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.