Kaye Fissinger, 303-678-7267 (Our Longmont)
Michael Bellmont, 303-678-9470 (Our Longmont)
Bruce Baizel, 970-903-5326 (Earthworks)
Shane Davis, 303-717-4462 (Sierra Club)
Sam Schabacker, 720-295-1036 (Food & Water Watch)
Coalition Acts to Protect City of Longmont’s Ban on Dangerous Hydraulic Fracturing
LONGMONT, CO – Today, a coalition of community, public health, consumer and environmental organizations filed a motion in the Weld County District Court to intervene in the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Longmont’s ban of the oil and gas practice known as “fracking” and related surface activities, such as storage of toxic post-fracking fluids. This ban was instituted by the citizens of Longmont in an amendment to the City Charter, Article XVI , the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act.
The people of Longmont by an overwhelming vote of 60% (more than 25,000 people), voted in the November, 2012 election to amend the City Charter to ban fracking, affirming their intention “to protect themselves from the harms associated with hydraulic fracturing, including threats to public health and safety, property damage and diminished property values, poor air quality, destruction of landscape, and pollution of drinking and surface water.” This historic ballot measure was spearheaded by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont).
“We are taking this action because we hope to affirm the rights of citizens and communities to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for themselves and future generations,” said Michael Harris, Director of the University Of Denver Sturm College Of Law Environmental Law Clinic. He continued, “We are honored to represent Our Longmont, Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club and Earthworks.”
The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals certain inalienable rights. These rights are expressed in the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, which requires that oil and gas resources be extracted in a “manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare.”
“The extraction process of hydraulic fracturing has not been proven to be safe,” said Kaye Fissinger, managing member of Our Longmont. “Further, the State of Colorado has created a situation where the commission that oversees the oil and gas industry has an inherent conflict of interest. It cannot simultaneously foster the development of oil and gas and protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”
“The dangerous, toxic practice of fracking has been a matter of grave importance to the people of Longmont since October of 2011,” said Michael Bellmont, spokesperson for Our Longmont. “To assure the protection of those in our community, Our Longmont undertook a petition drive to place the charter amendment on the ballot. In November, our citizens exercised their rights to self-determination, also guaranteed under Article XX of Colorado’s Constitution. In light of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s attack, it is necessary that citizens participate in the judicial process to guarantee our constitutionally protected rights. It is for this reason Our Longmont and others have moved to intervene,” Bellmont said.
Food & Water Watch provided invaluable assistance to Our Longmont throughout the effort to qualify and pass Longmont’s charter amendment. Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Regional Director for the organization, said, “We were delighted to be able to help the citizens of Longmont prohibit the dangerous industrial practice of hydraulic fracking and are pleased to be able to continue to support them. We have every confidence that the courts will reject the claims of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and preserve Longmont’s constitutional and home rule rights.”
According to Eric E. Huber, Senor Managing Attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, “This lawsuit could have a precedential effect throughout Colorado as other communities work to pass similar prohibitions on fracking and the disposal of its waste products within their boundaries.”
Bruce Baizel, Director of Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said, “The citizens of Longmont took this action because they don’t trust state regulators to protect them. Rather than sue communities acting to protect their public health, industry and the state should be addressing legitimate community concerns by putting the public’s health before industry profits.”
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, is a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont. We believe that Longmont has a constitutional right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. Our goal is to preserve the quality of life in our exceptional city. By so doing we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for ourselves and future generations. www.ourlongmont.org,
Food & Water Watch is a consumer organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water. It’s essential that these shared resources be regulated in the public interest rather than for private gain. www.foodandwaterwater.org,
Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide, including 160 members in the City of Longmont. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation. http://rmc.sierraclub.org
For 25 years, Earthworks has been dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions. http://www.earthworksaction.org.
As a native of Boulder County, and as the son of a man who worked in the oil and gas industry for 35 years, I feel compelled to respond to the hyperbole and melodrama of Encana Oil and Gas’s Wendy Wiedenbeck’s guest editorial (“Anti-fracking activism,” Op/ed Dec. 29). And, as the Colorado director of the national group Food and Water Watch that Wiedenbeck smears, I feel compelled to set the record straight about my organization and the community members that Wiedenbeck depicts as “extremists.”
Being almost completely devoid of facts, Wiedenbeck’s article uses emotional pleas and exaggeration. But what about the peaceful, earnest community members who she derides as “fringe activists?” These are mothers, fathers, teachers and small business people who have, until now, had no say to whether or not the oil and gas industry can put our air, water, soil and property values at risk by dangerous drilling practices like fracking.
Wiedenbeck wants sympathy, but it’s our health, our families’ safety and our communities that are threatened. Let’s examine the factual record.
There are 45,000 fracked wells in Colorado. Increasingly, the oil and gas industry — with the blessing of Governor Hickenlooper — is drilling merely a stone’s throw from our homes, schools, public parks, rivers and streams.
Fracking and its associated activities threaten our health. Nearly 25 percent of the chemicals used in fracking could cause cancer; 40 to 50 percent could affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular system; and more than 75 percent could affect the skin, eyes and respiratory system. With these scientifically documented dangers, why is Governor Hickenlooper’s state regulatory agency permitting companies like Encana to drill wells next to elementary schools in Erie, where data from a recent NOAA study found levels of propane ten times higher than in Los Angeles?
Fracking contaminates groundwater. According to an analysis done by the Denver Post of the state’s own regulator agency’s data, oil and gas has contaminated groundwater over 350 times in the past 5 years. On average, there is more than one spill a day across the state.
It takes 1-5 million gallons of water to frack a well. Each well can be fracked multiple times. Multiply that across the 45,000 wells in Colorado and you get a sense of the sheer volume of water that is being laced with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals and pumped into the ground. In effect, this water is removed from the hydrological cycle forever. Having just experienced one of our state’s most severe droughts, when 62 out of 64 counties were declared in a state of disaster, it seems unconscionable to continue such wanton destruction of our precious water resources.
Fracking drives down property values. There have been reported cases of home values dropping up to 75 percent due to nearby fracking activity. Increasingly, banks are not granting mortgages to property owners whose land carry oil and gas leases.
Sadly, it’s not just Wiedenbeck who’s obedient to the business objectives of the oil and gas industry — Governor Hickenlooper is astonishingly out of touch with Coloradans on this issue too. He has refused multiple requests to meet with Coloradans who are concerned about fracking taking place near their homes and children’s elementary schools. He has locked citizens out of “public meetings” that he has convened to discuss the issue while gladly keynoting at the oil and gas industry’s annual summit, starring in pro-fracking advertisements, and to suing the citizens of Longmont for attempting to protect their health, safety and property from fracking.
Wiedenbeck’s attack should be seen for what it is: A desperate attempt to cover up the fact that Coloradans don’t want fracking. This was made clear when citizens in Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban this dangerous, industrial activity next to their homes and schools last November. The vote was a resounding mandate. It was especially notable because the oil and gas industry raised over half-a-million dollars to defeat the measure, including $30,000 from Wiedenbeck’s employer.
It’s unfortunate that Wiedenbeck finds it necessary to defame Colorado citizens, but it’s understandable. It’s less understandable — deplorable actually — that Governor Hickenlooper continues to dismiss, discredit and even sue mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, retirees and business owners in Colorado who do not want fracking next to their homes and schools. These are the voices of reason and common sense.
Sam Schabacker is the Mountain West Region Director for Food and Water Watch.
Thanks to City Council for committing to a vigorous defense of the Longmont Public Health, Wellness and Safety Act.
This act was placed in the city charter by the will of Longmont voters who have a constitutional right to protect their health, safety and property values. Colorado oil and gas is attacking our democratic process by challenging the people’s vote and the Longmont charter in court. Their process is not safe and responsible. Their promises of revenue have not materialized in fracked communities. Roads have been damaged by heavy trucks, property values and municipal revenues have diminished, and the prospect for long-term, well-paying jobs has been lost.
There is much evidence of the horrors suffered in other communities subjected to today’s unconventional fracking. People are exposed to carcinogenic and other dangerous chemicals; methane gas is released into the air and water; water is poisoned by toxic chemicals; millions of gallons of water are used at each site and turned into toxic waste.
If you care about children or any human beings, pets and livestock, schools, your church, recreational facilities, the value of homes, parks, streets, our precious aquifer and long-term job growth, you will fight this attack by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
A vigorous legal defense of the Longmont Public Health, Wellness and Safety Act will ensure long-term economic growth and a viable future for all who live in Longmont.
“Colorado is over 100,000 square miles in area. Longmont is 22 square miles in area. Now ask yourselves why this tiny 22 square mile city is so important to frackers that they can’t simply go elsewhere in the 100,000 available square miles and frack to their heart’s content. The answer is (of course) the infrastructure that is already in place here: roads, power, water – it’s all here. So drilling here is cheaper than other places where these fracking essentials would otherwise need to be developed. But frankly, nobody wants to look out their windows and see the wells, pumps and tanks; hear, see and smell the equipment and trucks; watch nearby property values erode due to proximity to fracking operations; and generally have the quality of our lives eroded. Especially so since quality of life is what we are here for.
So when you stop to think about it, this fight is really between quality of life and profit motive, and haven’t we had enough of that? Haven’t we already seen what big money always seems to want to do, without concern for what kind of place our children grow up in, or the kind of place we call home? Enough already with the greed motive. Isn’t it about time that simple quality of our lives is seen as a higher priority than the profits of others that don’t even live here? Let’s be honest: Hickenlooper wouldn’t let them drill in his backyard. Why should we let him allow them to drill in ours? Go drill on the rest of the 100,000 miles and leave us alone. If you had planned to vote “no”, I invite you to reconsider your position and vote “Yes” on 300. The quality of your family’s lives depend on it. And what’s that worth to you?
Editor’s note: Brian Hansen served on the Longmont City Council from 2007 to 2011.
If the seven former mayors who signed on as shills for the oil and gas industry’s assault on the residents of Longmont were aware of the horrendously expensive and deceitful attacks that would be made against Ballot Question 300, they should be ashamed at their disservice to the community.
The recently submitted Report of Contributions and Expenditures that are in the city clerk’s office shows $447,500 contributed by the oil and gas industry and not one dollar contributed by the seven former mayors who are speaking for the opposition.
By now, every voter has no doubt received multiple mailings of color brochures, complete with a photo of the former mayors against a beautiful mountain backdrop. The deceitful message in the ads is hidden in the white boxes, where fragmented quotations from respected federal officials are used to persuade you that hydraulic fracturing is “OK,” “inherently safe” and can be done “without harmful impacts.” The propagandists who prepared the ads or the former mayors (or both) must not have believed anyone would bother to verify the accuracy of the fragmented quotations.
I have looked up several of the citations, and I encourage you to do the same. I can assure you, the story told by the fragmented quotations is far from complete. The untold portion of the story includes two important omissions.
The first is numerous cautions made by the quoted speakers regarding the necessity for tough regulatory action to protect public health and the environment from the impacts of fracking. By the admission of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and the commission, we know the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has never adequately regulated the industry in our state.
The second deceitful omission is a lack of candor regarding the fact that the quotations in the white boxes do not pertain to densely populated city environments. However, the propagandists want you to believe fracking is as safe in your neighborhood and near your child’s school as it is on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land, in the Gulf of Mexico or on rural farms.
But what do you expect from an industry that is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to defeat the efforts of Longmont residents to appropriately regulate their industry?
The most recent full-page color ads arriving in your newspaper are attempting to have you believe passage of Ballot Question 300 will mean millions of dollars spent by residents to acquire mineral rights within the city. The owners of the mineral rights will have the same access to extract those assets as they have had for the past 100 years, before the highly industrialized extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing. Question 300 does not take anyone’s property rights; it merely reasonably regulates the industrial process that is allowed within our neighborhoods and near schools and population centers.
Longmont needs to stand up for itself and vote “yes’ on 300.
Mike Soraghan is a reporter for Energy Wire, and division of E&E News. Free Range Longmont extends a heartfelt thanks for the gracious permission given to republish his article. Visit E&E News and Energy Wire for great coverage of both energy and the environment.
LONGMONT, Colo. — Kaye Fissinger can point to where every oil and gas well will be drilled around Union Reservoir. Not that she’s welcoming them.
As a breeze broke the stillness, lifted the branches of shade trees and pushed a small catamaran across the small lake on a Wednesday afternoon last month, she pointed to the one already there.
In the distance was a beige tank battery, the pipes, tanks and other equipment that remain after a well is drilled. It is the first of eight wells expected to be drilled at the city park around the lake under an agreement between the driller and the city government.
“Look at what it’s going to do — derricks, trucks, tank batteries …” said Fissinger, activist and campaign manager for a local anti-drilling effort called “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont.”
A new wave of drilling, fueled by the practice some call “fracking,” is promising prosperity and energy security for the country. E&E investigates whether anyone is ensuring it’s done right. Click here to read the report.
The question of whether there will be more derricks, wells and tank batteries is the subject of a legal fight between that same city government and the state focused on who can regulate drilling. The City Council passed rules in July barring oil and gas wells from residential neighborhoods. Within days, the state sued to block it.
Longmont is where the spread of drilling on Colorado’s high plains, spurred by advances in hydraulic fracturing, is slamming into the sprawl of Denver suburbs along the state’s Front Range. It is not the first place where advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have pushed drilling deeper into suburban and even urban areas.
State officials have banded together with the oil and gas industry to head off regulation by both federal and local governments, arguing simultaneously against a federal “one size fits all” approach and the “patchwork” that would be created by giving cities and counties control over exploration and production.
In Pennsylvania, local governments sued the state after the Legislature passed a measure limiting local control over drilling. In New York, drilling companies such as Colorado-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. have been losing legal challenges to local bans.
But the Colorado suit is the first case in the nation’s current drilling boom in which a state agency has gone to court to prevent a local government from asserting jurisdiction over drilling. The city’s formal response is due by Friday.
The plaintiff in the suit is the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a state body charged with policing and promoting development. But Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has led the charge against Longmont’s ordinance, calling Longmont’s rules “to a certain extent too forceful” in a recent speech and saying they would put “intense pressure” on other local governments to create a patchwork of different rules.
“I think there’s got to be a limit to it,” Hickenlooper said (EnergyWire, Aug. 16). “We literally begged Longmont not to go forward.”
Drilling in suburbia
Anti-drilling critics have taken to calling the popular governor “Frackenlooper.”
Those critics say exempting oil and gas from city zoning amounts to special treatment for a powerful industry that endangers people’s health.
City governments can generally decide where to allow factories, convenience stores, subdivisions and strip clubs. State governments such as those in Pennsylvania and Colorado are asserting that those city governments have no such say about oil and gas production.
“Name another industry to me that doesn’t have to comply with local, disparate zoning regulations,” said Michael Bellmont, another Our Longmont leader, sitting in his long-term care insurance office in Longmont’s trendy Prospect New Town district.
In Texas, where drilling is more entrenched in the culture, cities do have jurisdiction over oil and gas wells. Two years ago, the Texas Legislature rejected efforts to give the state’s oil and gas agency — called the Railroad Commission — authority over drilling in cities.
“The state has very minimal guidelines for where you can drill. What the cities have done is try to fill in the blanks,” said Terry Welch, a lawyer who represents cities in Texas. “The cities said, ‘Why should every city have the same rules?'”
But some local officials agree that rules should be uniform across the state.
“COGCC rules in Colorado work well for the industry,” said Bonnie Finley, a Longmont City Council member who opposed the zoning ordinance, “and I think that’s all we need.”
Driving north out of Denver on Interstate 25, sprawled-out townhouse complexes slowly give way to cows, hay farms and then pumpjacks, frozen in time. Just off the highway, one pumpjack gyrates slowly next to a line of frack trailers, looking like a cow chewing its cud next to the thoroughbred barn.
Four miles closer to the mountains, Longmont restores the suburban feel. But it is still a town of contradictions. It is a former farming town on the western edge of Colorado’s High Plains. But it is on the eastern edge of Boulder County, home to the University of Colorado and the famously liberal county seat of Boulder. The city has both the county fairgrounds and the “Anti-Corporate headquarters of Oskar Blues Brewery.”
Longmont does not have the history with extractive industries that some of its neighbors do. In the decades before Denver’s growth spilled into the area, pumpjacks were common to the east in Weld County. Not in Longmont, though, where the economy revolved around agriculture. People who moved there in the 1990s and early 2000s had little indication they might find themselves dealing with drilling.
“It’s a cultural divide,” said Sean Conway, chairman of the Board of Commissioners in neighboring Weld County. “They don’t have the benefit of experience and battles fought.”
Fissinger, the anti-drilling activist who moved here from California in 2006, wants Longmont to retain some of that unique identity. Driving through Firestone, the city to the east of Longmont in the more growth-friendly and agribusiness-oriented Weld County, she started pointing out each beige tank battery.
“There’s a tank battery. … There’s a battery,” she said. After just a few moments, it started to seem pointless, like pointing out burgundy cars on the interstate.
“That’s what I mean,” Fissinger said. “We don’t want Longmont to be another Firestone.”
And that is why her group is taking things a step further than zoning wells out of neighborhoods, pushing for a total ban on hydraulic fracturing with a proposal that will be on the city’s ballot in November (it would not cover drilling without fracturing). If it passes, it will likely be subject to the same legal challenges as the zoning ordinance.
Oil and gas drilling companies say Longmont and Firestone, and other areas of the state, should have the same rules. The industry says it needs a “predictable regulatory environment” and that allowing Firestone and Longmont to have different rules slows permit approvals. In comments sent to the city in February, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) noted that state officials process about 5,000 permits a year, which result in the drilling of about 2,000 wells each year in the state.
“If each well approved by the state is also forced into a months-long local permitting process, the number of wells annually drilled in Colorado would plummet, along with tax revenues, economic activity and jobs,” the industry association wrote in comments to the city.
Powerful forces are arrayed around this fight. Fissinger’s group is getting help from Food and Water Watch, a national environmental group that split off years ago from the Public Interest Research Group and now has an $8 million annual budget.
Longmont’s elections have been shaped by the American Tradition Partnership, a conservative group based inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway that has been active in state and local elections in Montana, Oklahoma and Virginia and pressed a pro-drilling agenda in Colorado’s Garfield County.
And Hickenlooper, a popular governor whom some envision as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, has come down firmly on the side of industry. Hickenlooper became prominent in Colorado as a brew-pub pioneer in Denver. But before that, he was a petroleum geologist.
Hickenlooper did a radio ad earlier this year for COGA, asserting the industry talking point that since rules were created in 2008, the state hadn’t “had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
But oil and gas commission spill records show 255 incidents in which groundwater was “impacted” during 2009, 2010 and 2011.
And before the new rules, Colorado was already the scene of a few of the nation’s highest-profile groundwater contamination cases.
‘Once they invade, they’re here’
Laura Amos of Silt, Colo., blamed hydraulic fracturing chemicals for the rare tumor she developed after a well near her home blew out in 2001 during the fracturing process. State regulators concluded fracturing was not to blame for the problems but fined the operator $99,400 because gas was found in her well.
Nearby in 2004, a drilling crew poured a faulty cement seal around another well in 2004 that allowed gas and benzene to seep into a nearby stream, called West Divide Creek. The state hit Encana Corp. with a fine and declared a drilling moratorium in the area for several years.
People complained in 2009 that gas was once again seeping into the creek, but the state rejected the claims. The residents’ complaints were detailed in the 2010 anti-drilling documentary “Gasland.”
In 2008, COGCC asked gas drilling companies to investigate whether they had contaminated the drinking water at Ned Prather’s hunting cabin near DeBeque, Colo. (Greenwire, Oct. 12, 2009). Tests showed the water had benzene and related chemicals at a concentration 20 times the safety limit. The companies determined they had not caused the contamination. The state went back, hired its own consultants and fined the lead company more than $400,000.
Through a spokesman, Hickenlooper declined to comment beyond what he’d already said publicly.
In Longmont, groundwater around a well 360 feet from a middle school has been contaminated with carcinogens such as benzene, which was measured at almost 100 times the state limit.
Underscoring some of the dangers of drilling, the same day Fissinger pointed out the tank batteries in Firestone, a well blew up and killed a 60-year-old well worker not far away in the Fort Lupton area of Weld County (Greenwire, Aug. 17).
State and industry officials say that Colorado has some of the most comprehensive state rules in the country. Even if that is true, state oil and gas regulation across the country is looser than regulation of other industries and is characterized by minimal fines and built-in conflicts of interest (Greenwire, Nov. 19, 2011).
Industry is guaranteed three seats on Colorado’s nine-member commission, down from five of seven in 2007 (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2011). And its mission is to “foster” development while also protecting health. To Finley, whose day job is with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, something of a state chamber of commerce, that makes sense.
“You want people who know what best practices and safe practices are, and those are the people from the industry,” she said.
But it leaves Fissinger and her colleagues with little faith that the state will protect residents from the ills of drilling. She and her fellow drilling opponents say the state agency is interfering with rights granted in the state constitution, including residents’ right of “seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”
Camouflaged with beige paint against the arid, drought-darkened landscape, the tank batteries at Union Reservoir don’t leap out like a neon sign for a strip club or car wash. Even if they’re not that hard on the eyes, she said, they can still be rough on the lungs and the rest of the body.
She added that Colorado has only 17 full-time field inspectors; state officials note that an additional 20 people conduct oil and gas inspections as part of their work.
“Air pollution, fugitive gases, spills,” Fissinger said. “By the time they get around to looking at it, the damage is done. Once they invade, they’re here.”
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the August 16, 2012, issue of the Boulder Weekly.
Not red or blue, it’s completely clear: all about the MONEY.
I read with both amusement and a bit of consternation the article describing Longmont City Council Member Bonnie Finley’s attempt to inject a poison pill onto the November ballot. She’s apparently so frightened that the charter amendment, The Longmont Public Health, Safety, and Welfare Act, will pass and be upheld by the courts (if and when it’s challenged) that she’s looking for a method to scare the bejesus out of the Longmont electorate. What better way to do this than to start talking about taxes, always a “four-letter word” in Longmont.
Longmont is entitled to a fair election on the issue. Blatant voter manipulation is an abuse of the democratic process. And that’s precisely what Bonnie Finley is proposing. Ms. Finley ought to be ashamed of herself. Furthermore, it’s unethical and likely also illegal for the Longmont City Council to participate in Finley’s manipulation.
The Longmont Public Health, Safety, and Wellness Act would prohibit the extremely hazardous process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as well as waste injection wells within the city limits of Longmont. Fracking lowers property values, damages tax-payer funded roads, endangers our health and safety, and contaminates the air we breathe and water we drink. But apparently, Bonnie Finley wants to derail a citizen effort to keep Longmont a great place to live so that the oil and gas industry can frack next to our homes, schools and Union Reservoir.
Finley first slipped her proposed Finley Tax into discussion during the “Mayor and Council Comments” section of the July 24 city council meeting. Her position is predicated on her belief that mineral rights owners would be deprived of the property right to access those minerals. Ms. Finely grossly, and probably intentionally, misreads the language of the charter amendment.
The Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act prohibits only the extraction method of hydraulic fracking. It does not ban oil and gas drilling by other methods. Owners or lessees of minerals are free to use, and have used, other methods of acquisition besides hydraulic fracking. They are not being deprived of all economically beneficial uses of their minerals.
Think of the oil and gas industry as a fisherman. When the Longmont voters pass the hydraulic fracking prohibition, they will be effectively saying, “You can’t fish with dynamite. You can buy a rod and reel and go fishing and eat all the fish you can catch by that method. You just can’t blow up the lake because it’s a faster way to get a whole lot more fish.”
In essence, the charter amendment is telling the oil and gas industry and their political supporters like Ms. Finley that they can’t access and sell these minerals using an inherently harmful process to do so. Make no mistake; fracking is harmful to children, families, the community, and the environment. The evidence keeps mounting, much to the dismay of the oil and gas industry and those people and agencies that facilitate the industry’s wishes.
Finley is employed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), which serves as the Colorado chamber of commerce. On the CACI board of directors is the Vice President of Encana USA, with substantial interest in drilling and fracking throughout Colorado. In a war there are always “minders.”
The Finley Tax is a blatant attempt to scare voters. Apparently Council Member Finley wants voters to make a false choice between their family’s health and safety and their wallets. All Longmont voters should be highly suspicious of Finley’s motives in proposing this tax. So who is she representing? I’d say the oil and gas industry – hands down.
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont is made up of people like you, your families, friends and neighbors who believe in Longmont’s quality of life and want to preserve it for ourselves and our children. Please join us by voting for the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act when you receive your ballot.
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.
Today, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont) announced that its charter amendment, the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act, has qualified for the November ballot. The Longmont City Clerk, has declared that Our Longmont’s signatures are “sufficient” to place the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act, before the voters on November 6, 2012. In doing so, Longmont will be the first city in Colorado to vote on banning the controversial oil and gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
“Today is a historic day for the City of Longmont and for the State of Colorado as Longmont leads the way to prohibit fracking within city limits,” said Michael Bellmont, a member of Our Longmont. “Fracking threatens our constitutional rights to protect our health, safety and property. We believe Longmont citizens have the right to decide whether this dangerous and destructive practice should take place next to their houses and their children’s schools.”
In early June, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont launched a petition drive to amend the city’s charter with the support of Food & Water Watch. In order to qualify for the ballot, 5,704 signatures of Longmont registered voters are required. With the dedication and hard work of nearly 100 volunteers, members of Our Longmont submitted over 8,200 signatures to the Longmont city clerk on July 20, 2012.
“The democratic process is alive and well in Longmont despite threats from the State of Colorado and the oil and gas industry to deny our city and its residents local control. Longmont citizens emphatically support their right to vote on whether or not fracking should take place next to their homes, schools and reservoirs,” Bellmont said.
“Our Longmont is a grassroots organization of Longmont citizens who believe that every citizen has the constitutional right to health, safety and wellness and that they are entitled to a voice in the guarantee of those rights. We are your neighbors, friends, and co-workers. We are business owners. We are retirees. We are mothers and fathers. We are ordinary Longmont citizens,” said Bellmont.
The state of Colorado is attempting to sue the city of Longmont over its oil and gas regulations. This is a blatant attempt by Governor Hickenlooper, an outspoken cheerleader for the oil and gas industry, to strip local control from Longmont so that his oil and gas friends drill next to houses, schools and parks in Longmont.
Longmont area native and Food & Water Watch’s Mountain Region Director Sam Schabacker has been supporting the efforts of Our Longmont. “Food & Water Watch is honored to help Our Longmont in its commitment to protect the Longmont community’s constitutional right to health, safety and welfare,” said Schabacker. “The actions that Our Longmont has taken are indeed trailblazing. If the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act is passed by Longmont voters in November, Longmont will be the first community in Colorado to ban fracking,” Schabacker said.
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, is a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont. We believe that Longmont has a right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. Our goal is to preserve the quality of life in our exceptional city by protecting the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. By so doing we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for ourselves and future generations.
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume are safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.
In a letter to the City of Longmont, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association insists that the citizens of Longmont do not have the right to protect their property, safety and health from the negative impacts of hydraulic fracking. Industry’s refusal to respect these inalienable rights is premised on their insistence that we must instead “respect the primary regulatory authority vested in the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).”
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmontbelieves that the Colorado Constitution gives all citizens the right to protect their property and live safe, healthy lives. It is the authority to which all of Colorado’s statutes must be subordinated and thus it does not give the oil and gas industry the freedom to damage our property values, endanger our families or pollute our air and water.
Despite protestations to the contrary, case law covering the interaction between the COGCC, Colorado’s designated agency for oil and gas development, and local governments is unsettled law. Colorado case law is a mixture of rulings that apply to dissimilar forms of municipal government. Such disparate rulings have been cobbled together and used by the oil and gas industry and the COGCC to intimidate municipalities from exercising their responsibilities to protect their citizens and their communities.
Municipal government comes in many forms, among which are counties, home rule cities and statutory towns and cities, each of which allows for different degrees of authority and independence. Among the powers afforded home-rule cities like Longmont is the authority to regulate the use of land on the basis of its impact on the community or surrounding areas and to regulate the use of land so as to provide for its orderly use and the protection of the environment in a manner consistent with constitutional rights.
The “findings” included in Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont’s proposed amendment to Longmont’s city charter identifies another constitutional protection. “The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals in the state, including the citizens of Longmont, certain inalienable rights, including ‘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,’ Color. Const. Art. II, Sec 3.”
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) violates these constitutional rights by threatening our health, endangering our children, diminishing property values and contaminating our water and air.
Frequently cited case law has not ruled on the constitutional protections afforded Colorado citizens but instead has focused on the statutory authority delegated to the COGCC. Also, new technology and the effects of multi-well pads using directional high volume fracturing have not been considered in past case law.
The COGCC, through the Attorney General’s Office, and the oil and gas industry have been seeking a court ruling on complete preemption of municipal control for years. The courts have refused this interpretation. As recently as the 2012 Colorado legislative session, a senator sponsored a bill (SB-88) that would have accomplished that objective for the oil and gas industry. The bill was killed in committee.
The arguments that are being put forth by the industry and COGCC are intended to intimidate local governments and dissuade Colorado citizens from asserting and claiming their Constitutional rights. Such arguments are inaccurate and blatantly indicate that the issues surrounding oil and gas drilling in Colorado have not been legally settled.
Neither the courts nor the COGCC have adequately addressed the Oil and Gas Act’s legislative mandate 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” (emphasis added), the first and presumably overarching restriction on all other directives contained within the Act.
The proposed Longmont charter amendment seeks to restore constitutional and statutory protections for our “health, safety, and welfare.” It does not seek to ban all drilling for oil and gas within the Longmont city limits, but to ban only one specific, particularly harmful extraction method, hydraulic fracturing, in order to guarantee and preserve constitutionally protected individual rights to health, safety and well-being.
It is the middle of the night as I write this. Many things keep me up at night. Sometimes I worry about my small business. Sometimes I worry that my children will be scarred for life by my poor parenting skills. Tonight I am awake because I’m worried about fracking. Working these past months to keep fracking and oil and gas development a safe distance from my family isn’t something I enjoy.
However, whenever I think “what is all this for?” I think of my friends, neighbors and family. I talk to my best friend in Ohio about my concerns about the chemicals in the air near oil and gas wells; about whether we could sell our home in the current market if a multi-well pad is drilled, as originally planned, near our home. She has a 5-year-old child with autism. He doesn’t speak. I tell her I know my concerns are nothing compared to her realities. But she tells me not to give up. She tells me about the many hours of sleep she loses because she wonders what caused several women on her street to give birth to children with autism. She wonders what was in the air, the water, the food she ate out of her garden. She wishes she had known and she could have done something to change her son’s lot in life.
I think about my neighbor who was an athletic, seemingly healthy, non-smoking 50-year-old who recently died of lung cancer. Another neighbor told me he had wondered in his last days if he should have gotten radon mitigation done on his home. I think of his wife, who will be haunted by all the “what ifs” about the environment he lived in that might have caused his death.
I don’t wish the “what-ifs” on anyone. And I don’t wish the “it’s too late now” on my family and neighbors. I am not the type of person who enjoys a good fight. I just want to be able to sleep at night.
I don’t think every person living next to every well will get sick and die. I don’t think the sky is falling. But I do think as time passes, we will likely find — like asbestos, lead paint, cigarettes — that living close to oil and gas wells has made some people sick. We will find that the regulations in place and the government’s ability to enforce them have been inadequate to prevent this from happening.
I understand people depend on oil and gas for their livelihood and that we all depend on oil and gas in a multitude of ways. This is a complex issue for all of us. However, I don’t think that not drilling everywhere we possibly can is the end to jobs and the economy or will guarantee we will never be free from foreign sources of energy (talk about “the sky is falling”). I believe American ingenuity and common sense can find a solution without destroying our economy or our communities in the process — and without compromising our constitutional rights to health and safety.
Our children, our families and our homes are worth, well, everything. Just talk to someone who has lost a mother, brother, child to a disease, or has watched them struggle with a health issue, like severe asthma. These are not risks we should take lightly.
So this weekend, I will ask my neighbors to sign a petition for a ballot initiative to ban oil and gas wells using hydraulic fracturing from city limits. I think it’s time we put the choice into the hands of the residents on whether they want a future of “what ifs” or whether they want one less thing to keep them up at night.
Editor’s Note: The following address was given before Longmont City Council on March 14, 2012.
I have a new suggestion tonight relative to how we use the moratorium currently in place to delay applications on hydraulic fracturing within Longmont City Limits. So far we have been talking about state regulation and the city’s limited authority to challenge it. The question now becomes, have you heard enough and seen enough in the past few months to be just the slightest bit worried about the impacts of fracking to question its appropriateness in this place, our city? Your answer to this question determines next steps.
I recently sent an open letter to each of you describing the difference between background research on fracking done by county staff at the direction of the commissioners and research done by city staff at your direction. The difference was that county staff talked about the impacts of fracking on citizens: health risks, hidden infrastructure costs, property values, etc.—all things that elected officials are responsible for, whereas city staff has so far merely presented a legalistic framework for how to indemnify themselves and you in the face of state preemptions. Well, it’s a good thing we have a little more time under the moratorium to research our alternatives further.
If—and I give the word emphasis—if you would like to prevent urban fracking if you thought you could, you might re-frame it as a rights issue rather than a regulation issue. You could re-direct city staff to research the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution, and our status as a home rule city to challenge preemption at its core. One course of action open to you while we’ve got a moratorium would be for you to revisit our city charter. You could ask staff what it would take to initiate an amendment to the city charter banning fracking within city limits. Or you could decide to put this momentous decision to the voters. Many of us would help you with such a campaign. However, if you’re fine with big oil’s PR campaign, commissions, and now a task force about how safe and green and inevitable directional hydraulic fracturing is, then you probably won’t welcome this suggestion. But there it is. For now the ball is in your court.