Tag Archive for Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Elect candidates who stand against fracking

Cast your ballot for those who will best protect Longmont's right to local control.

Vote, checked with red pencilAs we approach municipal elections Nov. 5, I believe it is critical that voters understand where each candidate stands regarding two lawsuits the city is currently defending. Although each lawsuit pertains to the community’s ability to regulate oil and gas operations within its corporate boundaries, each resulted from a separate approach to address foundational principles of local government in Colorado.

Home rule, citizen initiative and local control are key concepts found in the Colorado Constitution, the Longmont city charter and in years of practical application. The reason these basic principles of government are so critical is simple. When properly applied, they put key decisions about local communities in the hands of the people most heavily impacted, local residents. Under our charter, the citizens elect the City Council, which has the obligation to adopt appropriate policies to protect our health, environment and quality of life. This includes appropriate regulations for all land uses.

If and when residents do not believe the elected city council members are appropriately protecting the community, citizens have the right to initiate appropriate actions. This is what happened in 2012 regarding oil and gas operations. The ability to adopt appropriate land use regulations is a basic right of home rule cities in Colorado and a fundamental expectation of citizens. As you will see below, the primary opponents of local oil and gas land use regulations in Longmont are Gov. John Hickenlooper and the multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry. That is why city council elections this year are absolutely critical.

The first lawsuit is an attempt to thwart the city council’s right to reasonably regulate land uses in Longmont. It was filed by Gov. Hickenlooper via his industry-dominated Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The oil and gas industry quickly joined the governor’s legal action so that it could throw its deep pockets of cash into the fight to have the state, not the city council, regulate oil and gas operations within Longmont.

The governor felt compelled to take legal action against our community because a majority of the Longmont City Council dared to enact land use regulations that prohibit oil/gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing, within residential neighborhoods and requires these operations to be at least 750 feet from schools, hospitals and day care centers. Since the governor finds these rather timid Longmont regulations to be too restrictive of the heavy oil and gas industry, it verifies how little protection he believes our citizens deserve.

As of today, the city is vigorously defending its home rule rights to reasonably regulate the heavy industrial activities associated with oil and gas operations. However, a future city council could stop defending this lawsuit and capitulate to the governor and the industry. At least one candidate, mayoral challenger Bryan Baum, has publicly stated that he is in favor of settling this lawsuit. If you believe in local control, you need to know where the other candidates stand.

The second lawsuit stems from 2012, when a group of Longmont residents became convinced that a majority of the elected city council was not adequately protecting the community from the impacts of oil and gas operations. The citizens initiated a city charter amendment that prohibits fracking operations within the city boundaries. Approximately 60 percent of the voters agreed with the amendment last November and it is now a part of the city charter. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) promptly filed legal action challenging Longmont’s city charter. The governor quickly joined forces with the industry.

I hope you see the pattern of state government and industry joining forces to attack local control. The opponents of local control hope that the combination of the power of state government and the deep pockets of a politically connected industry will intimidate small communities and citizens. They think bullying local government serves their interests. It will not work in Longmont if we elect the right city council members.

Both of these lawsuits address important local control issues; therefore, they must both be vigorously defended. The one addresses the powers of a home rule city as provided for in the Colorado constitution. The other defends the right of citizens to initiate charter amendments or legislation when their elected representatives fail to act appropriately. These rights and powers of our local community are in the hands of the next city council. I encourage each voter to understand the candidates’ position and cast your ballot for the ones who will best protect our community.

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

 

Coloradans will continue to say “No” to oil and gas without action.

The following Guest Commentary appeared in The Denver Post on June 27, 2013 and is reproduced on Free Range Longmont with permission from State Representative Mike Foote.
Mike Foote, Colorado State Representative, House District 12

Mike Foote, Colorado State Representative, House District 12

Oil and gas is an issue that will not go away. The number of active wells in Colorado has doubled over the last four years. The number of spills and other contamination incidents has also increased. Drilling has encroached ever closer to more densely populated areas. The industry will spend and make billions of dollars in Colorado in the upcoming years.

People across Colorado have expressed legitimate concerns about their health and safety as well as their lack of a voice in the process. Changes to the system to increase transparency, accountability, local control and safety can go a long way in addressing those concerns.

That’s why I and other legislators brought forward proposals, including imposing minimum penalties for serious violations of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and changing the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to focus on protecting public health and the environment, ending its conflicted dual role of promoting oil and gas drilling while simultaneously regulating it.

The industry opposed those bills, as well as others increasing water monitoring requirements, increasing the number of well inspectors, creating a health impact study, and assessing fees for local inspection programs. None of those common-sense reforms made it through the legislature.

However, some hope emerged at the end of the session when Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order directing the COGCC to “reevaluate its enforcement philosophy and approach.” The governor’s order went on to say, “Colorado requires strong and clear enforcement of the rules and assessment of fines and penalties accordingly.”

Implicit in the order was the recognition that enforcement of oil and gas industry regulations in Colorado is neither strong nor clear, and that the COGCC has become too cozy with the oil and gas operators it is supposed to be monitoring. It is my hope more progress can be made on this issue as well as many others related to oil and gas over the next year.

Recently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association announced it would conduct a “listening tour” around the state this summer. As an elected official, my job is to listen to the people of Colorado all year long, and I hear widespread frustration about the current oil and gas system. Perhaps after listening like I have, COGA will be more interested in partnering toward some solutions rather than saying no to any real reform. Because if the industry continues to say “no,” the people of Colorado will say “no” to oil and gas.

That is exactly what is happening across the Front Range right now. Concerned citizens’ groups have popped up from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. A ballot measure banning fracking passed in Longmont with a bipartisan 60 percent margin. Ballot measures in other cities and counties are promised this year.

Instead of taking their concerns seriously, industry supporters have called these citizens extremists and hypocrites for heating their homes and driving cars to work. That isn’t the language of dialogue; that’s the language of confrontation. People have responded with the tools available to them: public protest and the ballot box.

Coloradans know that our most precious natural resources are not gas and oil, but water, air and natural beauty. They will act to protect what’s most precious.

Until Coloradans have confidence that the oil and gas industry is behaving responsibly in our state, and under strict environmental safeguards, we will see this dynamic continue. Building public confidence by setting and enforcing high standards will not only protect the environment and people’s health and safety, it will also protect the livelihoods of the Coloradans who work in the industry.

Negotiation requires more than just sitting at the negotiating table. It requires a willingness to accept opposing viewpoints and a commitment to find common ground. Coloradans deserve no less.

State Representative Mike Foote represents House District 12 in Longmont, Lafayette and Louisville.

 

 

When is a “Democrat” not a Democrat?

Ah, for the “good old days.”  It’s a lament that’s heard a lot these days — from a lot of quarters and for a lot of reasons. Some pine for their youth and vigor. An “empty nester” might long for the days when the kids were little. Some might wish for a full head of hair.

But more often than not, those words are spoken in a political context. Conservative Republicans long for their hero, Ronald Reagan. Progressives have to go all the way back to Carter or Johnson, and especially to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Up and down the political “food chain” there are not many “real Democrats” left. (Yes, I know, very punny.) It’s especially true as you go further up that chain. The genuine Democrats were replaced by others heralding from the Democratic Leadership Council or eliminated by the painstaking work of Newt Gingrich to poison the public’s perception of Congress so that it would be ripe for a takeover by his clones.

OK, I can see conservatives and corporatists “visitors” uttering “yeah” with two thumbs up. The “flat earthers” and the “birthers” and the “Bible thumpers” may not join in the cheers. But, hey, they are mostly just along for the ride (or the votes), while the money changers are forming “one world under the dollar with liberty and “justice” only for them.”

In reality, there is no more Democratic Party. Oh, yes, they still use that name. We have only ONE political party in charge of our government; but it has two branches. I like to call them the Republican Corporate Party and the Republican Lunatic Fringe Party.

Which leads me to the point of this article — President Barack Obama and his junior wannabe president Governor John Hickenlooper. The “we have every right to spy on Americans” president and the “fracking fluid drinker” governor are two cases in point.

worried ObamaWhile spending some time exploring the many articles that find their way into my Inbox, I found one especially astute and honest, brought to me courtesy of OpEdNews. “Dear Obamaheads” by John and Jean Anton is worth reading in it’s entirety. Please do. But here’s the part that I’ll borrow for this article. (Some of my good Democratic friends may not like this.  But there’s an elephant that some don’t want to see.)

[Obama] should consider how much easier life would be for him, if he were a Republican.   He wouldn’t have to make any more promises that he had no intention of keeping.   He could build even more nuclear plants, extend even more gas lines, and subsidize fracking everywhere without worrying about environmentalists.   Whistle-blowers could still be arrested as traitors, tortured, and imprisoned indefinitely “for their own good” without guilt….

Best of all, in the name of national security, he could join Republicans in ignoring all the amendments to the constitution except two: the one that says corporations are people, and the one that says yes, even four-year-olds have the right to carry weapons of mass destruction to school, to libraries, to lavatories.

He could lie like a Republican.   He could bully like a Republican.

He could steal from the poor and the middle class to give to the rich like a Republican.   He could continue to wage war everywhere in the world with only a nod of his head, without congressional approval, without the support of the American people whose blood he could spill and treasure he could spend because —  he wants to.

In other words, instead of being a fake Democrat, he could be a real Republican.

 What is it that broadcasters like to say?  “And now we return you to your local programming.”  Moving on to Colorado…

Frackenlooper appears to be digging his own political grave.

Frackenlooper appears to be digging his own political grave.

Yes, I really need to say more about our beloved Frankenlooper.  We wouldn’t want him to feel slighted.  After all, he may be the “chosen one” to replace Obama in 2016.  The Democratic Governors Association loves him and is doing everything in its power to elevate Hick’s profile (with a little help for oil and gas $$$).  And he’s a safer bet than New York’s guv, Andrew Cuomo — at least when it comes to oil and gas.

Although not everyone has faced the true political identity of Barack Obama, there IS a growing body of awareness where Frackenlooper is concerned.  He knows how to get down to business, Big Business, Big Oil Business.  Whether overt or covert, he gets the job done for them.

BUT!  He overplayed his hand when he sued the City of Longmont.  No one bought his “sleepless nights” or his “last resort” rhetoric.  Well, maybe not “no one.”  But it certainly was a media and public wake-up call. Even then, Hick was more politically tone-deaf than what might be expected of a calculating pol.  He went for the knock-out punch and instead got knocked out himself when he strutted his stuff and said that he’d sue the pants off anymore communities that dared to ban fracking for oil and gas.

Oops!!  That’s when his handlers stepped in.  And if he didn’t figure it out all by his lonesome, they said, “Hey, Hick!  You can’t keep doin’ this.  When you find yourself in a hole, stop diggin’.  Let COGA [Colorado Oil and Gas Association] and the industry folks do it for you.”

It wasn’t long ago that Hickenlooper was sporting a 54% approval rating. However, the recent Quinnipaic poll has him now at 47%. That’s frightening for an incumbent, even if it’s spun otherwise.  Quinnipaic coupled this survey with Hickenlooper’s decision on the Dunlap death penalty matter. But they were too narrow in their research into causation. Many of those up in arms about Hickenlooper’s decision for a temporary reprieve won’t vote for the governor for any number of other reasons.

Hick is losing support from “his base,” the Democratic voter that is furious with him for his position on oil and gas legislation.

No-fracking-logoSo here’s the message to our Colorado governor: If you want to get re-elected in 2014 and have that shot at the coveted whole enchilada, get on the right side of history. Let local governments determine whether or not they want oil and gas drilling and specifically hydraulic fracturing for the stuff in their communities. Don’t con us. No weasel words. No lies.

If you do this, most will come back to you next November in stead of staying home or even voting Republican because they just can’t pull the lever for you. The big oil and gas bucks into your campaign account are not going to save your political hide. In fact, they will help do you in. “You can run but you can’t hide.” has all kinds of meanings this time around. Your Republican opponent may not bring that up, but be sure that others will.

So spend some of those sleepless nights that you really didn’t spend before you sued Longmont thinking about YOUR future. The rest of us are going to do all we can to preserve ours. And that might not include YOU.

Hickenlooper / COGCC overreach in lawsuit

Longmont’s rules are legal and make good common sense.

The state legislative session has ended, with oil and gas drilling impacts on our communities still largely unaddressed — in no small part due to the active resistance of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration. Even more concerning, the Governor continues to actively undermine the efforts of local governments to respond to the growing citizen outcry against fracking and other industrial activities in their neighborhood
Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

For example, last year the governor sued the city of Longmont, where I was city manager for 19 years, for adopting local oil and gas rules to protect its citizens. While I appreciate Gov. Hickenlooper’s characterization of the lawsuit as “a last resort,” I want to explain why Longmont’s rules are legal and make good common sense.

Longmont didn’t take the task of adopting new oil and gas rules lightly. The City Council acted because state rules under the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) were insufficient to protect our community. The council carefully crafted an ordinance that would safeguard the health and welfare of Longmont citizens and promote industry accountability and responsibility. Working with its most active oil and gas company, the city negotiated an operator agreement that went beyond COGCC requirements. Notably, while the governor sued Longmont for its new rules, the local oil and gas operator did not.

The new regulations prevent oil and gas development within residential neighborhoods, and require drilling to be a reasonable distance from occupied structures to better protect residents from noxious fumes, chemical spills, and dangerous and noisy truck traffic. Separating industrial uses from homes, schools, and nursing homes is part of the fundamental zoning role that local governments play.

When Longmont passed its rules, COGCC regulations allowed new oil and gas wells to be as close as 350 feet from homes in high-occupancy residential areas and 150 feet from homes in rural areas. Those “setbacks” applied whether there was one well or 22 planned for a site. Longmont residents were concerned about the health of children and seniors and the livability of their neighborhoods. The City Council increased the setbacks to 750 feet from homes and allowed for comprehensive review of multiwell sites to ensure they are located appropriately with respect to traffic and adjacent land uses. In response, Gov. Hickenlooper sued Longmont, stating the ordinance was “preempted” by the state.

COGCC rules require that toxic chemicals used in fracking be disclosed to the state 60 days after the operation has been completed. Since most accidents happen when chemicals are being transported or during the fracking process, the Council opted to increase safety for residents and emergency responders by requiring that chemicals be disclosed prior to trucking them through our neighborhoods and pumping them underground. The COGCC is suing for this, too.

The COGCC is also suing Longmont for trying to prevent facilities within the city limits from being an eyesore — such as requiring that tanks be painted and well heads be screened by landscaping. Why is the state threatened by this? The city of Greeley has had a similar requirement in its land use code for years.

Hickenlooper 2The governor accuses Longmont’s use of its zoning authority as a “taking” of private property. Yet, reasonable zoning restrictions — such as those to protect public health — have never been considered a taking by the courts. That is probably why the state is not suing Longmont for a “takings” — even though that is the governor’s rationale.

Applying local zoning to oil and gas development is common. Just look to the birthplaces of the industry: Texas allows municipalities to set their own setback rules; Pennsylvania allows local governments to apply their zoning authority to oil and gas development; and Oklahoma allows its municipalities to ban oil and gas development within their borders. Yet, these states aren’t suffering from an “uneven patchwork of regulations.”

Zoning industrial land uses inside the city is within Longmont’s authority as a home rule city. From mining operations to marijuana dispensaries, barber shops to breweries, local governments have the authority and responsibility to regulate land use to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare. Oil and gas development should be no different.

The oil and gas industry is booming in Colorado. Responsible development of the industry is appropriate. However, responsible does not mean steamrolling the citizens of Longmont. Longmont’s future should be dictated by the needs of its community, not the desires of the industry or the governor. One thing we all agree with the governor on: “Our ultimate responsibility is to protect people.”

I hope the governor will rethink his approach and work with local officials to ensure Longmont remains a great place to live.

Gordon L. Pedrow is a former city manager of Longmont.

Why Colorado Residents Can’t Keep Fracking Industry Out of Their Backyards

This story first appeared at EcoWatch.greeley

Do you want to know how cold it can get in Antarctica in midwinter? Go to a city council meeting in Greeley, CO, any time regulation of the oil and gas industry is on the agenda. You’ll get an idea.

Last week, the room temperature felt near absolute zero from the iciness of the council’s reaction to citizen petitions to rein in industry designs on their neighborhood, a place called Fox Run.

What was up for debate was a proposal to approve permits for 16 horizontally fracked oil wells on a small parcel of undeveloped land, itself about 16 acres within the city. The 16 wells would be only 350 feet from the back door of some residences. These wells, according to the oil company, would be fracked four at a time, meaning the citizens of these neighborhoods could expect heavy industrial activity out their back door for up to three or four months a year, 24/7, over half a decade, perhaps. We’re talking literally tens of thousands of truck trips to deliver water, chemicals, steel pipe and a variety of heavy industrial machinery via a single point of ingress.

Envision, if you will, the Saturday afternoon barbeque, with the excited voices of children at play competing with the drone and Earth rattle of drilling next door as unknown quantities of who-knows-what are spewed onto the festivities. This scene could be played out over and over again as money is made for the few and public health and social well-being are sacrificed for the many. That was the argument most often made by the homeowners.

Add to this that some local businesses would actually be only 200 feet from the wells. It happens that the man who owns the 16 acres for the drilling site also owns the street-front buildings in which these businesses are housed. They had all voluntarily agreed to the reduced setback, and no one suspected collusion in these robust economic times. As the owner said—employing small town, Daddy Warbucks logic—these people couldn’t tell him what to do with his land. That would be a takings, and he would have to be compensated, royally. In his mind, his individual rights were superior to the public’s rights.

His understanding is almost certainly wrong, for the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed over and over again that the protection of the public’s health and well-being is superior to property rights, but no use to talk to this scion of “private property rights uber alles.” The only thing keeping the takings assertion alive for the oil boys and rent-seeking land owners is that government refuses to look at the health implications of fracking systematically, even though a host of scientific and public policy leaders at all levels of government and academia are asking for them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the impacts on water. A draft of this study is to be released in 2014, but the agency has scrubbed any analysis of air impacts as a result of oil industry pressure.

From the Greeley Communities United Appeal of the Sheep Draw Oil and Gas Proposal presentation.

From the Greeley Communities United Appeal of the Sheep Draw Oil and Gas Proposal presentation.

In the end, despite roughly 45 people speaking in opposition to the permit, and only about seven in favor—four of them owners of the permits and the property involved—in an audience of about 150 people, the city council voted 7-0 in favor of the oil company and private enrichment over repeated calls for caution and deferral until the health impacts of fracking were better understood.

Of the opposition, many were homeowners in Fox Run, some were tearfully concerned about their children, all were concerned about the air impacts. A doctor, head of the pulmonary unit at the Greeley Hospital, tried to appeal to the council’s better angels. Another woman explained that Fox Run was home to two city-chartered apartments for the disabled, 40 units in all. These units had been built with $4 million in public money from HUD. Ranging in age from 20 to 70, many of these citizens are wheelchair bound, and the majority use oxygen, in the newer unit all but one. The impacts on them might prove frightful she reasoned.

One person said she had heard the vote was rigged, it had already been decided, but she had come to the meeting anyway just to find out. She was not to be disappointed.

Leading the charge for adoption was Mayor Tom Norton. Of stentorian voice, laced with perhaps just a whisper of whiskey’s telltale raspiness and coiffed in surprisingly vivid auburn hair, he was in control, for, after all, he was used to a much larger stage. He had been president of the Colorado Senate during the heyday of former Gov. Bill Owen. Owen fancied himself a Texas oilman and had the pickup and plates to prove it, though perhaps not the chin, but that too has been altered to fit his rough and ready oil patch persona.

Norton, himself an engineer, had risen to become Owen’s director of the Department of Transportation, before retiring to Greeley, his longtime residence, and running for mayor. A family affair, Gov. Owen had appointed Norton’s wife, Kay, to be President of Northern Colorado University. It, too, is in Greeley. She still heads this university of over 12,000 students. Previously, she had been a staff lawyer for Monfort Meat Packing.

This “private sector” experience, she recently wrote, caused her to take the lead in leasing 246 acres of mineral rights under the university to Mineral Resources, Inc., the same family oil company that was seeking approval for 16 oil wells that would run under Fox Run.

In glowing terms, she described the Richardson family owners as our neighbors, much in the same fashion they had described themselves at the hearing. She went on to fancifully describe their oil business as “boutique.” She reasoned, too, that since city records showed the Richardsons already had leases to the mineral rights under most of the city, both public and private, a little more land couldn’t hurt and might foster orderly development.

She also wrote that the university had considered student public health issues and, in her opinion, there was nothing to worry about. In fact, she effused, the state’s regulations would only get stronger and more protective of the students.

Well blow-out near Windsor, CO, in February 2013.

Well blow-out near Windsor, CO, in February 2013.

The idea of stricter regulation to protect public health was not what her husband argued last winter when the state was considering greater setbacks. The proposal, eventually adopted, increased the setbacks from 350 feet to 500 feet. But as Matt Lepore, the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oil regulatory agency, said to the press, these regulations were not to protect public health, but to reduce noise and dust near homes, or more concisely, the anger factor in neighborhoods invaded by the industry. Lepore added that the state hadn’t really gotten its head around the health issues. This fiscally wasteful and cynically driven form of decision-making was recognized as dangerously flawed by COGCC Commissioner Holton who said in these debates:

I just felt like we should wait until we get some good data, in order to make a decision. If it’s 100 feet, fine, if it’s 1000 feet, whatever. Basically it looked to me like we were just changing the rules because we could, and I don’t think that is a good idea.

Norton, speaking for the city council, felt none of these compunctions. He was worried about reduced revenues to the city if some areas were no longer available to the industry because of a 500-foot setback rule. After all, he said, the city already has over 400 operative wells and with the potential for many more, new setbacks might “affect the $3.2 million in annual city revenue from oil and gas, and the $900 million of royalties projected over 25 years to Greeley…”

Clearly, the Nortons see Greeley as a classic company town where public services are paid out of monopoly oil and gas revenues. Moreover, the mayor and the council need not have worried because the COGCC and the Department of Public Health approved a setback of only 200 feet for businesses in the case at hand. The Richardsons did admit under friendly questioning that the council needed to act quickly because the new setback rules, which become effective on Aug. 1, would make their well oiled plans more difficult, perhaps requiring even more official variances.

Unknown to most in the audience was that Mayor Norton, only weeks earlier, dressed all in black, with resplendent auburn mane, had come to Denver to testify against HB 1275, the only significant piece of fracking legislation before the 2013 state legislature. It would have funded a one-year effort to survey reported health impacts from people living near fracking. Mayor Norton said it was unnecessary, that everyone was happy with fracking in Greeley, for revenues from fracking helped pay for public services. His testimony was seconded by the boldly feckless Dr. Chris Urbina, Gov. Hickenlooper’s choice to head the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Dr. Urbina spoke against the bill because of the dangers of collecting medical data too hurriedly, as opposed to the dangers of collecting none at all. These two presumed representatives of the public provided the cover needed to allow the state representative from Greeley, Rep. Dave Young (D), to vote against the measure, thus ensuring its defeat. Company town, indeed!

Greeley has suffered greatly from oil and gas development. Its attempt to deny drilling within the city boundaries back in the 1980s was met with one of those great, dunderheaded decisions that only courts can make. The Colorado Supreme Court, uninformed about geography, apparently, reasoned that oil and gas development was so important to the state and nation that any attempt to deny the industry access to the city proper would pose a threat to national security. Colorado is 104,000 square miles in size. Greeley is 47. Couldn’t they do the math?

Consider, too, that most of Colorado is underlain by shale deposits, the ancient sea floor that is giving up its treasure to the industry through the “magic” of horizontal fracking. All the incorporated cities and towns in the state comprise about 1900 square miles, less than two percent of the state. Yet, it is this wrongheaded 1980′s court decision that is allowing the oil and gas industry to invade cities at will across the state.

The testimony of the city planner, parrying the comments of the young attorney, Matt Sura, who had been hired to represent the home owners, was straight out of Charles Dickens. Sura had been masterful in pointing out the numerous holes and unanswered questions in the city’s evaluation of the 16 permits. Chief among them was the unanswered question of the impacts of these wells on public health, particularly those people living in close proximity to the wells. The city manager told the council that he thought the city had done a stellar job of answering all questions except the questions concerning public health. But he said that shouldn’t concern the council since the public’s health was a matter of state and federal concern. It was not their responsibility.

Surely there can be no truth in the old notion that we deserve the government we get.

Democracy in Action as Fracking is Voted Down in Colorado Springs

Be the Change

This article was first published at EcoWatch – Cutting-Edge Environmental News Service

If the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to those who make such laws and enforce them. —Candidus in the Boston Gazette, 1772

Colorado Springs is Colorado’s second largest city. Perhaps unfairly, it is also known nationally as a bastion of conservative politics. Yet, a little over a week ago, on March 12, conservative and liberal—indeed people from every shade in the political spectrum—found common cause. They stood united in fighting the prospect of the oil and gas industry taking over their city, one open space at a time. They stood together at a rally on a chill-wind morning in front of the Colorado Springs City Hall, and then in a packed council chamber to testify against fracking rules and regulations that would have given the industry the keys to the city.

Fortunately, the concerned citizens of Colorado Springs prevailed in convincing the majority of city council members that fracking is not safe. Now the city must start from scratch with new rules and no drilling can take place in the meantime.

Photo credit: Scott Flora

Right to Say NO! Rally outside Colorado Springs City Hall on March 12 . Photo credit: Scott Flora

On March 12, Colorado Springs residents, in a packed council chamber, testify against fracking rules and regulations that would give the industry the keys to the city. Photo credit: Eric Verlo

On March 12, Colorado Springs residents, in a packed council chamber, testify against fracking rules and regulations that would give the industry the keys to the city. Photo credit: Eric Verlo

On March 12, Colorado Springs residents, in a packed council chamber, testify against fracking rules and regulations that would give the industry the keys to the city. Photo credit: Eric Verlo

Check out this video of the rally:

Colorado is a strong “home rule” state. That is, cities and towns with home rule charters have powers superior to the state in matters of local jurisdiction. This straightforward declaration is found in Article 20, Section 6 of the Colorado Constitution.  It says in part:

“The people of each city or town … shall always have the power to make, amend, add to or replace” their “charter” … This … “shall be its organic law and extend to all its local and municipal matters.”

“Such charter … shall supersede within the territorial limits … of said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith.”

Predictably, the courts and legislature have made a mockery of the latter provision when it comes to the oil and gas industry having its way with the local folk. Oil and gas development has been declared by them to be a matter of supreme state concern over which the state and only the state has jurisdictional powers.

It means in practice that the industry does not need the consent of the governed, only the consent of Governor Hickenlooper, Hick to his friends. Hickenlooper, famous for speed-dialing up his political career by jumping out of an airplane as a campaign stunt and wearing an open-throated shirt under his suit except at coronations, recently told a Senate committee he had drunk fracking fluid and had found it safe.

My colleague Wes Wilson at Be the Change told me, “Hick’s drinking habits might pass for science in Louisiana, where creationism is also taught as science, but not here, where empirical evidence is still consulted and weighed, at least by those outside politics.”

No clearer demonstration of the wackiness of the Governor’s new religion of public-safety-through-selective-tasting was more evident than at a March 5 town hall meeting in Fort Collins. There Colorado State University’s Monfort Professor of Climate Science, Scott Denning, told those assembled that he had worked as a field geologist in the industry, and that fracking is a dangerous, heavy industrial activity that should not be allowed in any city. He also said that new data gathered in Weld County showed the methane (natural gas) production losses were at nine percent. Over the critical short term, the next 20 years, this makes methane 4.5 times worse than coal for climate change because of methane’s much greater heat trapping capacity.

His remarks concerning the dangers of fracking were not necessarily remarkable for their originality, for scientists and activists have made similar statements from across the country. What was remarkable was the Stepford Wives reaction of Hickenlooper’s show-case representatives on the panel—one, the second in command at the state oil and gas commission, and the other, the head of air quality for the state department of public health. They did not engage his assertions. They simply stared blankly ahead and told the audience of their agencies many accomplishments. Clearly, for them, happiness is playing housewife to Anadarko, Encana and Shell, and perhaps servicing their neighbors Noble, Anschutz and Conoco when needed.

But fortunately, in the end, the Colorado Springs City Council, several of whom had been well tutored by local activists on the dangers of fracking to their city, voted down the rules.

Enriching the tableau being played out that day in Colorado Springs was the introduction of an initiative to ban fracking within the city by a local grassroots group. It is human rights based, focusing on the constitutional guarantees of the health, safety and the general welfare of every citizen, the guarantees, they argue, that give government its only legitimacy.

They hope the city will refer it onto the ballot. If not, they will go forward with it as an initiative. To be successful, they will need to collect perhaps as many as 27,000 signatures. The citizen’s initiative, or the right of direct democracy as it’s sometimes called, is the process the citizens of Longmont, Colorado were forced to take last year to enforce a fracking ban within their city. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, are now suing the city. Incredibly, Hick is openly cheering them on.

During the Colorado Springs council meeting, a couple councilmembers provided excellent public theatre. Realtor Tim Leigh, who voted for the rules, and some would say against the people, said he was voting for the rules because he didn’t like the way the public had conducted itself, that it hadn’t been decorous enough. Someone behind me muttered he should have been present at the French Revolution. Another in the back of the room yelled that he didn’t think a “spite vote” should be considered valid. A woman sitting next to me wondered if he’d ever had to share his sand pile when he was young?

Equally entertaining was the exchange between Councilwoman Angela Dougan and the public. She had been criticized from the audience for constantly being on her cell phone during the several hours of public testimony. In explaining her vote for the rules she said she had been on her phone because she was fact checking the assertions made by the public and could find no evidence of their accuracy. This was met with moans.

I was told that Dougan, very recently, had called the police department—in a theatrical panic, perhaps, since her husband is on the police force—when she got a hand delivered flyer in her mail box from an anti-fracking grassroots group. She complained she didn’t want them to know where she lived. It is unclear if she was relieved to find out it had been a saturation effort. That she had not, in fact, been targeted by the rabble.

Council members voting against the rules most often cited the high handedness the Governor and his staff had shown in denying any modification to the state’s regulations. Asked and denied were requests to allow the city to do its own air monitoring of fracking operations, require the installation of water monitoring wells around every gas well, place all residential areas off limits to fracking and allow the hiring of one city inspector, underwriting his salary by charging a $5,000 fee for a drilling permit review. These were the suggestions of Councilwoman Jan Martin. She characterized them as modest and reasonable. Because the Governor’s representative, Matt Lepore, had rejected them out of hand, she voted against Hick’s rules, saying she could not vote for rules that did not give any consideration to the constitutional rights of home rule cities and the concerns of local citizens.

Both council members Brandy Williams and Val Snider said they were supporting what they perceived to be the majority view that the state rules were not adequate to protect the citizens of Colorado Springs. Days earlier the local weekly newspaper, The Independent, published the results of a poll it had taken showing 51 percent of those polled supported a ban, 43 percent opposed and six percent were undecided. Phil Anschutz of Anschutz Exploration Corporation, one of his many corporations, recently acquired the Colorado Springs Gazette. He is believed to have fairly vast oil and gas holdings in the state, as he does across the nation. No poll on the merits of fracking is expected in this daily newspaper.

Rumors continue to circulate at the capitol that the industry has taken its own poll on fracking, with the results showing opposition to the way the industry and the Governor are running roughshod over citizen rights. Some have speculated this phantom poll may have played into Ultra Energy’s announcement it would not develop, at least for now, its mineral rights on 18,000 acres of Colorado Springs land in a place known locally as Banning Lewis Ranch. The city annexed it several years ago for open space after a land developer went into bankruptcy. Whether Ultra’s announcement was merely a ploy to get the city to think it was out of immediate danger from fracking is unknown. What is known is that it didn’t work.

Photo credit: Dave Gardner

Banning Lewis Ranch on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Dave Gardner

Banning Lewis Ranch on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Dave Gardner

Citizens addressing the council were often concerned about water. Several wondered how and why the industry was apparently able to get water for fracking when the city was already in drought mode with twice a week watering restrictions? Only days later, Denver Water, the largest water purveyor in the state, announced it would be draining Antero Reservoir to save 4,000 acre-feet in evaporation losses and that it too was considering twice a week watering restrictions. The reservoir’s storage of 19,000 acre-feet would be released downstream to lower reservoirs where the evaporation would be less.

Antero is a world-class, flat-water trout fishery. I’m told it receives more than 100,000 visitor days a year. It is one of the chief economic drivers in Park County, Colorado, the rural mountain county in which it is situated. Studies done at Colorado State University on recreation values suggest it may contribute more than $4 million a year to the local economy. The last time it was drained, it didn’t reopen for seven years, representing a loss of $24 million to our economy.

The best conservative estimate of how much water the industry will need to frack around 2,000 wells this year—half horizontal and half traditional—is about 16,000 acre-feet. This is four times the loss through evaporation at Antero. In fact, it approaches the entire storage capacity of Antero. If the industry continues to ramp up to where they are drilling mostly horizontally wells at a rate of more than 3,000 a year, as predicted, the water requirements could easily exceed 40,000 acre feet annually—horizontal drilling water demand goes up exponentially compared to traditional fracking.

Colorado Springs uses about 74,000 acre-feet annually. But here’s the rub, when the city uses water, half is returned to the system to be reused. When the frackers use it, they consume all of it. More accurately, they destroy it for any other use. So, from a consumption standpoint, which is what really matters, the industry in just a very few years will be using more water than Colorado Springs does today. If one adds in the prospect of refracks for the 150,000 wells expected in the state in 30 years, the demand easily exceeds that of Denver which uses 260,000 acre feet annually.

The Governor’s office and the Water Buffaloes seem unconcerned. This may partly be explained by the fact the Water Buffaloes get a substantial portion of their funding for new water projects from severance taxes paid by the oil industry to the state—life is often full of these small surprises. A larger surprise for most people is that of the 30 gas producing counties in the state, operators in only five of them even pay a severance tax to the state since local taxes paid, when combined with 19 statutory oil and gas subsidies, fully offset the severance debt. The largest surprise is that the industry pays no net severance taxes from Weld County, the fourth largest gas producing county in the U.S., proving once again, as many have argued, that tax laws are written by the rich for the rich.

Several days after I attended the Colorado Springs council meeting, I read newspaper reports of a large uncontrolled leak and probable ground water contamination in Garfield County, Colorado, near the town of Parachute. I tried to miraculously consider, for purposes of  social and environmental analysis, what if this incident was in Colorado Springs?

It seems the leak was first verbally reported in Garfield County on March 8. It was discovered by accident during unrelated excavation activity. Ten days later it was still uncontrolled and the source still unidentified. As of March 19, the state had not yet issued a cease and desist order to Williams Energy, which operates a gas plant on Parachute Creek. Despite the delay, it claimed an order was in the works. Parachute Creek empties into the Colorado River which is federally protected under the Clean Water Act. More than 60,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater and 5,000 gallons of oil had so far been recovered, but, remarkably, some would say unbelievably, the source of the leak was still unknown. To protect its water supply, the town of Parachute had closed its municipal intake on Parachute Creek. According to locals, industry leaks and spills are common though they are usually covered up and go unreported—Hick is a big supporter of the industry’s self-reporting regimen. One of the Colorado Springs activist leaders, Laurel Biedermann, told me, “if you believe in the efficacy of oil industry self reporting you probably believe in flying unicorns too.”

Try to imagine a city of 360,000 people not storming city hall over such a lackluster effort. Colorado Springs has a police force of more than 600 officers, a fire department of about 400 firefighters, runs its own utilities and has a public health department. In a word, it has all the accoutrements of a modern middle-sized American city. How the Governor continues to claim that he can do a better job of protecting the local population with his merry band of 16 inspectors at the oil and gas commission than the city can is simply ludicrous, it may even border on malfeasance. Is it any wonder that many cities are moving toward an outright ban?

To make the day in Colorado Springs complete, mentioning of the citizens supporting the fracking rules needs to be included. Though few in number, one stood out. Full of the insouciance that comes only when one is sure the message he is carrying will be greeted with delight by his paymasters, Shawn Paige was ripe with economic wisdom of a kind, sure that he knew the true American way. Paige, deputy director for the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an organization funded by the Koch brothers, said the rules were great, just what the country needed, and that we must learn to live with risk if we want to live in heated homes. Its been suggested that someone should ask him at the next council meeting if the mess in Parachute was the kind of risk he thought the people of Colorado Springs needed to endure to have a heated home?

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

frackingad1

TOP Operating: Flagrant, serial COGCC rule violator

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

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

  1. July 17, 2006, Engle Homes to COGCC (TOP’s contaminated well on Engle’s property)
  2. July 21, 2006, COGCC to TOP Operating:  Provide site Investigation and Site Remediation Plan
  3. December 7, 2006  Notice of Alleged Violation (200100371)  Numerous violations
  4. 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
  5. December, 2007  Engle Homes again found violations not corrected
  6. September 2008  COGCC fined TOP $10,000 for failure to remediate
  7. 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!!!!

  1. January 24, 2012 Notice of Alleged Violation (1771570) Rules 210d, 301, 308A, 308B,309,603j,604d,906a
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Shame on Greeley’s Mayor, Council

Robert Winkler

Robert Winkler

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.

weld-county-gas-rig, Colorado IndependentBecause 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.

COGCC: F on Health — and listening skills

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.

Fracking  near Mead CODr. 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:

 

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Yet – Article 2, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution guarantees all citizens “safety” as an inalienable right
  4. Therefore, until appropriate, objective, and adequate health impact studies are performed – no discussion of setbacks is valid or responsible…
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

 

Longmont voters entitled to Home Rule

Editor’s Note: Gordon Pedrow served as Longmont City Manger for 18 years prior to his retirement in March of 2012.

Nov. 6 is Election Day. Be sure to cast your ballot for the sake of your city, county, state and nation. Tucked in amongst the myriad partisan races is Longmont Ballot Question 300. This question is worthy of your careful scrutiny because it is a proposed charter amendment.

Is this what you want in Longmont?

Ballot Question 300 deserves careful attention for several reasons: It will amend the city charter, it is an important public health and quality-of-life issue, and it was initiated by thousands of your friends and neighbors. Usually, we look to the City Council to appropriately act to protect citizens from negative impacts of heavy industrial activity. However, when a majority of our elected representatives fail to carry out their responsibilities, the city charter and state constitution provide means by which the citizens can initiate actions they believe necessary to protect their community.

Beginning last November, the City Council studied how best to regulate the negative impacts of oil and gas operations within Longmont. This is an industry that is poorly regulated and coddled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with regulating its operations in order to protect public health and the environment. Until June, when it came time for the City Council to adopt its comprehensive regulations, it appeared that most council members were in favor of acting to protect the community from oil and gas operations. However, at the last moment, under extreme pressure from the industry’s big-money lobbyists and state politicians, a majority of the City Council capitulated to the industry and refused to support comprehensive regulations. When it really counted, only Mayor Coombs and council members Levison and Bagley were willing to adopt adequate comprehensive regulations to protect Longmont residents. Most citizens would agree that an appropriately regulated oil and gas industry can be a win for everyone.

After it became obvious that the City Council majority would approve only a weak, watered-down set of regulations, a group of citizens opted to circulate petitions to amend the charter as proposed in Ballot Question 300. More than 8,000 citizens signed the petitions. All registered voters can now have a direct say in the outcome of the proposed amendment.

This issue deserves your careful attention now for a couple of reasons. First, you need to understand what it says so that you can assess whether or not it reflects what is best for our community. Second, you should examine the merits of the amendment prior to the misinformation tsunami that will soon be launched by the oil and gas industry, along with affiliated special interests, as they try to persuade you to vote no on 300. (Do you remember the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of propaganda our community received from the cable industry when Longmont voters were considering home-rule control of telecommunication matters?) I encourage all residents to study the issues early so that you can adequately assess the veracity of information provided by both sides. Because the citizens who initiated the proposed amendment will have meager resources, it will no doubt be a very lopsided campaign.

It is easy to anticipate a few attack lines you can expect to hear from the well-funded opposition. These include: The industry will sue; Longmont has a representative form of government, so it is a City Council matter; the COGCC adequately regulates the oil and gas industry; and finally, Colorado has the most stringent oil and gas regulations in the nation.

As the attack ads appear, consider the following questions: Do you want to capitulate just because a multi-billion-dollar industry wants to resist adequate regulation and threatens to sue if it fails to get its way? If a majority of our elected representatives fail to protect our health, safety and the environment, doesn’t the city charter and state constitution provide a means for citizens to act? If the COGCC regulations are adequate, why did the governor on Aug. 15 tell the industry that new regulations are necessary for the industry’s “integrity and trust” and that citizens’ concerns about fracking must be addressed? Finally, do we care how stringent Colorado regulations are if they do not adequately protect public health, safety and the environment? Just last month, the governor admitted the state’s regulations are not adequate.

Voters, the issue belongs to you. Do your homework and cast your ballot.

State sues Longmont to drill in residential areas

On Monday, July 30, 2012, the State of Colorado filed a lawsuit in Boulder District Court to prevent the City of Longmont from implementing a ban on drilling for oil and gas in the city’s residential neighborhoods. The suit was filed by Jake Matter, Deputy Attorney General, on behalf of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

The COGCC has consistently refused to acknowledge the right of local governments and their citizens to exercise control over heavy industrial activities in their communities. The suit claims that “No possible construction of the disputed provisions of the ordinance can be harmonized with the state regulatory regime.” The state wants the court to throw out the city’s regulations without so much as a trial.

This suit is a stab in the back of every resident in Longmont. The state has essentially said, “We don’t care what you want. If the oil and gas industry wants to drill next to your homes and schools, we will allow it. It’s our right to let them and we will take you to court to shut you down.”

This is a very disturbing, although predictable, action by the State of Colorado. The state, its agencies, and its elected officials have sworn to uphold the Constitution of the State of Colorado, which guarantees citizens’ rights to health, safety and well-being.

The citizens of Longmont should not and will not be intimidated or bullied by any government entity. Voters in Longmont must stand firm in November and vote for the Charter Amendment, The Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act, sponsored by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. The amendment prohibits the hazardous practice of hydraulic fracking and waste injection wells within Longmont’s city limits. Fracking is harmful to children, families, the community, and the environment.

Snooker train a-comin’

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

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

Here’s what they tell you is the purpose:

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

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

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

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

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

Responsible development results in:

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

The prevention of waste

The protection of mineral owners’ correlative rights

The prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts

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

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

GOALS

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

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

§34-60-102 – Legislative Intent – “It is declared to be in the public interest to foster the responsible, balanced development, production, and utilization of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources (§34-60-102(1)(a)(I)).   [emphasis added]

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

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

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

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

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

Hickenlooper’s oil and gas fling; Coloradans watching

Near Evans, Colorado. Courtesy of David Schemel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Governor John Hickenlooper

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

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

The curtains are sheers

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

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

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

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

 ~

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

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

 ~

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

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

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

 ~

Frackenlooper digs in against communities

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

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

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

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

 ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back door deal compromised clean water

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

Loopholes are supposed to be for defense, not offense.

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

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

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