Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones clearly won the debate against Governor Hickenlooper about “Who Should Control Hydraulic Fracturing in Colorado” that took place at CU Denver Law School. The debate was held on April 1st at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law. The complete debate may be heard here.
Commissioner Jones was more persuasive in advocating for local governments to have local control to ban fracking in residential neighborhoods and other places. She also had better command of the facts for why the regulatory environment needs to level the playing field between fossil fuel and renewable energy development.
“Oil and gas fracking poses many risks to our health, to our air and water, to our property values, to our quality of life. Fracking for oil and gas is an intensive process with a heavy footprint. It is not something you want near your home, your kid’s school, your parent’s nursing home or your drinking water,” Jones said.
“Why are we having an argument about drilling in cities near schools and homes? That is a ludicrous place to drill. Allowing local governments to regulate and ban if they want, works better for a renewable energy future.”
Commissioner Jones presented compelling arguments in favor of local control. Take note on the points that follow as these and others can arm Boulder County with legally defensible reasons to extend the moratorium in Boulder County after it expires in June 2013. If we don’t extend the moratorium, the City of Boulder’s land in unincorporated Boulder County will be fracked.
She also referenced a 1994 Colorado Supreme Court ruling where a uranium mining mill in Weld County was not allowed to extract uranium out of the ground because of the radiation that could be emitted and cause harm to the public. The Colorado Department of Health won the suit and the company did not sue for lost resources.
During the debate, House Bill (HB) 1269 Conflict of Interest with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) was raised.
The COGCC was developed in 1951 at a time when there was a perceived need to foster oil and gas development. That need no longer exists as the oil and gas industry is now the wealthiest industry in the world and production continues to rapidly expand, despite public outcry against the permanent removal of what will be trillions of gallons of drinking water from the hydrologic cycle if allowed to continue in a draught state, and 9 percent or higher methane leaks that directly contribute to climate change.
Currently the COGCC is mandated to both promote and to regulate oil and gas, a clear conflict of interest. HB 1269 would remove the promotion mandate and allow the COGCC to focus on public and environmental health and safety exclusively. This would be a much wiser use of our taxpayer dollars and would begin to give renewables a fighting chance to compete.
As introduced, the bill also redefines “waste” to allow the commission to not extract hydrocarbons under the Earth when methods and locations would jeopardize human and environmental health; and prevents members of the commission from simultaneous working for and having a financial interest in the industry they are charged with regulating.
HB 13-1269 passed the full House of Representatives, but unfortunately not without amendments, both of which watered down a superior bill.
HB 1269 now moves to the Senate.
Neshama Abraham is the founder of Frack Free Boulder.
Fort Collins, CO – Today, three citizens groups – Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, and Frack Free Fort Collins – asked the City of Fort Collins to keep its drilling and fracking moratorium in place to protect citizens from cancer-causing fracking chemicals. The moratorium was set to expire on July 31, 2013; the vote to terminate the moratorium is set for Tuesday night, April 16th.
On Tuesday, March 5, 2013, the Fort Collins City Council passed a ban on fracking that grandfathered in the current driller, Prospect Energy LLC, allowing that driller to drill and frack on its eight currently occupied well sites in northern Fort Collins. However, three weeks later on March 19, on a flipped and contested vote, the Council passed an “Agreement” with that driller that included opening up 1,280 acres (2 square miles) of new land inside the City of Fort Collins for drilling and fracking surrounding the Budweiser brewery. The “Agreement” with the driller effectively undermines the ban and was moved forward to the Council with no public meetings or Council work session beforehand.
As a result, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, and Frack Free Fort Collins are requesting that the moratorium stay in place and that a new Agreement with the driller be negotiated.
Although the Council originally voted 5-2 for the ban on fracking, the vote flip-flopped three weeks later when Mayor Weitkunat and Councilmember Horak joined in an anti-environmental majority and voted to open up 2 square miles for new drilling and fracking. Ironically, in the weeks leading up to the ban, Horak publicly positioned himself in the media as an anti-fracking supporter garnering a large front-page story in the Fort Collins Coloradoan and other stories in the regional media. Horak even publicly stated that he proposed the ban and helped write the language for the ordinance. Horak was quoted in the Fort Collins Coloradoan as saying:
“This will ban fracking in 99.9 percent of Fort Collins and avoid a very costly lawsuit with the current operator,” Horak said.
But three weeks later, Horak flip-flopped and voted to open up 2 square miles of land in Fort Collins for fracking. Horak’s role in the fracking ban was clouded in controversy from the beginning. A month before the vote, Horak attended a “closed-door meeting” with the Matt Lepore, State Director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. About the closed-door meeting, Lepore was quoted in the Fort Collins Coloradoan as saying:
“We didn’t want to have an open meeting,” Lepore said. “We wanted to reach out to those (on council) who we understood were maybe a little bit more undecided on their positions.”
“The moratorium needs to stay in place,” said Shane Davis of the Sierra Club. “The citizens in northern Fort Collins, especially those living around the Budweiser brewery now and in the future, are at risk of contamination from cancer-causing fracking chemicals.”
“Horak voted to open up 2 square miles of Fort Collins for fracking,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action, a national group that advocates against fracking in cities across the Front Range of Colorado. “When the public and media were watching, Horak positioned himself against fracking, but three weeks later in a quieter vote, he flip-flopped.”
“Horak deceived the public,” said Rico Moore of Frack Free Fort Collins. “His flip-flop votes do not represent the values of Fort Collins or of his very liberal and environmentally minded district.”
A map of the “Undeveloped Acreage” – 2 square miles surrounding Budweiser brewery that is now open for drilling and fracking – is here: http://water.clean.home.comcast.net/~water.clean/FoCo-frack-field-UDA.jpg.
Gary Wockner, PhD
Colorado Program Director
Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund
Editor’s Note: The following testimony was given to the Colorado Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy Committee on March 21, 2013, by Gordon Pedrow. SB 13-202 concerns additional inspection of oil and gas facilities. SB 13-202 advanced out of committee to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Chairman and Committee members.
Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow
Thank you for this opportunity to be heard regarding this important matter. I am Gordon Pedrow, a twenty year resident of the city of Longmont. Until I retired on April 1, 2012, I served the community for 19 years as city manager. I am here to share with you why many Longmont families support SB 13-202. I am certain you are aware that the state government in Colorado is experiencing a massive hemorrhage of trust when it comes to adequately regulating oil and gas operations.
The citizens of Longmont have been struggling for many months to protect their health and quality of life from the negative impacts of heavy industrial activities associated with oil and gas operations. This battle began in 2011 when the TOP Operating Company began the process of permitting a new multi-well drilling site within the city’s corporate limits.
Using the COGCC’s online data base, citizens examined the inspection and enforcement record of the two existing wells within the Longmont city limits that were closest to residential areas. The results were appalling.
In 2011, Both Rider #1 and the Stamp wells had numerous unresolved violations, including benzene contaminated ground water 100’s of times above state standards. I am going to provide the committee some specific information about Rider #1 and its operator, TOP OPERATING COMPANY. I believe this information will clearly demonstrate why residents were appalled in 2011 and remain so today. It will clearly demonstrate why passage of SB 13-202 is a necessary first step in appropriately regulating this industry and restoring public trust.
RIDER WELL #1: 350 feet from homes in the Quail Crossing subdivision, 350 feet from Trail Ridge Middle School
July 17, 2006, Engle Homes to COGCC (TOP’s contaminated well on Engle’s property)
July 21, 2006, COGCC to TOP Operating: Provide site Investigation and Site Remediation Plan
December 7, 2006 Notice of Alleged Violation (200100371) Numerous violations
4. (nothing done for a year) TOP and COGCC staff failed to accomplish anything. Both ignored the owner, Engle Homes and residents rights to have safe operation
December, 2007 Engle Homes again found violations not corrected
September 2008 COGCC fined TOP $10,000 for failure to remediate
March 30, 2009 Still Benzene problem
2011Public scrutiny of both TOP and COGCC performance begins by angry Longmont residents. (You would think a state agency might try harder when citizens are engaged) However, the concerns of the citizens were still ignored by TOP and COGCC. Both the regulators and the regulated act as though they are above the citizens!!!!
January 24, 2012 Notice of Alleged Violation (1771570) Rules 210d, 301, 308A, 308B,309,603j,604d,906a
February 22, 2013, COGCC issued a Notice of Order finding Violation and Hearing set for March 25/26 COGCC staff is seeking an order finding violation of all the above rules and imposition of a fine not to exceed $85,000.
10. March 21, 2013. (today) TOP still in violation & Benzene levels still out of compliance.
SETTLEMENT: The most appalling COGCC document regarding this whole Rider Well #1 fiasco has now come to light. For over 6 years, TOP OPERATING COMPANY has flagrantly disregarded COGCC orders and the COGCC has ignored its mandate to protect public health and the environment. Now the regulators and regulated have gotten together for a sweetheart settlement deal as outlined in this Administrative Order by Consent now scheduled for March 25/26.
Despite flagrant, serial, multi-year violations of state rules and regulations, the COGCC staff has now agreed to three unbelievable provisions.
Read these sections from the consent order. 4,6,8
Unfortunately, this ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER BY CONSENT does not deal with the benzene in the ground water within 350 feet of Trail Ridge Middle School. That matter is still being mitigated !!
I encourage you to pass SB 13-202. Furthermore, before this legislative session adjourns, I encourage you to carefully review the entire regulatory operations of the COGCC. Because more inspectors inserted into a flawed agency culture will most likely be wasted resources.
Kaye Fissinger, 303-678-7267 (Our Longmont)
Michael Bellmont, 303-678-9470 (Our Longmont)
Bruce Baizel, 970-903-5326 (Earthworks)
Shane Davis, 303-717-4462 (Sierra Club)
Sam Schabacker, 720-295-1036 (Food & Water Watch)
Coalition Acts to Protect City of Longmont’s Ban on Dangerous Hydraulic Fracturing
LONGMONT, CO – Today, a coalition of community, public health, consumer and environmental organizations filed a motion in the Weld County District Court to intervene in the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Longmont’s ban of the oil and gas practice known as “fracking” and related surface activities, such as storage of toxic post-fracking fluids. This ban was instituted by the citizens of Longmont in an amendment to the City Charter, Article XVI , the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act.
The people of Longmont by an overwhelming vote of 60% (more than 25,000 people), voted in the November, 2012 election to amend the City Charter to ban fracking, affirming their intention “to protect themselves from the harms associated with hydraulic fracturing, including threats to public health and safety, property damage and diminished property values, poor air quality, destruction of landscape, and pollution of drinking and surface water.” This historic ballot measure was spearheaded by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont).
“We are taking this action because we hope to affirm the rights of citizens and communities to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for themselves and future generations,” said Michael Harris, Director of the University Of Denver Sturm College Of Law Environmental Law Clinic. He continued, “We are honored to represent Our Longmont, Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club and Earthworks.”
The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals certain inalienable rights. These rights are expressed in the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, which requires that oil and gas resources be extracted in a “manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare.”
“The extraction process of hydraulic fracturing has not been proven to be safe,” said Kaye Fissinger, managing member of Our Longmont. “Further, the State of Colorado has created a situation where the commission that oversees the oil and gas industry has an inherent conflict of interest. It cannot simultaneously foster the development of oil and gas and protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”
“The dangerous, toxic practice of fracking has been a matter of grave importance to the people of Longmont since October of 2011,” said Michael Bellmont, spokesperson for Our Longmont. “To assure the protection of those in our community, Our Longmont undertook a petition drive to place the charter amendment on the ballot. In November, our citizens exercised their rights to self-determination, also guaranteed under Article XX of Colorado’s Constitution. In light of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s attack, it is necessary that citizens participate in the judicial process to guarantee our constitutionally protected rights. It is for this reason Our Longmont and others have moved to intervene,” Bellmont said.
Food & Water Watch provided invaluable assistance to Our Longmont throughout the effort to qualify and pass Longmont’s charter amendment. Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Regional Director for the organization, said, “We were delighted to be able to help the citizens of Longmont prohibit the dangerous industrial practice of hydraulic fracking and are pleased to be able to continue to support them. We have every confidence that the courts will reject the claims of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and preserve Longmont’s constitutional and home rule rights.”
According to Eric E. Huber, Senor Managing Attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, “This lawsuit could have a precedential effect throughout Colorado as other communities work to pass similar prohibitions on fracking and the disposal of its waste products within their boundaries.”
Bruce Baizel, Director of Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said, “The citizens of Longmont took this action because they don’t trust state regulators to protect them. Rather than sue communities acting to protect their public health, industry and the state should be addressing legitimate community concerns by putting the public’s health before industry profits.”
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, is a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont. We believe that Longmont has a constitutional right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. Our goal is to preserve the quality of life in our exceptional city. By so doing we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for ourselves and future generations. www.ourlongmont.org,
Food & Water Watch is a consumer organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water. It’s essential that these shared resources be regulated in the public interest rather than for private gain. www.foodandwaterwater.org,
Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide, including 160 members in the City of Longmont. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation. http://rmc.sierraclub.org
For 25 years, Earthworks has been dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions. http://www.earthworksaction.org.
Editor’s Note: Phillip Doe leaves no stone unturned in describing the dangers and destruction that arise from every aspect of horizontal fracking. It’s a must-read for anyone who truly wants to understand the devastation that the oil and gas industry is wreaking on the people and resources of Colorado with the collaboration and complicity of the state’s government.
I went to a meeting earlier this winter in the Colorado Governor’s Office. I’m not a regular. The Governor, John Hickenlooper, Hick to his friends, had called the meeting with Boulder County Commissioners to discuss the county’s draft regulations governing the recovery of oil and gas found in the county’s deep underground shale formations. The fact is that most of the state is underlain by these ancient and organically rich seabeds. All are ripe for exploitation through the use of the industry’s new mining technique called horizontal fracking.
Drilling activities along both sides of the Colorado River, Interstate 70, and the Amtrak rail lines in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
In his haste, the governor had apparently forgotten that such meetings require the public be notified at least 24 hours in advance so they can listen in on the public’s business. This law has been on the books since 1972 and is widely used, but imperfectly understood, apparently, by the governor and his lieutenants. Hick was a long-term mayor of Denver before becoming governor. Its use is commonplace in city government.
To an outsider this meeting might sound like a tempest in a teapot, but as in most states with oil and gas reservoirs made recoverable through fracking, the state government of Colorado has said that it, and it alone, has the authority to regulate the oil and gas industry . The counties and cities may write their own regulations, but they must be in “harmony” with the state’s, and can not add conditions or requirements that would harm the industry’s bottom line. They are “preempted” from doing so.
One of several 400-bed housing complexes (man-camps) for gas field workers. This one is located on the top of Colorado’s Roan Plateau. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
With the Boulder contingent, Hick started out by telling them that as a businessman and brewpub owner he’d never been sued; that he’d always been able to broker a deal, that he hoped a deal could be made with Boulder County government.
He went on to say, obligatorily, that he thought public health had to be protected, but added quickly that the oil industry’s property rights must also be protected. To this observer most of what he asserted concerning protecting the public’s rights and investigating their concerns is contradicted by the facts.
For example, he said nothing about the fact that he had already sued the city of Longmont , a city of 86,000 within Boulder County, over its regulations. Longmont’s regulations, labored over by a cautious oil lawyer, but eminently decent man, did not ban fracking within the city, as many wanted, but did make residential neighborhoods, schoolyards and the city’s open spaces off-limits to drilling by the industry.
Hick had sued over these regulations for not being in harmony with the state’s, whose only spacing restriction is that wells must be at least 350 feet from any residence or building in urban areas. Rural restrictions are even more favorable to the industry. There, only a 150 feet setback is required. Some wag has observed that under state planning guidelines a rural folk is worth less than half a city folk, less even than the three-fifths slaves were worth in the “original” Constitution.
Fracturing operation on top of Colorado’s Roan Plateau. The green tanks (nearly 100 in this photo) hold the fluids for fracturing and then the fluids that return to the surface after fracturing. Note the tunnel in the upper left, built as a shortcut to a highway. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
In the old days, an oil rig stood 150 feet high, thus the rural setback of 150 feet might protect a house or barn if the rig were to topple. New rigs used in horizontal fracking are sometimes taller according to one retired oil field worker and bitter critic of the industry. The critics are legion. Still, many large, rent seeking ranchers and farmers support the looser rural restrictions.
In reaction to the state’s lawsuit against Longmont, citizens launched an initiative to ban fracking altogether within the city. Operating on a shoestring, and laboring against $500,000 the industry dumped on the city to defeat the initiative, the ban vote carried by a remarkable 60/40 margin, demonstrating, perhaps, the power of a well-organized citizenry over big money, even big-oil money.
On the day of this meeting, Hick had not sued over the ban, though he had threatened to do so. In the end, the industry did it for him, with his blessings and encouragement. Indeed as guest speaker at an oil and gas convention in Denver subsequent to the Boulder commissioners’ meeting, he told the assembled oil men that he would bring the full might of the state to bear on their behalf if the industry were to sue over Longmont’s ban. Some find this bully pulpit cheerleading incredible.
Still, on this day he was most keenly interested in seeing that Boulder County did not also author another ban on fracking or enact something more stringent than the state’s rules. He was not openly threatening, but everyone knew the Longmont background.
One of the county commissioners, Will Toor, told the governor that in his judgment a countywide ballot initiative banning fracking, if there were to be one, would pass on a 60/40 basis, just like in Longmont.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), a smart politician, added that he thought the state rules should be a floor, not a ceiling, that the local governments should have that prerogative under their charters. Hick, somewhat surprised if not openly flustered, shot back that they weren’t ready to talk about that. Polis said that he thought that was what they were there to talk about. Clearly, deal making was not really on the agenda.
Later, in the hallway outside the governor’s office, Polis told one of the mothers who had attended the meeting that if an oil well were to be drilled in his backyard he would move. Many would agree, but not many are multi-millionaires like Polis. The mass of humanity, if Hick has his way, will have to endure the toxic fume garden the industry is building in neighborhoods across the state.
Two drill rigs working on a pad where ten wells have been previously completed. In the bottom right you can see ten recovery water tanks. Note also the reserve pit by the drill rigs. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
So what about the contentions of citizens that fracking is unsafe, despite the industry’s bemused denials to the contrary?
The 2005 Energy Act is a good starting point for this discussion. Written only two years after the first horizontally fracked well was successfully drilled, the act was widely reported to have been written by the industry in the comfort of Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, himself the former head of Halliburton Industries, one of the major providers of fracking fluids, an immensely profitable product according to industry observers.
The Act of 2005 is the culmination of a 40-year oil industry lobbying effort in Washington to exempt the industry from practically every foundational health and environmental law on the books. Not even the casino players on Wall Street have been as successful in creating a regulatory world to their liking. The bilking and mayhem are easy thereafter, as we’ve all seen.
Only one reasonable conclusion can be drawn from this sustained lobbying effort, the practice of horizontal fracking is most assuredly not safe. Otherwise there would have been no need to rip out more than 40 years of public health and environmental law from the pages of our civic history.
Drill rig working near Divide Creek in Western Colorado where methane bubbled into the creek during previous drilling activity. You can see two smaller reserve pits and a larger evaporation pit. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Notes on the air we breathe, and other acts of faith
Air and water quality issues are so ubiquitous in areas invaded by the industry that summarizing is difficult. Most astonishing, however, is that neither Colorado nor the U.S. has undertaken a systematic examination of the thousands of citizen complaints. With regards to air quality, these complaints run from skin rashes, to open sores, to nose bleeds, to stomach cramps, to loss of smell, to swollen and itching eyes, to despondency and depression, even death.
In this federal vacuum, several smaller-scale studies have been undertaken in Colorado.
The first in time was a health assessment commissioned by Garfield County, a west slope county home to roughly 10,000 oil and gas wells. The Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) conducted it at the invitation of the county government. That same government curtailed it when the results were thought to be too alarming. Among the findings were high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, at and near well sites. In fact, the assessment states that even at distances of 2,700 feet from a well site, toxic chemicals were still detectable at levels that would increase the chance of developing cancer by 66 percent based on published health standards.
I asked the authors of this study if the governor or any members of his staff had contacted them to discuss the assessment. Remarkably, they said, no. Strange indeed, since this study figured prominently in Governor Cuomo’s announcement that New York State was placing an indefinite moratorium on fracking until the health and environmental impacts of fracking were better understood.
Only weeks old, a first-of-its-kind study from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange , TEDX, measured more than 44 hazardous pollutants at operating well sites, again in Garfield County. Many of them are known to impact the brain and nervous systems; some are even known to harm the hormonal system of unborn babies. The study found prevalence of the pollutants up to .7 of a mile from the well site.
The lead scientist and head of TEDX, Dr. Theo Colborn , an environmental health analyst, who happens to live in Paonia, Colorado, at the doorstep of drilling in Garfield County to the north, has called for the U.S. to make further studies of these chemicals and their impact on all life, right down to the molecular level. Dr. Colborn even sent a letter to the President Obama and First Lady. Here is a video of Dr. Colborn reading the letter she sent to the President Obama and First Lady:
Another peer reviewed 2012 study out of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine supports Dr Colborn’s results. That study headed by a professor of molecular medicine, Robert Oswald, and veterinarian Michelle Bamberger found significant health links between fracking and livestock exposed to fracking’s air and water byproducts. These animals suffered neurological, reproductive and gastrointestinal disabilities.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has one of its high tech air monitoring towers located outside the small town of Erie, Colorado. There are five nationally. It recently released the results of long-term monitoring of air quality at Erie. The results are alarming and consistent with the TEDX and CSPH studies.
Perhaps the study’s most damning finding was that Erie, a bucolic town of roughly 18,000 folk, has air quality spikes, particularly methane and butane spikes, that exceed by 4 to 9 times those of Pasadena, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles, and Dallas, Texas, two cities with some of the worst, health threatening air in America.
NOAA reported that fully 4 percent of the methane gas produced in the Wattenberg field is leaked to the atmosphere and therefore never brought to market. The same NOAA team last year found that 9 percent of the produced gas was being leaked to the atmosphere in a large gas field on mostly Indian land in north central Utah. These percentages do not include gas that is intentionally burned off, called flared by the industry, as an operational prerogative open to the industry without regulatory penalty.
Natural gas processing plant in Ignacio, Colorado. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
That Erie should share this dubious unhealthy air honor with the likes of Pasadena and Ft Worth can only be explained by the fact that it sits at the western extreme of one of the largest gas fields in the U.S., the Wattenberg Field.
The industry has tried to finesse the NOAA findings by claiming the high readings are from auto emissions along the interstate west of the city. NOAA has correctly pointed out that methane and propane are not auto exhaust products. They are clearly indicators of the massive volume of volatile organic gases escaping from oil wells and pipelines in the Wattenberg.
Adding to the science, a recent article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology , concluded from examining the NOAA data that oil and gas activity in the Wattenberg field “contributed about 55 percent of the volatile organic compounds linked to unhealthy ground-level ozone.”
This field, home to about 20,000 wells, is in Weld County, which Erie straddles. It and Garfield County are the epicenters of drilling in Colorado, but the industry sensing Croesus-like riches is branching ever southward and westward from Weld toward Colorado’s population centers. Like Croesus, the industry may have crossed a river of growing discontent that will eventually prove its undoing.
Glycol dehydrators for five wells. These separation units remove water and noxious gases, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (BTEX) from the natural gas. The tall pipe is for flaring the BTEX and other unwanted gaseous material. The water is then stored in tanks until it can be trucked to evaporation pits. Some dehydrators are connected to pipelines that carry the water directly to waste processing pits. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Too little noted in the Colorado fracking saga is what the NOAA study underscores. Methane, a gas with 105 times the heat capturing capacity of CO2 over a 20-year time horizon, is escaping at alarming rates from oil and gas drilling sites and pipelines.
To even consider methane recovered through fracking as an effective transition fuel in the fight against climate change , natural gas releases would have to be at less than two percent of volume. Presently, scientists at Cornell University estimated releases of methane to be at 4 to 7 percent of product recovered, making it worse, over the critical short term, than coal for climate change. This is of course without regard to the huge quantity of gas that is flared to the atmosphere as CO2.
An effective zero emission standard for health threatening and climate warming volatile gasses such as methane is technologically reachable, but don’t expect it to be part of Colorado oil and gas rule making. Here, the “little guys” in the drilling business are sometimes given exemptions from even the most rudimentary health considerations such as requiring enclosed holding tanks for fracking return water, deceptively called, green completion. The state’s position is that these “small guys” are not technologically equipped to install these tanks, which, in reality, are only a halfway measure, but better than open pits. Such a requirement would put them out of business says the state’s regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). This agency has a dual charge. It is also charged with protecting public health.
One activist mother from Erie told me that the COGCC’s environmental exceptions for technologically challenged drillers is like arguing that a person who flunks out of medical school should still be allowed to perform brain surgery because that was his expectation and his monetary well being depends on it. Clearly, public health does not lead the list of governmental concerns at fracking discussions.
Compression station with separation unit. The separation units remove water from the gas as it comes into the facility and before it goes into the pipeline. For safety purposes, the gas must enter the pipeline at a pressure greater than that of the existing natural gas supply line. Huge diesel-driven fans cool the generators that create the pressure. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
So, despite all the compelling evidence to the contrary, we are still assured by the industry that all is well. Our air is safe. Hick, like them, is confident in the wisdom of not knowing, though just recently he did make a bow toward sanity by asking for a little over one million dollars for air quality studies. Dr. Colborn, operating on a very tight budget, spent more than $400,000 monitoring the air emissions from just one well in Garfield County.
The governor, however, is not alone in singing the virtues of ignorance. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inexplicably eliminated air quality impacts from its long awaited environmental study of fracking. A draft of this study will be released in 2014, with a final promised in 2015 after it has been peer reviewed by industry soldiers, sans air.
Insider review by the industry of its own operations has led my friend Wes Wilson, a retired EPA environmental engineer, to simply shake his head in disbelief. Undue industry influence is what caused him to blow the whistle on EPA’s Bush era white wash of fracking’s potential impact on public health back in 2004.
“We didn’t ask BP to participate in the evaluation of the DeepWater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. That would have caused howls of outrage from the public,” says Wilson. “We should feel the same outrage here, for, in truth, the impacts of fracking, as presently practiced, will have a much greater impact on public health and the environment than DeepWater.”
Three-tiered evaporation pit complex near Interstate 70 and the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Notes on the water we drink, and some we shouldn’t
Water use has received more attention, perhaps, than air quality in the Colorado debate over fracking, for after all, you can see it, but still it is in the not-to-worry register of state politics. Water is said to be king in the west, but from a regulatory standpoint it is a true pauper.
In Colorado, water is owned by the public, so says the state’s constitution, but it is treated as private property, most of it controlled by big agriculture and ranching, many of the same rent seekers who champion the irrational 150 foot setback.
Some background information is necessary to understand the potential impact of fracking on Colorado’s water, which, as many know, is projected to be a dwindling resource in the West as a result of climate change.
A grassroots organization, Be the Change , of which I am a board member, has aggregated information from state and federal websites on land leased to the oil industry. Be the Change did this because neither the state nor feds would, though they’ve been asked to do so, repeatedly.
Their calculation shows that at the start of 2012 approximately 9,000 square miles of public land in Colorado had been leased to the industry. This is roughly 10 percent of the state. Private land leases are thought to be greater, realistically much greater since most of the land in the Wattenberg field and on Colorado’s eastern plains is private. Thus, conservatively, 20 percent of the state is effectively owned by the oil and gas industry. Mineral rights overwhelm the rights of surface owners. This, too, is a source of concern and outrage by urban dwellers who never, until now, thought they would have to deal with an oil well as a fire-belching, air-choking neighbor.
The public/private leases combined constitute a landmass greater than that of nine states and rivals the size of West Virginia, a truly unfortunate arithmetic coincidence. But West Virginia will soon be left in Colorado’s exhaust since approximately 70 percent of Colorado is underlain by these deep oil bearing shale formations, and new leasing is continual, perhaps in the 1,000 square mile range annually.
Three-tiered evaporation pit complex for processing water from gas wells. Trucks unload water at the upper tier, allowing it to evaporate as it falls. The white dots in the pits are ‘misters’ to enhance evaporation. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for example, sold off about 69,000 acres on Feb. 14 of this year. About 25 percent of the parcels went for $2 an acre, a minimum rate established in 1922 and that hasn’t been adjusted since. A quarterly event, dependent primarily on the interest expressed by industry speculators who nominate the land, this sale was originally scheduled for roughly double the acreage, but objections were great from the public, with the result that considerable land was withdrawn, at least temporarily. The BLM, when assessing suitability for oil and gas leasing, is often operating from environmental documents that are more than 30 years old, well before horizontal fracking with its huge water requirements was even dreamt of. These leases are for 10 years. The state has a similar minimum, but its leases are for a shorter five years, with a one year option.
Surely, someone, maybe even the governor, should want to know how this staggering transfer of ownership, for that is effectively what an oil lease is, will impact the state’s land, water, wildlife and recreation base. This knowledge is particularly important if one is interested in the potential water demand of thousand of fracked wells on these ever growing 20,000 square miles of oil leases. By comparison, the Bakken oil field in North Dakota , the new darling of the industry, is thought to measure only about 15,000 square miles.
Governor Hickenlooper at a recent meeting of the big water users and developers in the state said, unremarkably, that water is our most important resource. One could hope he was channeling W.H. Auden who observed, “Thousands of people have lived without love, but no one has lived without water.”
Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that Hick’s recitation was one of those made-for-the-audience statements, containing not even the least notion of what it was going to take to protect Colorado’s water in the face of massive new industrial demands from fracking.
The estimates for the number of new wells in the state over the long term are dicey, at best. The state has made none and apparently has no plans to do so. Thus, a swipe-at-the-sky estimate using industry statements made in public forums must serve as the basis for an estimate. An industry hydrologist said at a public meeting in Castle Rock, CO, a couple of years ago that they expected 60,000 new wells in the state over the next 20 years. More recently an industry spokesperson said that there could be 100,000 new wells in the state in 30 years. These would be in addition to the industry’s 50,000 presently producing wells in the state. These projections are not out of line with the estimated acreage under lease to the industry.
The 100,000 new well projection also jibes with recent drilling permit data. Last year 3,770 drilling permits were approved. If this number were to be repeated annually over the next 30 years, we might expect at least 100,000 new wells. In 2007, before natural gas prices tumbled from the production glut, 8,000 new well permits were approved. So, a projection of 3,300 new wells a year, where oil is the prize, not gas, is well within historical bounds.
Private evaporation pit for a complex of wells owned by a single company. Notice the white water truck with a red cab, emptying into the pit. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
A wild card factor in the estimate game is the rarely discussed possibility that many of these wells will be refitted to tap different shale formations both above and below the Niobrara formation which is currently the big play—apparently an ersatz gambling term the industry likes to use to describe its development activities. These formations number as many as eight in some parts of the state. Development of these other shale formations would also increase well and water demand numbers.
As a general rule a vertically fracked well, which almost all of the 50,000 presently producing wells are, requires about 250,000 gallons of water in the initial frack. They can be and often are fracked multiple times to keep the oil and gas moving to the surface.
The new horizontally fracked wells take much more water, approximately five million gallons per well for the initial frack. They, too, it is thought, will be refracked, but the frequency is unknown given the activity’s infancy. The head of technical development for Halliburton has said, however, that refracking will require marginally more water with each refrack to be affective.
For purposes of attempting to estimate the overall water demand from fracking over a 30 year planning horizon, we can posit that by the year 2043 about 80 percent of the 100,000 new wells would be horizontally drilled and that the remaining 20 percent would be vertically drilled. This extremely conservative configuration would result in a water demand of 13.4 billion gallons for new wells in that year, or in the language of water planning, 41,000 acre feet. (An acre-foot, af, is 326,000 gallons, the amount of water required to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot).
It is extremely important to note that water use by the industry is like no other. When they use water, they destroy it for any other use. When cities and agriculture use it, about 50 percent of it is returned to sustain streams and be reused by those downstream. So, while 41,000 af would be enough water for the domestic needs of about 410,000 people only half of it is actually consumed, with the other half being available for, in this example, another 410,000 people downstream.
By comparison, when the industry uses 41,000 af of water it consumes it all; thus, in reality, it is using enough water for the domestic needs of more than 800 thousand people. This consumption calculation is usually overlooked or ignored by industry apologist, both inside and outside government.
And remember something approaching the 41,000 af of annual demand in the 30th year would have been necessary to the industry for many years prior. Indeed, such demand might continue on indefinitely into the future, depending on the industry’s level of success in mining the multiple shale formations that underlie much of the state.
Still, it’s when one attempts to add in the potential water demand from refracking existing wells that the gallons begin to resemble something even Henry Paulson would recognize as really big.
For example, if one fifth of all wells needed to be refracked every year to sustain some level of production in a population consisting of 80 thousand horizontally fracked wells and 70 thousand vertically fracked wells, the annual water requirement, in the 30th year, could exceed 270,000 af annually, or enough water for the domestic needs of over five million people since fracking’s demand is based on 100 percent consumption or destruction as explained above. And here again something resembling this water requirement for refracking would have been required for many years previous and many years following. By comparison Denver’s present annual water demand, both residential and industrial, is approximately 240,000 af, only half of which is actually consumed.
And even if only one tenth of all wells needed to be refracked annually, the demand, based on 100 percent consumption, when added to what is projected for new wells is still staggering. This is particularly so in light of the fact that all of Colorado’s rivers on the front range, generally the rivers draining the east side of the continental divide, are already over appropriated; that is, there are more people with water rights than there is water to satisfy those rights. In fact, the taxpayers of this state have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to neighboring states, either through cash penalties or other forms of compensation, for water the state’s agricultural users have stolen.
Cannons shooting water to increase evaporation at the Ignacio natural gas processing plant. Note the cracks in the dirt berm in the foreground. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
A few years back, the U.S. Supreme Court in ruling against Colorado in the Arkansas River case said, condemningly, that Colorado knew or should have known that it was stealing water that belonged to Kansas. The taxpayers have always paid the costs of reparation, not the farmers who stole the water, but that is old news.
Add to this mix that climate change is predicted to reduce snow pack and runoff in the southern Rockies. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in a new study predicts the annual flow of the Colorado River will be reduced by nine percent because of future temperature increases caused by climate change. It did not look at additional decreases that might result if the snow pack were also diminished. But NOAA has added to the grimness of our water future in a new report that projects a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in Colorado’s snow pack by 2100 if CO2 emissions continue to grow at a modest rate. Thus further diminishing spring runoff to the Colorado and other rivers heading in the state, as well. Always, the Colorado River has been the river the water tycoons have targeted when more is needed, and more is always needed as long as the public can be gulled into paying for development.
One could argue that using some portion of the public’s water for fracking couldn’t possibly be any worse than using it to raise corn which is then turned into ethanol. Ethanol is probably a net energy loser. Some may recall that Cornell’s Professor Pimentel, among others, argued back in 2003 that it took more energy to produce ethanol than it generated. In Colorado, about 86 percent of the public’s water is used by agriculture, much of it to grow corn. Nationally, about 40 percent of all corn is converted to ethanol.
Alas, science-based assertions that ethanol was just another chimera did not stop the U.S. from adding requirements that some portion of every gallon of gas sold in this country has to contain the stuff. This came to be in that glory of American law making, the aforementioned Energy Policy Act of 2005. The virtue of ethanol in our gas tanks was a favorite nostrum of then Senator Ken Salazar. He, advertising himself as the senator for rural America, said ethanol would save the country. Colorado, incidentally, is one of the most urbanized states in the union. Salazar will soon be returning to the state since his resignation as Interior Secretary. The Denver Post is already touting him as a gubernatorial candidate in 2016, presumably after Hick leaves to run for President, an idea floated most recently in a New York Times editorial. He should have the oil industry’s financial backing.
Still if the oil industry wants the public’s water in what, by any reasonable yardstick, will be significant quantities, there should be a wide ranging public discussion of our water dilemma and how best to guarantee a future that protects the public’s water resources and the natural splendors of the state. That discussion does not seem to be on the Governor’s radar. He, in fact, has said repeatedly that he hopes the concept of self-regulation can continue to form the underpinnings for the state’s relationship to the industry.
In Colorado, trucks haul fluids more than 100 miles one-way into Utah on Interstate 70 (where the speed limit is 75 mph) to a large open pit facility. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Industry self-regulation is self-fulfilling in this instance since Colorado only has 16 inspectors to oversee the states 50,000 operating wells. These inspectors have responsibility over the state’s 80,000 non-operating wells, as well. Further complicating enforcement is the fact the state regulations disallow local environmental, health, and law enforcement staff any independent inspection or enforcement powers. It would seem that we have self-regulation by design.
The potential demands on Colorado’s fresh water should alarm every sentient being in the state. It’s too bad most of them have no recognized rights.
Equally disturbing is the way the industry is allowed to dispose of the polluted water that returns to the surface as part of the initial oil and gas production phase. Most of this flow-back water, as it is termed, is trucked off and reinjected into old wells that have been authorized for the purpose. Called Class II wells, about 200 of them are being used for fracking wastewater disposal , though the COGCC, recognizing the huge long-term demand, has recently drafted new regulations that would allow all nonproducing wells to become disposal wells. As I stated earlier, roughly 80,000 of these wells pock the state.
Some of course probably won’t be tapped, for some are within yards of schools and playgrounds and some others will be reopened given the new technology. Some others as Shane Davis of Fractivist has shown in his invaluable study of wells in Weld County actually are shallowly buried beneath new housing. Their reuse might prove difficult. Some sense of the magnitude of the potential waste-water disposal problem is gained by looking at the situation in Texas. There, according to state data, more than 50,000 disposal wells are used to service 216,000 active drilling wells.
It would be folly to deny, as one bobs down the vast river of deregulation big money and political mendacity have created under the guise of job creation, that the greed heads don’t rule the regulatory world in Colorado, if not the nation. In this regard Colorado looks a lot like Nigeria.
How much frack water is disposed of through the above described process? Well, from information gained from state studies done in North Dakota—there are no comparable studies available in Colorado—early returns of water from a newly fracked well vary from 11 percent to more than 50 percent of the injected water.
In addition to the early flow-back water, other water, called produced water, continues to be carried back to the surface over the operative life of the well, though in much reduced quantities. It too is destined for the reinjection graveyard. Information gathered in Texas, where disposal tracking is valued, suggests as much as 70 percent of the initial frack water volume, eventually, may have to be reinjected into disposal wells.
Although there is some reuse of frack water in the field, whatever is left is ultimately reinjected. Many alarms are being sounded about this practice. The former chief scientist in EPA’s Class II well permitting program has become suspicious of how the program is metastasizing well beyond its rather modest beginnings and has warned that all of these supposedly safe disposal wells will ultimately leak and, therefore, hold the fearful potential of infecting surrounding groundwater.
Mark Williams, a University of Colorado hydrologist studying western energy development is quoted in a recent ProPublica article as saying, “You are sacrificing these aquifers … By definition, you are putting pollution into them. … If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go.”
The seriousness of his assessment is given new meaning by the fact that in Mexico City deep aquifers, more than a mile deep, are being considered as a new long-term water supply as traditional sources dry up or become overtaxed.
Many other physical scientists have sounded the same alarm about production wells. Perhaps chief among them is Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea , himself a former industry scientist. It is his estimation that about seven percent of wells will leak almost immediately, 60 percent will leak in 30 years, and all will eventually leak. His concerns are more than borne out by a Duke University study in the Pennsylvania Marcellus showing remarkably high incidences of groundwater contamination associated with relatively new fracked wells. The industry has rolled up into its traditional pill-bug denial configuration, deflecting all charges.
Despite the industry’s trademark see-no-evil stance, some of the industry’s own studies relate the danger and substantiate Professor Ingraffea’s research. Schlumberger the industry’s clear leaders in fracking technology, along with Haliburton, said early on that under sustained well head pressure five percent of wells would fail within a year, 26 percent of wells at age four and 60 percent would fail at maturity, 32 years.
A 2009 study by members of the Society of Petroleum Engineers reached similar conclusions. Neither of these last two studies could be confused for the ranting of fire-breathing Jacobins.
In Colorado roughly 60 percent of the state’s water is groundwater. Much of it may be at risk if the production and injection free-for-all continues. And if that weren’t enough we can add that we don’t really understand the nature of the risk since we don’t know the chemistry of the water being injected. Yes, this water is largely unmeasured as to it constituents because it is exempt from the requirements of federal environmental law.
But consider this, in Douglas County south of Denver, one of the richest counties in the nation, ground water overdrafting is of epidemic proportions, having fallen more than 300 feet as a result thereof. It may be that in the future, a significant part of the supply for those inhabitants will have to come from even deeper aquifers. Will those aquifers be polluted and rendered unusable by our present shortsightedness?
The governor would do well to recognize that in storytelling the fellow who poisons the well is always the villain. Even the greater villain, in the modern day story, perhaps, is the overlord who accommodates it.
End Notes: Down a very deep rabbit hole
Not long ago a New York Times editorialist asked, given our plodding indifference to climate change, if we were going to be able to “avoid the greatest intergenerational environmental injustice of all time?” The fellow asking the question was Thomas Lovejoy, a professor of science at George Mason University and chairman at the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment.
His answer was muffled in doubt. In particular he wondered if we could act soon enough to limit heat-trapping gasses from exceeding the critical threshold of a 2 degrees C increase by 2100. True, many of us will be dead by 2100, I for sure. But my grandchildren and yours might not be if we act quickly to embrace a concept Nathaniel Hawthorne called the magnetic chain of humanity, but, of course, any variation on the notion that we-are-all-in-this-together will do.
Our link in this magnetic chain would be to simply insist that all venting and flaring of gasses at wellheads must cease except in the case of emergency.
As stated earlier, the technology is already developed to accomplish this. In addition, state law forbids waste in the production of natural resources. But that prohibition has probably gone the way of the constitutional prohibition against subsidizing private corporations. They have been overturned by the courts in whack-a-do rulings or simply ignored by the political ruling class armed with internal memos undoing the done.
All wells could not be converted at once, of course. So closures would have to be instituted until they could be. After all, waste of a natural resource, remember, has long been forbidden by our state law, and as the politicians are fond of saying, this is a nation of laws.
This prohibition would also apply to any new wells in that production could only commence once pipelines were in place to capture both the oil and gas. Oil can be stored on site, but gas cannot, at least not without substantial costs to the industry. This is the reason that in North Dakota the natural gas is simply flared and vented. The waste there was recently described as being great enough to power all the homes in Chicago and Washington, D.C. combined.
Norway, for instance, employees the waste-limiting regimen described above. They allow no production until the infrastructure is in place to capture both the oil and gas produced. Another big difference between Norway and the U.S. is that the resource is treated as a national resource, not one to be exploited by every character with an appetite for riches and who happens to own a checkbook, a drill bit, and a pickup. Denmark’s production is regulated as well to serve the national needs and accounts for over 25 percent of national revenues annually, though most goes into a rainy day trust fund for when the oil peters out.
Unlike Norway we continue down a path laid out by the industry. Waste, while illegal, is acceptable as long as it serves the industry’s bottom line. The true extent is unknown because it is unmeasured by the state. Thus, we are reduced once again to making our own calculations. So, if from four to seven percent of the 1,500 billion cubic feet of gas produced in Colorado in 2011 were lost through a leaky process as documented by NOAA and calculated by Ingraffea and others, we, in Colorado, would have wasted between 60 billion and 105 billion cubic feet of methane gas to the atmosphere. This is enough gas to heat between 750 thousand and 1.3 million Colorado homes. According to the census there are 2.2 million housing units in the state.
If we add in the amount of gas that is flared, which is almost certainly a greater amount, we can see that what is wasted in Colorado might not heat all the homes in Chicago and Washington D.C. combined, but is certainly enough to heat all the homes in Colorado.
For the public to regain control of the water it owns, several things need to be done? First, and most importantly, a serious water demand study with projections extending out at least 30 years must be conducted. Factored into these projections of demand must be a realistic examination of the sensitivity of our future water supply to climate change.
The reality of climate change has simply been ignored as the water buffaloes continue to look at the worn out solution of more dams financed by the public for the enrichment of the few, most recently the developers, but now, too, the oil industry. In this regard, know that we already have more than 2,000 reservoirs in this state, over half of them on the Front Range. Many often will not fill if climate change hits hard the southern Rockies as many climate scientists predict.
Water conservation, particularly in the agricultural sector which, as stated earlier, uses about 86 percent of the water, will almost certainly have to become more than a politician’s palliative if we are to realize a rational water future. Future conservation might even include the curtailment of corn-ethanol production, with its high demand for water and petrochemical fertilizers—but only if sanity reigns.
The result of the study will indicate where and how much water might be available to the industry. It is quite possible the study under certain climate change futures might indicate no safe availability. In which case, the industry would have to seek more expensive fracking mediums. In British Columbia, propane is reportedly being used successfully instead of water for fracking. Its use has the beauty of simplicity: gas in, gas out, thus, greatly reducing the wastewater disposal factor, though not the groundwater contamination threat.
Clearly, this sort of analysis needs to be done before more land is leased to the industry or more water destroyed. In a rational world, one in which the planet’s and public’s well being came first, this analysis would have been done already and the consequences understood.
Remember, too, that when the climate-change-denying, job-whores start their whine that jobs come before fustian concerns over our constitutional rights to “public peace, health, or safety,” remind them there will be a host of new jobs available in the oil patch. It will take a lot of people to install the controls needed to curb the huge waste of methane into the atmosphere at wellheads and along aging pipelines.
Because we really have no understanding of what we are doing in this dystopian nightmare of our own making, a moratorium on new leasing and horizontal fracking must be instituted. If Hick and his cohorts in the legislature cannot be made to understand our mutual responsibility in the climate change battle, or more personally our responsibility to the health of our fellows, human and otherwise, the folk will have to invoke its right to direct democracy through the initiative process, which our constitution describes as the “first power … reserved by the people.”
Commercial evaporation pits that accept fluids from independent truckers for a fee. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
The initiative process is hated by the political elite, but it is the grand gift to us from the writers of our constitution who understood the corrupting power concentrated wealth had in the 19th century over federal and state legislatures, particularly as used by the railroad barons. The oil industry is more than a worthy modern-day replacement.
If we assume that, in the near term, some water might be available to the industry as a result of the comprehensive water supply study, the present free-for-all, in which every petty water provider can sell to the industry on the spot market for a tidy profit, must be eliminated
First, speculation in water as a commodity is forbidden by our constitution. If anyone is to receive the benefit of a market sale it should be the public to which the water belongs constitutionally and, in many cases, has paid for through federal and state subsidized water development programs.
Perhaps no one would be surprised, given the lay of the land in Colorado, that even though the public owns the water, it has never received any monetary consideration for the “beneficial use” of that water. On the other hand, if the public ever needs its water back to satisfy a growing population or to restore a river or stream, it must pay a market rate to reacquire it. The state’s constitution says the right for the beneficial use of water shall never be denied, but it does not say that reasonable compensation cannot be built into the transaction.
Secondly, the oil industry, like every other developer in the state, must be made to demonstrate they have a reliable water supply and identify the source of that supply as part of the leasing and permitting process. Evasion of this requirement, as the BLM and the state have allowed, by pretending that there is no relationship between land leasing for oil development and cumulative water demand is nothing short of idiocy. If they lease, we must assume they intend to drill, at least exploratorily, and that water will be the fracking medium.
Moreover, saving any short-term, fresh-water surpluses by injecting them into our rapidly receding Front Range groundwater reservoirs should always be considered. This water-reserving approach would help provide a long-term insurance policy against an uncertain water future, particularly since underground reservoirs tend to collapse once stripped of the structural equilibrium the mined water provided.
A complication in reclaiming the public’s right to protect its water supply from destruction whether by fracking or any other use is contained in a law the legislature passed in 1979. This legislation took deep ground water out of the public estate and gave it to the state water engineer for his administration. This was done so that developers in Douglas County could continue to over appropriate the groundwater that was otherwise threatened by the constitutional requirement to appropriation, that is, you can’t appropriate something that is already used.
To accomplish this slight of hand, they created a new class of water, calling it non-tributary groundwater. Apparently, they would have us believe it came from the center of the earth, not from slow surface percolation into deep aquifers. The result of this misbegotten assault on the public’s estate is a 300-foot decline in the groundwater table, as mentioned earlier. Unwittingly their malfeasance has set the stage for a inevitable fight between the oil industry and the developers over who gets the rest, the stuff the legislature apparently thinks came from the center of the Earth.
In this regard, it should not go unnoticed that in the writing of the state’s constitution considerable debate surrounded who should be the owner of the water in Colorado, the state or the public. The Populists won the day, arguing that if they gave it to the state, the state would let the wealthy and the corporations steal it.
We need to take back what is ours, and, despite the framer’s best efforts, perhaps they knew, someday, we might have to seek our own remedies. Perhaps that’s why they reserved for us the “first right” of legislation, the right of direct democracy, the right of the initiative.
As for Hick, he probably doesn’t agree with any of this. Why only last week he was back in Washington regaling Senators with stories of his derring-do in drinking fracking fluid . If it didn’t hurt him, it must be ok, reasoned he. What he didn’t say was that the fracking fluid he was drinking is quite expensive and is not known to have been used anywhere in Colorado. Equally unclear is whether Hick shows any of the signs Dr. Colborn’s studies indicate are associated with breathing fracking chemicals. Among them are a loss of empathy, smaller head size, and reduced cognitive powers.
As an activist told me at a rally against fracking at the state capitol, he wanted Hick to drive up near Longmont, where a spill of more than 80,000 gallons of green fracking fluid occurred last week, and drink a dram or two of that stuff. He said to those gathered, “now folks, that would be an acid test.”
In the end, if Hick and his administration can’t be turned toward defending the public interest, the public will have to go it alone with the support of a growing number of legislators who know their political future may depend on joining this fight against unregulated fracking. In fact, many are beginning to realize it is not so much a question of political well being as being on the right side of history.
In the short term that means every like-minded community, grassroots and public interest group in the state should sign on to help Longmont in defending its right to ban, either materially, with amicus briefs, or simply in letters of open support.
Last month, the city council of Fort Collins , the state’s fourth most populous city, passed a preliminary ban on all drilling within city limits. It also issued a letter of support to the people of Longmont. Can other cities be far behind?
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Wes Wilson contributed to this article.
This article has been reposted from EcoWatch.org with permission of Phillip Doe. – FRL
Governor John Hickenlooper today recently threatened any municipality in Colorado with legal action, should it have the temerity to try to ban fracking within its corporate limits. His remarks did not resonate from supremacy clauses (state laws are “higher” than local) or any appreciation for local land-use discretion. Rather, the Guv lamented that property owners “paid for” the mineral estates beneath their feet, and so must not lose. He also alluded to severed mineral estates. There lies the meat of the argument.
Only recently employed, directional drilling accompanied by hydraulic fracturing is being used to reach targets that can not be drilled with a vertical well.
Most severances occur when someone sells a property and retains the mineral rights, or a portion of them. This may be a hedge against benefit from future development. But modern “fracking” was not generally known or acknowledged until 2007 or so, and so I doubt many property sellers anticipated or expected that particular form of beneficiation.
I was a commercial real property appraiser long enough to learn that the “bundle of rights” within a property depends on reasonable expectations, plus knowledge of what is feasible. If someone in Colorado retains rights to mining diamonds, he is pretty likely to be wasting his time. But when a property is purchased without a severance, is the buyer cognizant of what is to be deeded? If so, what is paid for it?
The answer is very little. Only a buyer of a mineral estate in an area where a certain kind of mineral production is not only likely but also being prosecuted, would pay what might be recognized as “market value” for that estate. The increment attributable to all or part of POSSIBLE minerals within a purchase of the fee-simple interest, encompassing minerals, surface, and everything else, is generally minimal. Oil and gas operators almost always lease; they have no interest in ownership. In these days of CERCLA that may not surprise. At least there were such days prior to Dick Cheney’s tenure in Washington’s Executive Office Building.
So, guvna, are you going to bat for the owner of the severed mineral estate, or the owner of a complete fee-simple property? Mineral values are speculative until proven by production; drilling may or not prove them. A former oil geologist ought to know that. You also should know that the market value of a speculative probability is lower than the value of what can be seen, touched, and enjoyed (commonly known as the surface of the planet). It is a real shame you have no interest in protecting that.
Fortunately, owners of the latter are usually citizens of the state and can vote. Owners of severed mineral estates may not live here. If you’ve got nothing better to do than sue cities, then I suggest you go back to drilling. In Zimbabwe.
A traveling salesman was lost on a lonely country road and stopped to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer thought a few minutes and finally replied, “You can’t get there from here.”
That conclusion matches how I feel about the current argument over the right to bear arms. Will gun control legislation reduce gun violence? Maybe. Maybe not. The situation is a lot like that farmer’s horses already out of the barn before the door is shut. There are enough guns circulating to give everyone, toddlers and above, at least one. And arguments against gun control laws whittle down proposed legislation using barn-door logic. It’s too late, why try?
Let’s think bigger than magazine capacity and assault weapon necessity. The “gun lobby” is about sales not rights. Just because the Second Amendment is in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is necessary. It is not. The Constitution has been changed 27 times; the Founding Fathers didn’t foresee everything that would require amendment centuries down the road. Excellent arguments have been presented on this opinion page documenting the fact that in 1791 a citizen had to bring his own gun to a militia call-up; one was not provided.
Today, the Second Amendment is superfluous. Assertions that citizens must be ready to overthrow tyrannical government are insulting to city and state law enforcement, the National Guard, and five branches of the Defense Department. Lost causes like that of rebel states in the Civil War are made by those who despise government in any form, especially the promise in the preamble to the Constitution to provide for a more perfect union. The “militias” of today hide behind stockades out in the woods hoping to evade taxes.
Bigger thinking today requires asking different questions. For example: Why is there a general perception that the NRA has congress by its short hairs? A recent survey shows the NRA’s Victory Fund spent over $11 Million on candidates in the 2012 election, with 0.44 percent supporting winners.
Or, how about a better question: How do we change our culture of violence? Arguments about gun rights divert our attention for a paradigm shift away from our role as the world’s policeman. Got trouble? Call in the Marines? Need military backup? We’ll build a military base anywhere. And we have. Need to overthrow a tyrant? We’ve got spies for that.
We’re built to fight and we expect to win. Why not? We invest in weapons from pistols to nuclear war heads inventoried by the thousands, enough to obliterate civilization five times over and leave the handful it will take to neutralize minor rogue states.
That farmer wouldn’t puzzle too long before realizing another you-can’t-get-there-from-here conundrum. Our culture is full of violence. Too much of our “entertainment” is based on killing whatever moves. And finally, we talk a lot about mental health, but leave out actual dollars to improve it. Many argue vehemently against a human right to healthcare, a fact staring each of us in the face, while insisting on an archaic right to bear arms and overthrow a tyrant king of the 18th century.
Longmont is a “happy town” because we have been teaching peace since 1996. It can’t be said too many times. The opposite of bearing arms in a culture of violence is community action to steer young offenders to law-abiding lives of peace. We even have a book for that written by Beverly Title called Teaching Peace. It is relevant today and tells the story of our restorative justice program now known as the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (LCJP). And partnership is the key word. Residents like you and me are working now in partnership with our police, our schools, and city government. Longmont is not sitting back waiting for the state of Colorado to act or Congress and the White House to decide magazine size or the necessity of assault weapons.
Here is relevant fact: Each year hundreds of our youths are referred to a community justice circle. They take responsibility and repair any harm done to victims and the community. The success rate is phenomenal. There is a 98% satisfaction rate by all involved in the circle, including community volunteers, offenders, victims, and the police who participate in 85 percent of all circles. This is our teaching peace process. Historically the recidivism, repeat offense, rate is about 7 percent compared to Boulder County’s 50 percent and a national rate much higher at around two-thirds!
Join us, stack arms and learn how to teach peace. Visit www.lcjp.org, or call 303-776-1527.
Bill Ellis is a Longmont Community Justice Partnership volunteer teaching peace.
Protect Our Colorado coalition designates February 27th Call-In Day to Governor Hickenlooper opposing the dangerous drilling practice of fracking and calling for a statewide moratorium.
Governor Hickenlooper’s Direct Line: 303-866-2471
To leave a message if the line is busy: 1-866-862-3237
Protect Our Colorado coalition and What the Frack?! Arapahoe deliver over 14,000 signatures to Governor’s office and state legislature calling for a moratorium on fracking
Denver, Colo.— Today Protect Our Colorado, a coalition of more than 30 business, solar, farming, faith, consumer, environmental, grassroots and social justice organizations across the state, and What the Frack?! Arapahoe will deliver more than 14,000 petitions to the Governor’s office and leaders in the state legislature from Coloradans opposed to the dangerous drilling technique. The organizations are calling upon the Governor and state legislature to implement an immediate moratorium on fracking.
“Governor Hickenlooper may be willing to drink frack fluid, but Coloradans shouldn’t have to,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager for CREDO, “Nor should they have to breathe cancer-causing air pollution, cope with toxic wastewater spills, or suffer the effects of fossil-fueled extreme weather. It’s time for the governor and the legislature to protect Coloradans and pass a moratorium on fracking.”
A dangerous method of extracting oil and gas from rock deep beneath the earth’s surface, fracking uses high volumes of toxic mixtures of chemicals. About 20 percent of those chemicals have been shown to cause cancer and up to 50 percent can affect nervous, immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. A recent University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health report found that people living within a half-mile of fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above the federal hazard standard, which could increase their chances of developing cancer by 60 percent.
“Drilling and fracking would destroy farms, orchards, and vineyards across Western Colorado,” said Jim Ramey, Director of Citizens for a Healthy Community. “Gov. Hickenlooper should be working to protect our local economy from this dangerous industrial practice.”
With over 47,000 fracked wells throughout the state, and the oil and gas industry looking to substantially expand that number in the next decade, Colorado has become an epicenter of the fight against fracking in the United States.
“Based on the body of evidence, we believe that hydraulic fracturing is an accident prone, inherently dangerous industrial process with catastrophic risks to the future of our children as well as to future generations,” said Ashley Collins with Adams County Unite Now. “As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our children as well as to protect the life support systems they rely upon, and for this reason we call upon Governor Hickenlooper and the state legislature to enact an immediate moratorium on fracking.”
What the Frack?! Arapahoe’s petition for a moratorium on all new drilling applications seeks to prevent escalation of harm until the state produces a comprehensive cost benefit analysis and completes health, water and climate impact studies. These common sense steps are necessary so that decisions regarding unconventional extraction from shale can be based on objective cost and risk assessment, rather than vague industry promises. “Current objective indicators point to risk of irrecoverable, irreversible harms to Colorado health, water supplies, and climate change escalation” says founder, Sonia Skakich-Scrima.
Protect Our Colorado is diverse coalition of businesses, farmers, faith groups, solar companies, parents, and social justice, consumer and environmental organizations with members from the West Slope to the Front Range of Colorado. The coalition is comprised of the following organizations: Patagonia, Lighthouse Solar, Colorado Progressive Coalition, Valley Organic Growers Association, 350.org, Food & Water Watch, CREDO, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley, Holy Terror Farm, Foodshed Productions, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Our Longmont, Adams County Unite Now, Boulder County Citizens for Community Rights, The Mother’s Project, Frack Free CO, Community for Sustainable Energy, Elbert County Oil and Gas Interest Group, East Boulder County United, Frack Files of Weld, Frack Free Loveland, Conscious Global Leadership, The Question Alliance, Frack Free Boulder, Denver Community Rights, Routt County Frack, Frack Free Fort Collins. For more information, please visit Protect Our Colorado.
As if it isn’t bad enough that our governor is considered a “stud” by the oil and gas industry as he blatantly ignores the health and well-being of Colorado’s residents when it comes to fracking, now he is intentionally misleading the public about the safety of fracking fluid itself.
His recent comments about having taken a “drink of fracking fluid” are completely dishonest and misleading. He implies that because he drank it, fracking is safe. Only when pressed on the issue did he admit that what he drank was not the toxic brew of carcinogenic chemicals that is currently used throughout Colorado, but instead a type of a “green” fracking fluid that is made up of food-grade ingredients.
And to add insult to injury, in his follow-up statements he goes on to imply that this form of fracking fluid is in the “prototype” phase which is also untrue. It’s been around for several years but at a higher price tag than the chemical-laden mixture that is being injected into our lands throughout the state now.
In other words, while the oil and gas industry is making millions of dollars fracking throughout Colorado, they are doing it with toxic fracking fluids even though a green fluid is available now — just because it’s more profitable for them. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry should be ashamed of their blatant disregard for our residents’ health and well-being!
I couldn’t help but laugh at the insights reported after the fracking accident near Windsor that released greenish fracking fluid for 30 hours on what looked like agricultural land. To the Loveland firefighters, the lessons learned had to do with the speed and accuracy of reporting such spills, compounded by the fact that nobody knew whose wells were spilling. Not mentioned are the even more important lessons that could have been learned:
1) The released fracking fluid is toxic (Halliburton’s safer CleanStim fluid imbibed by our governor is expensive and rarely used). No telling what the effects of this release will be on the adjacent land. What if this spill had occurred next to a home, school or park?
2) Accidents and spills are exactly the problems citizens are worried about.
3) Regulations (or city rules) do not make fracking safe.
4) Fracking poses dangers to workers, including local firefighters and hospital staff.
5) Local communities have to cover the costs of training for emergencies and for clean-up.
6) No one knows the long-term effects of fracking because the high-pressure systems now in use are relatively new.
Loveland Fire Chief Randy Mirowki is reported as concluding, “The more we work together with these companies, from an emergency response side, the better off we are.” I would come to a different conclusion: The more we resist the lure of so-called economic benefits and statewide pressure to extract oil and gas by hydraulic fracturing, the better off we will be.
Thank heavens Longmont residents had the foresight to vote to ban fracking within our city limits!
Nine months ago the conversation around fracking was relatively new in Colorado and few people and environmental groups were directly addressing it. Now, nine months later, very much has changed—fracking is in the news constantly, many environmental groups are engaged in the fight to stop fracking and the issue is escalating wildly throughout the public across the state.
What has changed in a mere nine months?
First, the threat of fracking has increased dramatically across the residential areas of the Front Range of Colorado. The Niobrara Shale geological formation underlies much of the landscape from Fort Collins all the way around suburban Denver and 150 miles south to Colorado Springs. The advent of horizontal drilling and horizontal hydraulic fracturing technology has allowed hundreds of thousands of acres of land to be leased and eventually fracked. Much of this land is squeezing up against suburban homes, neighborhoods and even schools, and those residents are speaking out in an increasingly feverish pitch. In fact, one of the biggest segments of the population speaking out as “fracktivists” is suburban mothers. And as we see in many types of politics in a purple state like Colorado, when suburban moms take up an issue, elected officials really start to pay attention.
Second, a few activists—in part let by retired U.S. Environment Protection Agency “whistleblower” and Gasland movie star Wes Wilson—started touring the state giving dozens and dozens of presentations to local government officials, local homeowners groups and local activists about the threat of fracking. These activists spent hundreds of hours (and miles) pressing the case that fracking is a serious concern, and left unregulated, fracking could turn many suburban communities into mirrors of Weld County, Colorado (in the northern part of the state) which has more active oil and gas wells (more than 18,000) than any county in the U.S. With those wells has come health problems, air quality problems, water pollution problems, water supply problems, social problems, real estate problems and financial problems. No surprise, but this exploitative extractive industry tends to take the oil and gas—as well as all of the money—and leaves local governments and people with pollution and financial trouble in its wake.
Third, a small band of fracktivists in Longmont, Colorado, in part led by a very small contingent of activists from the environmental group Food & Water Watch, made national news when they led a successful ballot initiative to ban fracking in the November 2012 election. This ban occurred with almost no financial backing (less than $20,000), with almost no support from other environmental groups, and through the sheer grit and moxy of its leaders. Further, the Big Oil and Gas Industry spent more than a half million dollars trying to defeat this ballot initiative in a town that cast only 42,773 votes—that’s more than $10/vote. And when the vote was final, the result sent shock waves around the state. Longmont is not a raging environmental hotbed—if a ban could pass in Longmont while being outspent 25 to 1, it could likely pass in nearly any city in the state.
Finally, Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper (a former oilman), has become a lightning rod who has rapidly escalated the tension around fracking and infuriated local residents and environmental activists. His anti-environmental, pro-fracking actions—too numerous to count and catalogued elsewhere—include starring in a radio ad for the natural gas industry and recently boasting to a U.S. Senate committee that he drank fracking fluid because it is safe and risk free. Every time he speaks about the issue, he just makes it worse both for him and for the issue—his disrespectful and demeaning attitude towards environmentalists seems to be closely matched by his reckless deception of the public. It’s gotten to the point where the best way to fight fracking in Colorado is to just give the Governor the microphone and wait for him to say something inappropriate and further infuriating.
Nine months ago there was little support for banning fracking in Colorado, and there were hardly any organized groups willing to take it on. Nine months later, the situation has completely changed. Cities like Fort Collins are making clear that it makes no sense to put a ban to a vote when it is almost assured to pass, and so therefore a smart and progressive council has the obligation to pass a ban with a simple ordinance. Further, more than a dozen small ad-hoc “fracktivist” groups have sprouted up around the state pushing their local governments hard and publicly. The group that led much of the fight in Fort Collins is Frack Free Fort Collins, while some of the names of other groups around the state have been more creative like Erie Rising (in Erie, Colorado) and The Rio Grande Watchdogs (in the Rio Grande valley).
With fracking, threat has bred opportunity, and democracy has come alive in Colorado. While it’s profoundly unfortunate that thousands of homeowners are now threatened with the impacts of fracking, it’s also deeply important and powerful that these same homeowners and suburban moms and dads learn how to be active and informed citizens in our democracy. Not only the promise of democracy—but the responsibility of democracy—is becoming real to thousands of people who just a year earlier were likely focused on normal suburban activities.
The Big Oil and Gas Industry doesn’t care and will say and do absolutely anything to anyone in order to increase their short-term profits. But the citizens of Colorado—at least in Longmont and Fort Collins, so far—do care and are learning that they don’t deserve what they’re getting, so they’re fighting for what they want.
Stay tuned and keep watching: Democracy in Colorado is coming alive. And it’s beautiful.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Gary Wockner, PhD, represents Clean Water Action and Waterkeeper Alliance in Colorado. He lives in Fort Collins—Gary@GaryWockner.com.
Reprinted from EcoWatch with permission from the author.
You really have to wonder why EnergyfromShale.org recently placed two slick advertisements in the Daily Camera, showing idyllic scenes of a man fishing, with a strategically placed fracked well in the background. Can fishing, requiring fresh, flowing water, exist side by side with toxic, fracked oil wells? This is in North Dakota, home of the biggest domestic oil patch, where tens of thousands of wells are flaring natural gas, visible from outer space.
Flaring natural gas raises atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. Can our planet afford to get any warmer? It seems apparent that warming has contributed to severe drought in North Dakota and the rest of the high plains, leaving everyone very thirsty, while the oil and gas industry continues to destroy precious water by fracking. What about the people, the livestock and the farmland of North Dakota, all suffering the ill effects of an industry gone wild?
The Shilke family, highlighted in The Nation, had 32 fracked oil wells within three miles of their home. The result: a water well contaminated with a brew of toxic chemicals and health issues for Jacki Shilke and her husband, including chronic lung pain, unexplained rashes, loss of fillings in their teeth, body pain. Doctors diagnosed Jacki with neurotoxic damage and constricted airways. Five of her prized Angus cows dropped dead and now they can no longer sell their cattle.
Is this a vision of Nirvana? This story plays out over and over again throughout the oil patch in North Dakota — from cities overrun with man camps and crime, to millions of truck trips disintegrating their roads and billions of gallons of water being destroyed. Is this a wonderful legacy? Or is it destroying our life support system?
As a 30-year risk management professional, I have supported many multi-national organizations in risk mitigation best practices, studies, and programs. Informed by my background and because my family lives in northern Colorado, home of over 19,700 poorly regulated gas and oil wells, I have serious concerns about the effects on our health, our environment, and future property values from gas and oil industry activities.
Greeley Mayor Thomas Norton and his city council failed to consider these issues in their excessive support of an economy based on oil and gas. They persist in viewing oil and gas activities solely through a prism of arguable economic perspectives.
On 1/14/2013, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), CU Boulder, and NOAA concluded that “oil and gas activity contributed about 55 percent of the volatile organic compounds linked to unhealthy ground-level ozone.” The study was published in the prestigious journal Environmental Science and Technology. In early 2012, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) stated that well pad equipment leaked or vented an estimated 4 percent of natural gas produced to the atmosphere.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s (COGCC) database reveals that 60 of 1,000 spills reported in Weld county last year comprised 824,000 gallons of spilled and “unrecovered” oil, 383,000 gallons of “spilled” and “unrecovered” water and up to 547,000 gallons of “spilled” and “unrecovered substances labeled “other,” including fracking fluids.
And if Greeley’s elected officials are so concerned with economics, they should also consider recent real estate data that states that property values in and around oil fields typically depreciates 25% and up to 75% when the area is completely industrialized.
Mayor Norton fails to address any of these concerns when objecting to proposed COGCC setback rules. Instead, the mayor and council members should consider why citizens who live amongst over 400 wells within the city limits are concerned about adequate setbacks. Our elected officials should be concerned with making their community a healthier and safer place to live, both now and for future generations.
In addition to a minimal half mile setback from single and multiple family homes, churches, schools, community centers , and medical facilities, the City of Greeley should immediately institute an indefinite moratorium on gas and oil development until scientific analysis and assessments determine that these processes are safe.
A Health Impact Assessment would identify and describe the effects of gas and oil development on health. Minimal increases in incidences of chronic health problems could impact thousands of people and create escalating health care costs. The assessment should emphasize segments of the population most vulnerable, specifically infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly. It should also examine occupational risks to workers and to those living closest to drilling, fracking, and completed well sites.
Because the gas and oil industry is well aware of the risks of its heavily industrialized operations, it successfully lobbied for exemption from provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Super-Fund Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liabilities Act (CERCLA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Toxic Release Under Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act (known as the “Halliburton Loophole”).
The list of mitigations that the City of Greeley should require to protect all taxpaying citizens is more substantial that space here allows. Minimally, it should:
Retain independent inspectors to monitor the operations for abuses. Seventeen inspectors for entire state with only one for Weld County is ludicrous.
Regulate and control the complete filtration and disposal of all fluids and mud’s used in drilling and extraction of resources for contaminants.
Monitor Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) toxic vapor leakage around well sites with infrared photography.
Assure that adequate fire protection and mitigation resources are in place and regularly rehearsed in all communities to respond quickly to chemical and other disasters related to the industry’s activities.
Initiate industry impact fees for independent testing of all wells for aquifer depth, bore seal integrity, and water quality before, during, and for a minimum of five years after the well has been drilled and fracked.
Hold gas and oil companies accountable for construction, maintenance of roads and bridge infrastructure.
Monitor truck traffic and the behavior of transient workers employed and associated with the industry by local, county, and state law enforcement.
It’s well past time that our elected officials honor their oaths to guarantee citizen health, safety and welfare.
Does the City of Boulder need a ban on fracking? I say yes and here’s why.
We have 16 wells already in the City of Boulder — many immediately next to residences and open space areas. These existing wells are likely candidates for fracking to access the valuable hydro-carbons resting about 1,000 feet under our homes, schools and office buildings. Boulder sits on top of a large “shale play” extending as far north to Canada, south into New Mexico and east to Kansas. It is part of the same shale layer with economically-recoverable oil and gas that is actively being fracked in Weld County, where there are more than 19,000 active wells.
While you might think, “This is Boulder. No oil and gas operator is going to start fracking here.” The fact is they can, and right now we have no legal defense to prevent the oil and gas industry if they chose to frack in our city.
It has only been in the past year that the first peer-reviewed studies have been published about the health effects of fracking and they are alarming. Well-respected endocrine researcher Theo Colborn studied the air pollutants around drilling in Western Colorado and found high concentrations of toxic chemicals and carcinogens that cause severe health damage (see the natural gas video at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange).
Another peer-reviewed study by Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado Dept. of Public found that the air pollutants from fracking increase a person’s risk of cancer 60 percent (see resources on Frack Free Boulder). In the documentary “Gasland” by Josh Fox people who live near fracked wells in Weld County describe how their well water turned brown by the fracking solution containing hundreds of toxic chemicals that seeped into and poisoned the water table. These Coloradans — after wells were fracked near their home — got cancer, brain tumors, severe asthma, disorientation, tremors, migraines, continuous nose bleeds, etc.
Colorado residents are taking a stand. Citizens in Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban fracking last November in a historic, citizen-driven effort. Fort Collins passed a moratorium on fracking with a unanimous city council vote in December. El Paso County passed a moratorium at the end of 2011. Colorado Springs passed a moratorium in 2012. Erie and Boulder County passed a moratorium in 2012. (On Thursday, Jan. 24, at 4 p.m., Boulder County Commissioners are holding a public meeting with time for citizen comments to decide whether to extend the moratorium on fracking in Boulder County.)
Boulder Falls – Photo by M. Douglas Wray
Boulder is falling behind and needs to join the rising tide against fracking. We must protect our citizens, land, air and water, and our property values. Who wants to buy a home near a fracking operation? Our quality of life and our economy are at stake. What athlete wants to train or a tourist visit a city with polluted air, unsafe drinking water, with 18-wheel trucks doing an average of 100 trips per day 24/7 to and from a well site, with stadium quality lights on at well pads all night?
Colorado State Legislators have placed fracking on the 2013 agenda. Citizen volunteers across Colorado are working to permanently ban fracking in their communities. The more cities that join this state-wide effort the stronger the message that Colorado citizens are demanding a state-wide ban on this dangerous and destructive process.
A ban on fracking is also consistent with our Boulder municipalization effort. It is only by having local control over the source of our electricity that we can first work to minimize our reliance on all fossil fuels, including natural gas, and then seek to find the cleanest, most “ethical” source for any remaining energy need. Importantly, natural gas doesn’t have to come from fossil fuel sources; it can be sourced from renewable sources, including feed lots, biomass gasification and sewage treatment plants.
Boulder is ready to move beyond fossil fuels. Banning fracking within city limits is a protective move to give us the greatest safeguards possible to prevent fracking next to our homes, schools and businesses, and is consistent with our vision for a clean energy future. It is also the right message to send to our politicians at the state level as this is a battle that needs to be won for all citizens in Colorado and the rest of the state needs our support. It’s time for Boulder to step up and ban fracking now!
Neshama Abraham lives in Boulder and is the founder of Frack Free Boulder.
Editor’s Note: The following address was given before the COGCC’s hearing on oil and gas setbacks. The public was limited to only two-minute presentations. The Oil and Gas Industry tried to prevent that, also.
Dr. Theo Colborn recently published her second peer reviewed study of Natural Gas Operations. Weekly air samples for over a year were taken 0.7 mile (that’s 3,696 feet) from a well pad in Garfield County. More than 50 airborne chemicals (some present in all samples) were detected – most known to have multiple health effects on humans when present in as little as parts per billion – 30 of those are known endocrine disruptors that particularly and profoundly affect children ….here is a copy for you.
I am here on behalf of 25,000 voting citizens of Longmont, who by their action on November 6th unequivocally told you the following:
You have a mandate to oversee exploration and production of oil and gas in a manner consistent with the protection of public health and safety
By your own admission neither the current nor proposed setbacks consider human health impacts — and you have not conducted or proposed a single such study
Yet – Article 2, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution guarantees all citizens “safety” as an inalienable right
Therefore, until appropriate, objective, and adequate health impact studies are performed – no discussion of setbacks is valid or responsible…
Without such studies – tinkering with setbacks here amounts to little more than a distraction from the real issue of health and appears a cynical attempt to dupe and sedate the public into believing that you have their best interest at heart.
Until you give equal attention to the people’s health as you are mandated it will be necessary for we, the people, to take safety concerns into our own hands and protect ourselves as did Longmont….and as many more cities will surely do.
Until more study can be done, short of a moratorium, I suggest a starting point for setbacks at something more than the 3,696 feet that Dr. Colborn’s study shows to be serious health hazard.