Tag Archive for horizontal drilling

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.

People sacrificed to profit by O & G

By now you likely have received your ballots for the November election. If you have yet to fill it in or intend to vote on Nov. 6 at a voting station, please consider these facts.

As you probably know from ads and fliers, seven former mayors suddenly have the wisdom and insight to recommend that you oppose Ballot Question 300. What makes them such experts? Not one of these seven ever presided over a council considering the issue of fracking. Like virtually all of us, they had likely never heard of “fracking” before November 2011, when the issue first arose on Mayor Coombs’ watch. The seven aren’t experts — they are shills for the oil and gas industry, paid to pose and opine. In my world, paid-for opinions are worth less than the paper they are printed on and belong in but one place: the recycling bin.

Why in the world would a heavy industry such as oil and gas even think of drilling within sight or sound of a municipality?

And why the desire to drill so closely to a school or a park? Here’s a number to think about– $75. That’s the estimated cost per horizontal foot of drilling. The drill has to go straight down about 4,000 feet before it curves to the horizontal. That’s a fixed cost. But once it curves, every foot to reach the payload is $75. One hundred feet equals $7,500; 750 feet costs $56,250. Suddenly small change turns to serious money and all else is secondary to the bottom line, so the hell with you, the hell with me and the hell with Longmont.

The regulations currently governing the O&G industry were formulated around 1985. At that time no one had likely ever considered drilling and fracking operations anywhere near a city or town. Does anyone seriously believe that if these same regulations were under consideration today they would pass? That a drilling pad could be set up within 350 feet of a school or a home? That the millions of gallons of contaminated water returned to the surface could be stored in open pits within a residential area?

How many of you remember that in 2005 Vice President Dick Cheney strong-armed Congress into passing the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempted fracking operations from some of the protections of the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Air acts? Think about that — a retired CEO of a company (Halliburton) that pioneered fracking technology persuades Congress to exempt the industry from such bothersome regulations because fracking was “safe, harmless and benign.” If the operation was so squeaky clean, why were these exemptions requested? Aside from the methane that leaks from every single drill site, is there another odor wafting about?

The O&G folks will tell you that fracking has been around for 60 or so years, but what they won’t volunteer is that fracking today ain’t your grandpa’s fracking. Back then, the water injected was just that — water. Today it’s a rich stew of chemicals so complex that each company considers their mix a trade secret and they fought to keep it that way, hidden from competitors, regulatory agencies, monitors, cities, towns and you — the folks whose lives may be the most violated.

Back then, the pressure of the water/sand mix exploded far below in the horizontal pipes was perhaps 9,000 to 10,000 psi. Today it’s pushing 14,000 psi. Back then it didn’t matter because no community was within sight or sound of a drill site. Today, if the industry had its way it could occur around the second hole at Sunset Golf Course or in the middle of the cemetery. And today, as back then, no one has a clue as to just what the long-term effects of all this activity might be on the water or air our grandkids drink and breath.

These are not — or at least should not be — partisan issues; a Republican household will be affected by the stench, noise and loss of property values every bit as much as will a Democratic household. We’re in this together, like it or not.

Longmont, let’s overwhelmingly vote for this proposal. Let’s see what 25,000 or 30,000 votes can do to enlarge and influence the conversation. Vote “yes” on 300 to ensure the message is delivered and that future generations will want to stay, live and grow in our city.

Don’t treat kids like canaries

Longmont’s population aren’t experimental animals.

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

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

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

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.

Ban fracking – because it can happen here

Like most people, I had no idea what hydraulic fracturing (fracking) was until one day over two years ago. At the time, I was living in New York City where land isn’t even available for elbow room, let alone to frack. But, one clear day in January, I got a call from my mother who had just received a letter in the mail.

She called to tell me she had received a lease agreement from an oil and gas company. My parents had moved to Northeast Ohio a couple years prior and purchased a pretty house in a small farming community. They chose this property because it abutted protected wetlands. And now, this oil and gas company wanted to frack wells on their property.

Like other states in the rust belt, Ohio had been hit hard by the recession, and communities were suffering. The developer of my parents’ subdivision was no exception. The neighborhood was not built out and new homes weren’t in demand, so it came as no surprise that when an oil and gas company approached the developer with an offer to drill natural gas wells in the subdivision with the promise of hefty compensation, he readily accepted.

In order to get around the protected wetlands, the proposed drilling would happen on adjacent property and the drilling would go horizontally under multiple houses. Because the oil and gas company needed more acreage than the developer had, several residents were contacted with the purpose of leasing their land in order to drill.

Feeling uneasy about the situation, my mom did her research and discovered the environmental hazards associated with hydraulic fractured wells, as well as the possibility of decreased property values. Her suspicions were confirmed when she discovered that in 2008, a house in a neighboring town was blown off its foundation from a faulty gas well that leaked oil and gas into the aquifer. Last spring in another neighboring town a poorly maintained well exploded, spewing crude oil, brine, and natural gas into a nearby stream — next to a busy commercial district.

Although my parents didn’t sign the lease, you don’t have to venture too far from their house today to find that hydraulic fracturing had already invaded their area: Within a mile radius of my parents’ home, there are more than eight producing wells, and over 2,324 producing wells in their county alone — most of which had been drilled since 2007. Many of these were drilled unbeknownst to the community, and the large wells litter the landscape — even in public open spaces.

I moved out to Boulder in September because, like most of the people here, I love the outdoors. The scenery and environmental spirit here are unparalleled. The open spaces in which Boulder residents have access are breathtaking.

But, the danger of fracking in these public lands is imminent. There are over 45,000 fracked wells in Colorado, with more than one spill each day. In 2008, a wastewater pit in Western Colorado leaked 1.6 million gallons of fluid, which migrated into the Colorado River–the source of drinking water for 30 million Westerners downstream.

We need to speak out clearly and say we don’t want drilling in Boulder County. Although the Boulder County Commissioners passed a 6-month moratorium on accepting and processing new applications for oil and gas drilling operations in our open spaces, this is just a first step. During these six months, I encourage the county commissioners to use our taxpayer dollars to investigate all legal options to ban fracking in Boulder County.

As my parents discovered, there is no way to make fracking perfectly safe. Once our land and water have been fracked, the damage can’t be undone. Is that a risk we are willing to take on the landscape that so many of us enjoy? The land that was purchased with taxpayer dollars to be enjoyed by all as open space? To truly protect the health of our families, our community, and our environment, Boulder County should follow the lead of dozens of other localities across the United States that have passed measures to ban fracking.

Melissa A. Schiltz lives in Boulder.

Will Longmont rush to judgment?

Time and again it has been noted that the ramifications and unintended consequences of new and advanced technology precede regulatory legislation whether at the federal, state or local level.  Such is the case with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Industry proponents repeatedly mislead the public when asserting that fracking has been around since the 1940s. Broadly speaking, this is true.  But the technology in use since the turn of the 21st century bears no true resemblance to previous technologies.  The chemicals and methods in ever greater use today were developed to access previously costly and inaccessible mineral deposits.  With these procedures come severe risks to the population and its life-essential resources – water and air.  Beyond these life-sustaining matters are a number of other issues related to safety, quality of life, and the environment.

Because of the foregoing, it is imperative that the City of Longmont re-examine its rush to judgment and extend the current moratorium for the full length of the previously adjudicated reasonable limit of ten months.  It should go without saying that the oil and gas in the ground is not going away and will only become more valuable with the passage of time.

While it is important to acknowledge that city staff has accomplished an extraordinary amount of work in the effort to develop regulations governing oil and gas production within the city, the task is near herculean.  To believe that all that needs and should be covered in addressing the issues in a mere 120 days does a disservice to staff and to all within the Longmont community.

Paramount is the issue of RISK.

It is unfortunate that the default assessment of risk has been focused on the consequences of legal challenges to either the length of a moratorium or to the regulations needed and proposed.  The communications to other communities throughout the state by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) and the Attorney General’s office, acting in its capacity as legal representative for the COGCC, have skewed the focus away from the community’s health, safety and welfare.

The health, safety and welfare of Coloradans are protected rights.  Article II, Section 3 of the Colorado Constitution states that “All persons have certain natural, essential and inalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”

The legal framework that has been provided to the city’s boards, Planning and Zoning Commission and to the City Council by the Attorney General’s office is biased in favor of the overarching mission of the COGCC to facilitate oil and gas drilling within the state.  All other issues are secondary and sacrificial to this mission. The case law before the council and the public is antiquated and was perceived through the prism of drilling conditions ten to twenty years behind current drilling methods and slick-water fracking processes.

Lady Justice

Justice, both the scales and the sword.

Yet even in previous court rulings (as is the case with the Voss ruling), the ability of jurisdictions to establish zoning rules and regulations has been affirmed, albeit conditionally.  The more recent decision in SG Interests v Gunnison Countyasserts that there is no automatic presumption of preemption in every instance or issue that the industry might assert.  Many actions that the industry might ascribe to be subject to preemption actually require evidentiary hearings.

The conclusion of Longmont’s City Attorney is instructive in that it states that a right is not preempted until and unless a court of final jurisdiction says that it is.  He also notes that the conclusions drawn in communications from the Attorney General’s office essentially exaggerate the actual court decisions.  One could speculate as to the reasons for these exaggerations.

An assessment of the risks and protections of the community’s population are the genuine and primary risks to be addressed by the city council when determining the rules and regulations ordained by the City of Longmont.

What the people of Longmont, its council and its city staff establish at this time will serve as the foundation for all that will follow over the next several decades.  The people of Longmont, since its inception, have devoted enormous vision, resources and commitment to our city.  These historical gifts should not be forfeited either out of fear of litigation or out of narrow interpretations of rights that focus solely on rights as they apply to minerals.

Union Reservoir

Oil exploration and production companies have plans to drill within the city’s boundaries and on properties outside those boundaries that are owned by the People of Longmont.  We have invested over $75 million to acquire Union Reservoir and surrounding properties as well as an additional nearly $9 million in other Weld County properties that are or will be impacted by oil and gas drilling.

TOP Operating has asserted use-by-right to drill as many as 182 wells in and around Union Reservoir alone.  Those demands have motivated, some may say intimidated, city officials, board members, and staff to accept consolidated drilling that reduces the actual number of drill sites. However, consolidated drilling operations are the most heavily industrialized operations undertaken by the industry.  They can require the equivalency of two tanker’s worth of toxic fracking fluids.  They can require as many as five million gallons of water for each frack, and wells can be fracked multiple times. They require repeated truck traffic throughout the potentially 40-year life of each well.  They put the water and soil at risk of dangerous spills with a concomitant damage to air quality.  That description is far from exhaustive.

It has already been demonstrated that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been remiss in its monitoring and remediating of leaks of highly toxic chemicals that, in some cases, remain a threat to people, the environment and wildlife.  Past drilling activity employed methods and construction that are unacceptable by standards that should be best management practices in this second decade of the 21st century.  The proximity of these wells to new wells poses an added risk for accident in proposed operations.  The full extent of historical activity remains undetermined.

What is largely missing in all of the components that the city has thus far undertaken is community education covering the detailed lists of risk to the population, to property (both personal and public) and to the environment.  Staff and council have made an admirable effort to educate the community as to the status of the process and what has been proposed and considered to date.  Yet the process has skipped over the real issues that affect the people of Longmont, issues that need community understanding and input well before regulations are promulgated.

A community consensus surrounding these risks should be the driving force not only in devising regulation, but in determining the commitment and strategies that the city will undertake to prevent these risks on behalf of its citizens.

In addition to this primary task, we urge the City Council to also engage in the following during an extended moratorium.

  • Commit by ordinance all revenues that the city receives from existing oil and gas leases to a reserve fund for mitigating damages to not only public resources but to civilian health, safety and well-being.
  • Establish strategies and designations that prevent exploitation of oil and gas minerals in our most critical areas – around schools; in parks and on open space; near water bodies; in recreational areas throughout the city whether or not they are owned by the City of Longmont; in cemeteries; and in residential neighborhoods where all other industrial activity is already prohibited.
  • Codify the city’s intention to bar the sale of city-owned oil and gas mineral rights.
  • Establish an office within the Department of Public Works and Natural Resources that extends well beyond a Local Government Designee to the Oil and Gas Commission to promote and secure the city’s demands; to monitor and inspect, at our own expense, over and above those procedures in effect through the COGCC; and to establish emergency procedures covering hazardous situations that are inherent in drilling operations.
  • Provide for an environmental assessment of the sensitive areas that are currently targeted for drilling.
  • Investigate the policies and procedures used by various departments and agencies of the federal and state governments to protect the environment, included but not limited to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife, and the various water agencies under or apart from the afore-mentioned entities.
  • Pursue state legislation already introduced or that should be introduced during the current legislative session.
  • Determine the status of studies already being undertaken by the EPA and solicit preliminary findings that might and should be incorporated into Longmont’s assessment of risk to its population.
  • Investigate the leveraging of financial and other resources within Boulder County in the invent that the industry should challenge the City of Longmont’s right to protect its citizens.

As is apparent, there is far more work to be done before the city is in a position to know that it has accomplished everything that it can accomplish on behalf of the people of Longmont. Even with an additional six-month moratorium there is a huge amount of work that needs to be done to adequately protect our city.