Tag Archive for Governor John Hickenlooper

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.

Jones trounces Hickenlooper in debate

Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones clearly won the debate against Governor Hickenlooper about “Who Should Control Hydraulic Fracturing in Colorado” that took place at CU Denver Law School. The debate was held on April 1st at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law.  The complete debate may be heard here.

DSC_0395_EliseJonesHickenlooper 2Commissioner Jones was more persuasive in advocating for local governments to have local control to ban fracking in residential neighborhoods and other places. She also had better command of the facts for why the regulatory environment needs to level the playing field between fossil fuel and renewable energy development.

“Oil and gas fracking poses many risks to our health, to our air and water, to our property values, to our quality of life. Fracking for oil and gas is an intensive process with a heavy footprint. It is not something you want near your home, your kid’s school, your parent’s nursing home or your drinking water,” Jones said.

“Why are we having an argument about drilling in cities near schools and homes? That is a ludicrous place to drill. Allowing local governments to regulate and ban if they want, works better for a renewable energy future.”

Commissioner Jones presented compelling arguments in favor of local control. Take note on the points that follow as these and others can arm Boulder County with legally defensible reasons to extend the moratorium in Boulder County after it expires in June 2013. If we don’t extend the moratorium, the City of Boulder’s land in unincorporated Boulder County will be fracked.

She also referenced a 1994 Colorado Supreme Court ruling where a uranium mining mill in Weld County was not allowed to extract uranium out of the ground because of the radiation that could be emitted and cause harm to the public. The Colorado Department of Health won the suit and the company did not sue for lost resources.

During the debate, House Bill (HB) 1269 Conflict of Interest with the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) was raised.

The COGCC was developed in 1951 at a time when there was a perceived need to foster oil and gas development. That need no longer exists as the oil and gas industry is now the wealthiest industry in the world and production continues to rapidly expand, despite public outcry against the permanent removal of what will be trillions of gallons of drinking water from the hydrologic cycle if allowed to continue in a draught state, and 9 percent or higher methane leaks that directly contribute to climate change.

Currently the COGCC is mandated to both promote and to regulate oil and gas, a clear conflict of interest. HB 1269 would remove the promotion mandate and allow the COGCC to focus on public and environmental health and safety exclusively. This would be a much wiser use of our taxpayer dollars and would begin to give renewables a fighting chance to compete.

As introduced, the bill also redefines “waste” to allow the commission to not extract hydrocarbons under the Earth when methods and locations would jeopardize human and environmental health; and prevents members of the commission from simultaneous working for and having a financial interest in the industry they are charged with regulating.

HB 13-1269 passed the full House of Representatives, but unfortunately not without amendments, both of which watered down a superior bill.

HB 1269 now moves to the Senate.

Neshama Abraham is the founder of Frack Free Boulder.

Large Coalition Comes Together to Oppose Fracking in Colorado

Over 25 organizations join forces to create “Protect Our Colorado” and calls on state officials to protect residents from dangerous energy extraction process.

No-fracking-logoWASHINGTON – January 14 – Today, more than 25 business, solar, farming, faith, consumer, environmental, grassroots and social justice organizations around the state came together to announce a new coalition to oppose the controversial oil and gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. The coalition, Protect Our Colorado, will call on Governor John Hickenlooper and state legislators to ban fracking in Colorado.

“Fracking endangers our health and contaminates our clean air and water. For the future of our children and our state, it’s essential that we stop fracking in Colorado and move immediately to a renewable energy economy,” said Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia, Inc.

Earlier this month, Longmont became the first city in Colorado to ban fracking in a historic bipartisan vote, indicating that the tide of public opinion is turning away from fracking as more residents learn of its negative impacts on health, safety, property, air, water and families throughout Colorado.

“The overwhelming victory in Longmont and the launch of Protect Our Colorado signals that more and more Coloradans are waking up to the dangers of fracking. We are pro-Colorado, and there is no place for fracking in Colorado,” said Kaye Fissinger of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. “Governor Hickenlooper has ignored, bullied and sued citizens in order to expand fracking in Colorado. It’s time that Governor Hickenlooper start representing the people of Colorado instead of the oil and gas industry by banning fracking in our state.”

With 47,000 fracked wells throughout the state, and the oil and gas industry looking to substantially expand that number in the next decade, Colorado has become an epicenter of fracking in the United States. A method of extracting oil and gas from rock deep beneath the earth’s surface, fracking uses high volumes of toxic mixtures of chemicals, 20 percent of which have been shown to cause cancer, and up to 50 percent of which can affect nervous, immune, respiratory, and cardiovascular systems. A recent University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health report found that people living within a half-mile of fracking operations were exposed to air pollutants five times above the federal hazard standard, which could increase their chances of developing cancer by 60 percent.

Despite these scientific dangers, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) just passed rules that do nothing to protect the health of people of Colorado. Instead state regulators are proposing that wells be situated only 500 feet from homes, schools, public parks, lakes and rivers.

In addition to the public health problems associated with the process, oil and gas companies regularly “externalize” many of the costs of doing business, making the local communities pay these costs, which include significant increases in heavy truck traffic and road damage, increased noise, dust, crime and demand on social and health-care services, police, fire, and emergency services, degraded air and water quality, and property value declines near well sites by as much as 75 percent.

“The oil and gas industry is lowering our quality of life along with our property values.” Audy Leggere Hickey of Boulder County Citizens for Community Rights. “Governor Hickenlooper needs to show strength, courage and integrity. He needs to stand up for the people of Colorado to ban fracking.”

A recent study by Western Resource Advocates found that water used in one year for new oil and gas development throughout the state could supply the entire population of Lakewood, the fourth-largest city in Colorado. Farmers are continually forced to compete against the oil and gas industry for access to water, even during periods of drought such as the one experienced this past summer.

“It’s unconscionable that the industry is so powerful in Colorado that it’s allowed to pour millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground just steps away from areas where honest, hard-working Coloradans are trying to make a living, raise their families and send their children to learn,” said Ashley Collins with Adams County Unite NOW. “We can’t let Governor Hickenlooper and powerful special interests ride roughshod over local communities.”

Fracking is also exacerbating the climate crisis, as huge volumes of methane have been documented leaking at fracking wellheads, according to recent reports. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in our atmosphere. This has led some researchers to surmise that fracked natural gas may be as or more dangerous to the global climate than burning coal.

“These leaks are contributing to climate destabilization, which has already loaded the dice for record-breaking storms, floods, heat, and the wildfires and drought that have begun to plague our state and others in recent years,” said Micah Parkin, Colorado and Regional Organizer for 350.org.

A report issued by Food & Water Watch reveals that the industry may be poised to export as much as 40 percent of current U.S. consumption of natural gas and oil overseas to foreign markets, posing new questions for states that allow fracking to take place.

“Colorado’s oil and gas industry is threatening our health, safety and property in order to export natural gas overseas to foreign markets,” said Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Regional Director for Food & Water Watch. “Fracking has absolutely nothing to do with energy security and everything to do with the oil and gas industry looking for new and creative ways to turn a profit. That’s definitely not a burden Coloradans needs to take on.”

For more information, visit: http://www.protectourcolorado.org

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Protect Our Colorado is comprised of the following organizations: Patagonia, Lighthouse Solar, Colorado Progressive Coalition, 350.org, Food & Water Watch, CREDO, Unitarian Universalist Church of Greeley, Holy Terror Farm, Foodshed Productions, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Our Longmont, Adams County Unite Now, Boulder County Citizens for Community Rights, The Mother’s Project, Frack Free CO, Community for Sustainable Energy, Elbert County Oil and Gas Interest Group, East Boulder County United, Frack Files of Weld, Frack Free Loveland, Conscious Global Leadership, The Question Alliance, Frack Free Boulder, Denver Community Rights, Routt County Frack, Frack Free Fort Collins.

Hey, Gov! Which mouth are we to believe?

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

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

I have found newspaper coverage about the recent oil and gas association conference in Denver somewhat baffling. On Wednesday, Aug. 15, the governor spoke at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference. The Times-Call ran articles covering the speech on both Thursday and Friday with these headlines: “Hickenlooper says Longmont drilling rules must be challenged,” and “Gov. Hickenlooper: Drilling regulations need more work.”

It would appear that the governor was speaking out of both sides of his mouth last week.

Out of one side of his mouth, Gov. Hickenlooper outlined a new set of state initiatives to oversee oil and gas operations to create “integrity and trust” in energy development in our state. According to the article, the focus of the initiatives includes: well-bore integrity, water sampling, fugitive methane emissions and setbacks from densely populated areas. He also remarked that public concern about hydraulic fracturing must be addressed.

After catching his breath, the governor then spoke out of the other side of his mouth. At that point, Gov. Hickenlooper threatened to take the city of Longmont to court to quash its recently adopted comprehensive oil and gas drilling regulations. He stated that the Longmont City Council should accept his word that the state rules governing oil and gas regulations have sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of local communities. These are the same rules that, when speaking out of the other side of his mouth, he said must be revised to bring “integrity and trust to the industry.”

Only a politician would even attempt to sell such convoluted logic to the public. There is no doubt in my mind which entity (state of Colorado or city of Longmont) I want protecting the health and environment in my community. The governor threatening to use the courts to keep the elected Longmont City Council from protecting its residents is unconscionable.