if that information is available. The seller must also indicate whether mineral exploration or development on the real property is or will be using water that would otherwise be available to the buyer as an incident of ownership of the real property.

The vote to defeat the bill (postpone indefinitely) wasn’t entirely along party lines; one Democrat, Daniel Kagan, joined his Republican counterparts to kill common sense legislation. In any event, it made no difference.

Rick Blotter, an Elbert County resident, writes of his experience testifying on behalf of HB 1164 and of his severed rights situation. His recount of the lack of attention paid by some Republican committee members mirrors that of what Longmont citizens observed when they testified in support of HD 12 Representative Matt Jones’ bill on local government authority in the area of oil and gas drilling (HB12-1277).

It seems these representatives walk in the door carrying the interest of the oil and gas industry in their heads and in their campaign accounts. The evidence abounds in this the Second Regular Session of the Sixty-eighth General Assembly of the State of Colorado.

FRL is Proud to Endorse Garry Sanfacon for County Commissioner

Garry Sanfacon 2011

Garry Sanfacon, District 1 Boulder County Commissioner candidate

On his website, Garry Sanfacon states, “We owe our special quality of life to Boulder County’s rich history of visionary thinkers.”   Sanfacon is the visionary thinker for our time and our place.  He is a champion of our right to local self-determination and for charting a course to a sustainable future.

Sanfacon is committed to strengthening the Boulder County human services safety net.  One in four Boulder County children lives in poverty; a high percentage of these children live in Longmont.  He will address improvements in our safety net by focusing on the root causes of poverty – insufficient affordable housing, the need for jobs that provide a solid economic foundation, and for improved mental health assistance to help those in our community whose ability for self-sufficiency is impaired.

Sanfacon does not, and will not, accept fracking as inevitable in Boulder County.  He believes that clean air and water and our health are rights not to be regulated or negotiated away by governments and their agents.  He will take a firm stand against GMO crops on Boulder County Open Space.

Although Garry Sanfacon lives in Nederland, he is the strongest advocate for Longmont amongst the candidates in the Boulder County Board of Commissioners District 1 race.  Longmont is in District 2 where current Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner is our choice for that seat.

Sanfacon believes that there are additional properties the County should acquire in order to preserve important natural habitat and agricultural lands.  He will work with user groups to find policies and strategies to balance the use of open space with strong protections for plant and wildlife habitats, riparian corridors, cultural resources and scenic vistas.

Sanfacon’s experience is both broad and deep.  He is currently the Boulder County Manager for Fourmile Canyon Fire Recovery and has worked in the county’s Long Range Planning Division.  He has served on the Boulder County Planning Commission as Vice Chair and where he spearheaded the Sustainability Element of the Comprehensive Plan Update and actively supported one of the strongest green building codes in the country.

Sanfacon has owned his own small business and has a wide range of volunteer service in non-profit areas related to youth, education, and health.  Sanfacon also served as lead organizer for the Nederland Downtown Development Authority Formation Committee.

Garry Sanfacon is the leader for the future that Boulder County needs.