Features

Transparency difficult for Mi-Hile supporters

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport

Mile-Hi Skydiving’s Twin Otter skydiving plane.

The noise from Mile-Hi Skydiving jump planes does not bother Ricky Lee Landrum one bit (Open Forum, Oct. 4). Mr. Landrum states that he lives near the airport and is a frequent golfer who plays at Twin Peaks Golf Course.

First, it’s curious that he is just now responding to my letter from three months ago. Second, Mr. Landrum fails to mention that he is an avid skydiver, as shown in his bio on the OpenStage Theatre and Company website.

The Mile-Hi jump planes operate for up to 12 hours or more a day, including every Saturday and Sunday. They climb aggressively over our homes and circle constantly over north Boulder County. It may not bother folks who are hard of hearing or who spend their days inside an air-conditioned home with the TV blaring. But for those who prefer to live with the windows open, or who spend a lot of time outdoors, the ubiquitous drone is quite irritating.

In 2007, Mile-Hi Skydiving executed a new Specialty Based Operator airport lease agreement with the city. According to the lease terms, South Parcel 11SD, which covers 180,723 square feet, will accommodate a greatly expanded skydiving center. This 20-year lease is currently inactive and will become effective when Mile-Hi breaks ground on construction of the new facility.

It is important to understand that Mile-Hi Skydiving aims to be one of the biggest skydiving centers in the country. Currently, it operates several jump planes concurrently, including two very noisy de Havilland Twin Otters. When Mile-Hi expands, presumably after the economy recovers just a bit more, we can all look forward to hearing several more jump planes operating concurrently. This news should be alarming to anyone who cares about their quality of life and property values.

Don’t treat kids like canaries

Longmont’s population aren’t experimental animals.

This November, Longmont residents will have a chance to vote on Ballot Question 300 to ban fracking and the storage of fracking waste within city limits. The No. 1 criticism the opponents of this measure make is that it denies mineral rights owners access to their minerals. Right now, the minerals in question are trapped in shale rock and until the last several years, access to them was denied by technology (conventional drilling couldn’t access shale oil). Then along came unconventional, horizontal fracturing, a largely untested and controversial process exempted from many state and federal regulations. Suddenly, access is possible, but not without huge risks and expenses that are often shouldered by the public.

From increases in air, water and noise pollution, to damage to roads, increased truck traffic, huge consumption of water and costs of emergency response when problems occur, most of the expense is passed on to the public. Banning fracking within Longmont city limits won’t deny mineral rights owners access to their claims. The minerals aren’t going anywhere. They’ll still be there if and when a safer, better understood and more fully studied process for extracting them is developed. But do we really want our children to be the canaries in the coal mine while studies on the risks of fracking are being done? The National Science Foundation just awarded CU a $12 million contract to study the risks of fracking over the next five years. Shouldn’t these studies have been done before we fracked next to homes and schools instead of waiting years or decades to “prove” this method is safe (or more likely, not)?

Vote “yes” on 300 and keep this heavily industrialized process away from our residential areas. The minerals aren’t going anywhere but our community’s safety, health and well-being could be.

Government’s wake-up call: Yes on 300

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballot 300 opposition: slick word choice for slickwater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I support Longmont Ballot Question 300

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will vote “yes” on Ballot Question 300.

Gordon Pedrow is a former city manager of Longmont.

About Mitt’s Promises

Mitt Romney – is he to be believed?

Romney promised to reduce all income tax rates by 20%, very impressive. He added that your deductions would be reduced so that the government’s operating deficit would not increase. Romney is saying your tax payments will not decrease and might actually increase. As a result, some will pay higher taxes when they lose more in deductions than they save due to the rate change. Think about losing your home mortgage interest deduction and your charitable gift deduction. When the public rebels against losing popular deductions, a president Romney and Congress will be forced to drop that plan but the 20% rate reduction will remain, reducing revenues significantly. Our budget deficit and our national debt will rise as a result of reduced tax revenues.

Mr. Romney will repeal the Affordable Care Act, doing away with the law that is already helping tens of millions of American who have pre-existing conditions or simply can’t afford health insurance. His proposal makes drastic cuts in Medicaid. This would deny essential health care to millions more Americans including the elderly who need long term care. Romney’s view that these people can get medical care in the emergency room is not the solution. What was your last ER visit like? And an ER visit by an uninsured person is paid for by higher rates for those who do buy insurance. This type of health care puts an additional burden on every person who has health care coverage.

And Romney says PBS will not be federally funded when he is president. He will get rid of Big Bird! Ninety percent of U.S. homes view PBS. Each day 80 percent of all children between ages of 2 – 8 tune into PBS according to the New York Times. PBS is a national treasure. PBS news gives viewers a chance to hear both sides of issues, unlike the partisan programs too often masquerading as news. And PBS includes high quality nature, music, and educational programs. And finally, eliminating funding for PBS provides an insignificant savings in the national budget. Romney will have to do better, a lot better.

Some believe that a president who is an experienced businessman will promote recovery of our economy. But businessman Romney insisted the government should let GM and Chrysler go bankrupt when they struggled during the 2007-8 Great Recession. That reflects the ruthless attitude of a successful business leader. President Obama leads our nation, not just our businesses. His extraordinary effort to pump federal funds into the auto industry and save up to one million jobs worked beautifully and today our auto manufacturers are alive and well and have paid back the Federal loan. We need a president with that kind of vision.

Yes on 300: Ban fracking in Longmont

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

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

The risks and rewards fall into two basic areas:

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

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

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

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

Fracking destroys vital water

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fracking for oil and gas threatens health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vote YES on on 300

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

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

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

Mr. Frackenlooper’s Town Meeting

Father and daughter have a special view of the governor.

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

Here’s the Flickr gallery of photos.

From Silver Creek Leadership Academy students:


A few educational notes about public photography

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

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

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


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

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

Photography & the First Amendment

Know Your Rights: Photographers

Colorado Needs to Protect Residents Exposed to Fracking Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes on 300 to ban fracking in Longmont

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EnergyWire:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drilling in suburbia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerful forces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Once they invade, they’re here’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to see Longmont’s final zoning rules.

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

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

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