Tag Archive for Gasland

Fort Collins Bans Fracking as Democracy Comes Alive in Colorado

We the PeopleAlmost exactly nine months ago on May 22, 2012, I wrote an editorial in the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper, Fort Collins Should Ban Fracking. And yesterday, on Feb. 19, a sharply divided Fort Collins City Council voted 5-2 to ban fracking in the City of Fort Collins.

Nine months ago the conversation around fracking was relatively new in Colorado and few people and environmental groups were directly addressing it. Now, nine months later, very much has changed—fracking is in the news constantly, many environmental groups are engaged in the fight to stop fracking and the issue is escalating wildly throughout the public across the state.

What has changed in a mere nine months?

First, the threat of fracking has increased dramatically across the residential areas of the Front Range of Colorado. The Niobrara Shale geological formation underlies much of the landscape from Fort Collins all the way around suburban Denver and 150 miles south to Colorado Springs. The advent of horizontal drilling and horizontal hydraulic fracturing technology has allowed hundreds of thousands of acres of land to be leased and eventually fracked. Much of this land is squeezing up against suburban homes, neighborhoods and even schools, and those residents are speaking out in an increasingly feverish pitch. In fact, one of the biggest segments of the population speaking out as “fracktivists” is suburban mothers. And as we see in many types of politics in a purple state like Colorado, when suburban moms take up an issue, elected officials really start to pay attention.

Second, a few activists—in part let by retired U.S. Environment Protection Agency “whistleblower” and Gasland movie star Wes Wilson—started touring the state giving dozens and dozens of presentations to local government officials, local homeowners groups and local activists about the threat of fracking. These activists spent hundreds of hours (and miles) pressing the case that fracking is a serious concern, and left unregulated, fracking could turn many suburban communities into mirrors of Weld County, Colorado (in the northern part of the state) which has more active oil and gas wells (more than 18,000) than any county in the U.S. With those wells has come health problems, air quality problems, water pollution problems, water supply problems, social problems, real estate problems and financial problems. No surprise, but this exploitative extractive industry tends to take the oil and gas—as well as all of the money—and leaves local governments and people with pollution and financial trouble in its wake.

logo_our_longmontThird, a small band of fracktivists in Longmont, Colorado, in part led by a very small contingent of activists from the environmental group Food & Water Watch, made national news when they led a successful ballot initiative to ban fracking in the November 2012 election. This ban occurred with almost no financial backing (less than $20,000), with almost no support from other environmental groups, and through the sheer grit and moxy of its leaders. Further, the Big Oil and Gas Industry spent more than a half million dollars trying to defeat this ballot initiative in a town that cast only 42,773 votes—that’s more than $10/vote. And when the vote was final, the result sent shock waves around the state. Longmont is not a raging environmental hotbed—if a ban could pass in Longmont while being outspent 25 to 1, it could likely pass in nearly any city in the state.

Follow the money will billsFinally, Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper (a former oilman), has become a lightning rod who has rapidly escalated the tension around fracking and infuriated local residents and environmental activists. His anti-environmental, pro-fracking actions—too numerous to count and catalogued elsewhere—include starring in a radio ad for the natural gas industry and recently boasting to a U.S. Senate committee that he drank fracking fluid because it is safe and risk free. Every time he speaks about the issue, he just makes it worse both for him and for the issue—his disrespectful and demeaning attitude towards environmentalists seems to be closely matched by his reckless deception of the public. It’s gotten to the point where the best way to fight fracking in Colorado is to just give the Governor the microphone and wait for him to say something inappropriate and further infuriating.

Nine months ago there was little support for banning fracking in Colorado, and there were hardly any organized groups willing to take it on. Nine months later, the situation has completely changed. Cities like Fort Collins are making clear that it makes no sense to put a ban to a vote when it is almost assured to pass, and so therefore a smart and progressive council has the obligation to pass a ban with a simple ordinance. Further, more than a dozen small ad-hoc “fracktivist” groups have sprouted up around the state pushing their local governments hard and publicly. The group that led much of the fight in Fort Collins is Frack Free Fort Collins, while some of the names of other groups around the state have been more creative like Erie Rising (in Erie, Colorado) and The Rio Grande Watchdogs (in the Rio Grande valley).

With fracking, threat has bred opportunity, and democracy has come alive in Colorado. While it’s profoundly unfortunate that thousands of homeowners are now threatened with the impacts of fracking, it’s also deeply important and powerful that these same homeowners and suburban moms and dads learn how to be active and informed citizens in our democracy. Not only the promise of democracy—but the responsibility of democracy—is becoming real to thousands of people who just a year earlier were likely focused on normal suburban activities.

The Big Oil and Gas Industry doesn’t care and will say and do absolutely anything to anyone in order to increase their short-term profits. But the citizens of Colorado—at least in Longmont and Fort Collins, so far—do care and are learning that they don’t deserve what they’re getting, so they’re fighting for what they want.

Stay tuned and keep watching: Democracy in Colorado is coming alive. And it’s beautiful.

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

Gary Wockner, PhD, represents Clean Water Action and Waterkeeper Alliance in Colorado. He lives in Fort Collins—Gary@GaryWockner.com.

Reprinted from EcoWatch with permission from the author.

LongmontROAR event plays to packed house

A huge shout-out to all who attended and to all who assisted in making “The Truth about Fracking” an enormous success!
The event was held at Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont on Sunday, February 26, 2011 with an official count of 275 souls in attendance. The overflow crowd found people sitting on nearby stairs and looking on from the floor above the presentation area.

This venue was chosen because only a few hundred feet from the school is the Rider Well. The operator, TOP Operating, has failed repeatedly to mitigate a multi-year history of benzene leaks and contamination. Astonishingly, before the operator placed a fence around the well, children would play on the tanks in this highly contaminated area that has registered benzene levels as high as 100 times the designated safe level of exposure.

Leading off the event was a powerful presentation by research biologist Shane Davis of the Sierra Club, Poudre Canyon Group. The factual material was drawn directly from the website of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The power point presentation covered a wide area, including an explanation of how horizontal drilling and fracking is accomplished, the chemicals used in the fracking fluid, the scope of drilling in Colorado, to name only a few areas.

Despite what the oil and gas industry and the COGCC frequently state, Colorado has a questionable, if not poor, record on inspection and mitigation. As Davis presented from COGCC data, there are approximately 47,000 active wells in Colorado and approximately 80,000 abandoned wells. Only 17 inspectors are staffed to cover inspections that are meant to occur yearly. That amounts to nearly 8,000 wells per inspector, a physical impossibility. COGCC depends on the operators to follow the rules. We know from experience that without supervision, regulations mean little. We also know that the “honor system” does not work in our current national climate, if it ever did.

Weston Wilson, retired Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental engineer, spoke following Davis. Wilson was the EPA whistleblower on the dangers of fracking. He testified before Congress and was featured in the Academy Award winning documentary Gasland.

Wilson spoke to the current conventional belief about natural gas as a clean energy source that will serve as a bridge fuel to a future of renewable energy. But natural gas is only “clean” when the analysis is limited to the burning of the gas. When taken in totality, from drilling to consumption, natural gas is actually as dirty as coal. This is the result of the methane that leaks into the atmosphere when the gas is released to the surface. Methane is several times more damaging to the upper ozone layer than carbon dioxide and also is a major contributor to ground level ozone that puts all of us, especially children, the elderly, and those with compromised respiratory systems, at risk. A recently released study shows that there is higher pollution in Erie, Colorado, from methane caused by drilling than there is in Houston, Texas, and Pasadena, California. Both of those cities have a long and documented history of unhealthy ozone levels.

Phil Doe, former head of the policy office for the administration of water law in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water operations, concluded the professional presentations. Doe spoke about the excessive amounts of water required for fracking in a state that is legally over-committed in water allocation contracts. Typical consolidated drilling pads cover 10 acres with eight wells each. Five million gallons of water are required for each fracked well. The water used in this heavily industrialized activity is lost forever to the hydrologic cycle. It will never be used as drinking water, to bathe, to irrigate agricultural areas or for any other life-supporting purpose. The human uses of water just mentioned return about 50% to the hydrologic cycle.

The produced water, as it is known, is occasionally treated and reused for fracking, but is much more frequently deposited underground in what are known as “waste injection wells.” These wells are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency with enforcement designated to the states, and are known as Class 2 wells. Yet there are 600 wells in Colorado that are not designated as Class 2, which begs the question of adequate regulation and oversight.

Those whose lives have already been disrupted by oil and gas drilling and fracking provided the human perspective to the invasion that is coming to Longmont and Boulder County by the “mother lode” of oil and drilling quests.

Chris Porzuczek lives near Union Reservoir. His home is 350’ from a proposed consolidated drill site that is 50’ from his property line. Porzuczek has an 18-month-old son and fears for his health and safety with drilling and its threats so close. Rod Brueske lives just east of Weld County Road 1 on the Boulder County side. For Brueske, the damage is neither theoretical nor anticipated. It is in the here and now. He and his family have had to endure not only the threats to health but the 24-hour non-stop of lights and noise that have often forced them to rent hotel rooms.

Members of the audience were provided with index cards in order for them to write down their questions. The cards were collected throughout the presentation. Following the speakers, Shane Davis conducted the Q & A. There were more questions that there was time to address all of them. Even so, the event extended beyond its advertised hour and a half and only concluded around 4:15 PM. Those who didn’t get their questions answered will have them addressed on this site.

LongmontROAR again wishes to thank all of those who took time out from their Sunday afternoon to inform themselves about the issues surrounding oil and gas drilling and fracking.

We ask again that you, as well as your friends and neighbors, contact your Longmont city council members and request that they extend the existing moratorium for an additional six months, rather than the planned extension of only two months.

We must get things right. Once the bores begin penetrating the ground there will be little that can be done. This is a case where there will be no do-overs. Time is needed to make change happen, the right change, the best change.

The future of our homes and families and the character of our city depend on your action and your voice.

Evidence shows water contaminated by “fracking”

The petroleum industry's concept of a 'fire' hydrant

I recently viewed the documentary Gasland and was appalled at what has been happening in our country regarding hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Fracking is a controversial drilling technique used by the oil and gas industry that has injected millions of tons of highly toxic chemical fluids into the ground to break apart shale and release natural gas.

Problems with drinking water that can be traced to fracking in Colorado are documented in Gasland. One graphic example is tap water actually catching on fire.

Fracking was exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act in the 2005 Energy Bill and now scientists believe this process is poisoning our drinking water. As time has gone by more facts are coming to light showing the damage being caused and the American lives being placed at risk.

A few members of Congress — Representatives Diana DeGette, Jared Polis, and Maurice Hinchey — have introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act in the U.S. House while Senators Bob Casey and Chuck Schumer have introduced the companion bill in the U.S. Senate. These bills provide common sense regulation of hydraulic fracturing. They require companies to divulge the chemicals being used and close a loophole that exempts drilling operators from safe drinking water regulations.

This is the third time that legislation such as this has been introduced. It is time for citizens to lobby Congress for appropriate regulation of this industry.

This is not a partisan issue. This is about safe drinking water.

If you have a chance, see the movie Gasland, and please call Congress and support this Act. The life you save may be your own.