Cast your ballot for those who will best protect Longmont's right to local control.
As we approach municipal elections Nov. 5, I believe it is critical that voters understand where each candidate stands regarding two lawsuits the city is currently defending. Although each lawsuit pertains to the community’s ability to regulate oil and gas operations within its corporate boundaries, each resulted from a separate approach to address foundational principles of local government in Colorado.
Home rule, citizen initiative and local control are key concepts found in the Colorado Constitution, the Longmont city charter and in years of practical application. The reason these basic principles of government are so critical is simple. When properly applied, they put key decisions about local communities in the hands of the people most heavily impacted, local residents. Under our charter, the citizens elect the City Council, which has the obligation to adopt appropriate policies to protect our health, environment and quality of life. This includes appropriate regulations for all land uses.
If and when residents do not believe the elected city council members are appropriately protecting the community, citizens have the right to initiate appropriate actions. This is what happened in 2012 regarding oil and gas operations. The ability to adopt appropriate land use regulations is a basic right of home rule cities in Colorado and a fundamental expectation of citizens. As you will see below, the primary opponents of local oil and gas land use regulations in Longmont are Gov. John Hickenlooper and the multi-billion dollar oil and gas industry. That is why city council elections this year are absolutely critical.
The first lawsuit is an attempt to thwart the city council’s right to reasonably regulate land uses in Longmont. It was filed by Gov. Hickenlooper via his industry-dominated Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The oil and gas industry quickly joined the governor’s legal action so that it could throw its deep pockets of cash into the fight to have the state, not the city council, regulate oil and gas operations within Longmont.
The governor felt compelled to take legal action against our community because a majority of the Longmont City Council dared to enact land use regulations that prohibit oil/gas operations, including hydraulic fracturing, within residential neighborhoods and requires these operations to be at least 750 feet from schools, hospitals and day care centers. Since the governor finds these rather timid Longmont regulations to be too restrictive of the heavy oil and gas industry, it verifies how little protection he believes our citizens deserve.
As of today, the city is vigorously defending its home rule rights to reasonably regulate the heavy industrial activities associated with oil and gas operations. However, a future city council could stop defending this lawsuit and capitulate to the governor and the industry. At least one candidate, mayoral challenger Bryan Baum, has publicly stated that he is in favor of settling this lawsuit. If you believe in local control, you need to know where the other candidates stand.
The second lawsuit stems from 2012, when a group of Longmont residents became convinced that a majority of the elected city council was not adequately protecting the community from the impacts of oil and gas operations. The citizens initiated a city charter amendment that prohibits fracking operations within the city boundaries. Approximately 60 percent of the voters agreed with the amendment last November and it is now a part of the city charter. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) promptly filed legal action challenging Longmont’s city charter. The governor quickly joined forces with the industry.
I hope you see the pattern of state government and industry joining forces to attack local control. The opponents of local control hope that the combination of the power of state government and the deep pockets of a politically connected industry will intimidate small communities and citizens. They think bullying local government serves their interests. It will not work in Longmont if we elect the right city council members.
Both of these lawsuits address important local control issues; therefore, they must both be vigorously defended. The one addresses the powers of a home rule city as provided for in the Colorado constitution. The other defends the right of citizens to initiate charter amendments or legislation when their elected representatives fail to act appropriately. These rights and powers of our local community are in the hands of the next city council. I encourage each voter to understand the candidates’ position and cast your ballot for the ones who will best protect our community.
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
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.
The 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.
The new mall plan looks DOA to me. Basically, we are replacing Dillard’s with Sam’s Club. Why does Longmont need three Walmarts?
And what small businesses will want to be in the same mall as Walmart? Why cozy up with people who will undercut small business prices?
The stores that NewMark Merrill has in mind are not bringing new kinds of business to Longmont. On the contrary, they are aggressively overlapping with stores on Hover and Ken Pratt that have proven they can do business here. The mall’s intent is to siphon off that business, not develop new business.
Twin Peaks redevelopment will use TIF to destroy what are now viable businesses
The tax increment financing is what the developer is looking to pocket, and reaping these tax dollars will also give them the upper hand in undercutting the prices of the existing stores they seek to undermine. That’s not a productive way to do business. It will use TIF to destroy what are now viable businesses, and will only replace them with a cheaper version. If you think Twin Peaks Mall has succumbed to urban blight, wait ’til you see what Hover and Ken Pratt will look like in 5-10 years.
Big-box abandonment will be pervasive. Or Longmont City Council will be dishing even more TIF money in an attempt to save them.
This is a poisonous project and NM should be kicked out of here. It is self-destructive for Longmont to continue with this plan.
That the new mall will restore Longmont’s reputation as the armpit of Boulder County is really the least of our problems. This is a financially unsound plan, designed to benefit the developer and not the city or residents. It will damage Longmont seriously. Longmont’s tax dollars would be far better spent in redeveloping Main Street, Kimbark and Coffman.
A recent opinion piece in the Boulder Camera brought to light the struggle that two Colorado cities are facing in regulating oil and gas exploration, drilling and extraction in their cities. It was stated that Erie’s approach was more reasonable and sensible than Longmont’s. Erie is working with the oil and gas industry whereas Longmont is being sued by the state because its regulations are too strict.
My question is, who is to judge if Longmont or Erie’s approach is more reasonable or sensible? And which will protect its residents from harm?
If Erie’s leaders have chosen the most reasonable path, why are some people selling their homes to move away from the onslaught of the oil and gas industry in that town? Some of Erie’s residents say their health is being affected by noxious and toxic volatile organic compounds emanating from the oil and gas wells throughout the town, causing such problems as gastrointestinal distress, headaches, nosebleeds and asthma. One woman I know has been diagnosed with lesions on her spine that appeared after a gas well had been fracked near her home. Is this an exaggerated claim?
Is it reasonable or sensible to expose children, teachers and staff to toxic VOCs venting from a fracked well down the street from Fall River Elementary School? Is there a special air filtration system on the school that will keep them safe? Is the oil and gas company drilling in that area going to monitor the air quality or conduct health assessments? An independent study conducted by NOAA in Erie has measured higher levels of VOCs (notably ethane and propane) in the air than in urban Pasadena and Houston, although an “expert” hired by the city of Erie discounted these findings. A Colorado School of Public Health study has shown that people who live within one-half mile of these wells are likely to experience chronic and acute illness including a higher risk of cancer (Search for Health Impact Assessment for Battlement Mesa, Garfield County on the Internet).
These health effects are a serious issue. Dr. Theo Colborn of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange has produced a video titled “What you need to know about natural gas production” that can be found on her organization’s website (endocrinedisruption.com). Dr. Colborn stresses that the entire process of unconventional oil and gas exploration, drilling and extraction has a detrimental effect on humans, wildlife and vegetation. Is this risk to all life forms reasonable or sensible?
I believe the recent regulations passed by Longmont City Council will not protect residents because it contains loopholes that could allow oil and gas companies to drill in the city. This is why I joined many others to gather 8,200 signatures so that Longmont residents could choose to vote to ban fracking in Longmont city limits. Does this make us fanatics and mischief-makers or environmental extremists to want to protect our air, water and soil and maintain a clean environment? We are ordinary residents — families, grandparents and business owners — who want the choice to decide whether or not we want heavy industrial drilling in our city.
The oil and gas industry is wrought with deception and lies. They are exempt from the Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Drinking Water, Superfund acts and more. What have they got to hide? If their methods of exploration, drilling and extraction are so benign, why not allow themselves to be regulated by the laws that govern all other heavy industries in the U.S.? Yet they stand behind their coveted “Halliburton Loophole,” an exemption that was passed to avoid transparency so that the industry could “drill, baby, drill” at our expense.
I will vote yes on Ballot Issue 300 in November to ban fracking in Longmont because neither the oil and gas industry nor the governor has my health, safety and welfare in mind. I ask you to support us to keep our city a great place to live — a place where we can breathe the air without getting sick and not worry if our water supply will become contaminated — and to protect our health, our future, our Longmont.
Longmont has been my home for 35 years. Like most young couples raising children, we didn’t have time to pay attention to every issue that came before City Council unless the issue became localized — personal.
There was a time when the buzz word was “infill,” developing property that already used city services. We worked with council to minimize the number of houses built near an alley. The alley was re purposed to serve the development and was given a street name. During the same period, a different development was stopped because it didn’t meet our home rule cul-de-sac and traffic codes.
We now have an industry that not only ignores our home rule zones and codes but threatens to sue if it cannot have its way to do business wherever and whenever it wants within our city. This industry threatens not only our property values but our right to clean air and water. In 2005 the oil and gas industry went rogue. With unregulated new technology, the industry is making billions of dollars. Science has not been able to keep up with the new technology but the first reports are alarming. Longmont residents paid attention, bringing tons of individual research and personal testimonials to council meetings. They urged and pleaded for home rule regulations. Because we have a mayor who allows us to talk and listens, a councilman in Brian Bagley who fought for us on the task force, we now have some regulations protecting our city.
However, these regulations and the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with TOP Operating are weak and do not fully protect us. They are filled with loopholes that allow the industry and council to ignore home rule. Thus the petition drive enabling us to vote to ban fracking within our city limits. The regulations and petition drive are causing a furor at the state level. That’s OK. We are not apathetic residents.
During the petition drive folks were willing to talk and ask questions when I told them it was a nonpartisan effort. One of the big concerns was jobs. I’ve had this same concern and asked council how many jobs would be created for the unemployed in Longmont. Councilwoman Finley was the only one who responded to me but it was to send me to the Encana Oil website. No answer to the number or types of jobs to be created has come from the industry. The drilling is done in phases with TOP drilling subcontracting out the fracking.
Toward the end of the petition drive, people wanted to know why we were pursuing the effort since council passed the regulations. As the regulations stand, the little word “exemption” in the residential drilling is a huge loophole for the industry and City Council to jump through. This word will allow TOP drilling or other companies and council members to use whatever reason they want to ignore the 750-foot setback. The MOU concerning setbacks is a baseline with the owner of the mineral rights, TOP Operating Co. in this case, to protect city/public surface rights. The MOU doesn’t pertain to any other drilling companies. These are rules that can be changed at any time by council if the drilling company says it cannot get to its minerals. The vote in November is to amend the City Charter, which is law and is much more difficult and time-consuming to change.
I’m voting to ban fracking because I do not want to wait 15 to 20 years to see if the cement used by the oil and gas industry cracks, causing carcinogens to leak into our water supply, harming my 3- and 6-year-old neighbors. I don’t want to bet on whether companies will relocate in Longmont with methane in the air and the city dotted with oil wells. I don’t want council to sell the surface rights of our public lands, which I voted to purchase with my tax dollars. I’m tired of waiting to see how many jobs will be created for our residents. I can’t wait for the science to catch up to the technology used. Just like with the tobacco industry, hindsight can kill us.
Please vote “yes” in November to ban fracking under the Longmont Health, Safety and Wellness Act.
Zoning law has supported municipal power for nearly a century.
The uproar over oil and gas operations isn’t going away, regardless of the result of the Longmont election this November. Since I won’t be filing an “amicus” brief with the court in the COGCC suit, I will release here some of my “secondary batteries.”
The governing body of a home-rule city, in this case the Longmont City Council, has virtually unlimited authority in Colorado to regulate, limit, or prohibit one or more uses of land within it corporate boundaries (or attach conditions to such use or uses). My experience as an urban/regional planner spans some 50 cities and towns, a dozen metro districts, and three dozen counties, nearly all in Colorado. Zoning law and theory have supported this municipal power for nearly a century. What is the reasoning behind this body of (mostly) common law? The answer is, the concept of “nuisance.”
If an owner of a parcel of land in a city wants to, say, process animal hides to make piles of money, he is not likely to get far if his neighbors will endure or will probably – even possibly – endure noxious or dangerous fumes, flows, effluents, vapors, odors, or noises. Normally when the effects of a use of land in this manner fail to cross the operator’s property boundary, everything CAN be fine. But cases exist where even ugliness has defensibly prompted limitations on use(s), and even interruption of sunlight has made the cut. It should be noted that the effects of “fracking” can and do travel across property boundaries, both above the ground (usually by “accident”) and below it (by design).
What makes the petroleum crowd think it can avoid these kinds of precepts and precedent? Just because a previous occupant of the White House gave them a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for hydrofracturing, with regard to a few major federal environmental measures enforced by the dreaded and leftist EPA, they must be encouraged – forced, if necessary – to remember that in the final analysis, all politics is local. If that means a “hodgepodge” of regulations evolves, what of it? Some places will likely WELCOME drilling.
In my view, at the core of this contest is one question: does municipal zoning govern only the surface of the land? Or are the subsurface and even the air rights above it also subject to zoning? Anyone who has built or bought a condominium knows or should know that zoned air rights make up what he is selling or building. As for what is below, a gigantic land-use case from the early 1920s is instructive (Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon). There the court concluded that the owner of the subsurface owed a duty to the surface (emphasis added), and to its owner or owners above, to prevent a loss of support. Loss of support often leads to subsidence (read “sinkhole,” or worse), which can also happen as a result of oil and gas extraction. By very limited and logical, reasonable extension, this landmark decision illuminates the concept – the need – for mineral operations to tread lightly, if at all. Witness provisions in countless U.S. land patents reserving one or more minerals, together with [only] so much of the surface as is required to access the mineral estate (sic). That kind of language places a mineral owner or lessee in the legal position of operating via an easement. Whether a prescriptive (indispensable) easement, or an easement of necessity, is not truly material. Drillers, of course, consider the matter as we now encounter it, to be a true “necessity” and count on our love affair with SUV’s and other motor vehicles, to shelter any and all abuses, accidental or otherwise.
How I wish Colorado or at least its cities would by now have adopted (there’s still time!) the mechanism of a “mineral resource overlay,” as a zoning convention. Such has served states such as the Republican bastion of Wisconsin well. An overlay can operate as a means of exclusion or one for inclusion, generally by “special review” and intensive deliberation. Jefferson County (and not the “socialists over near the Flatirons) studied and considered such an overlay early in the 1970s. A thorough review of Colorado’s Constitution and statutes will reveal that Colorado’s cities enjoy significantly greater powers than do its counties.
Courts may focus on a needle’s eye, but the instant matter is a much broader issue that should receive only the most thoroughgoing consideration. For insurance, let us hope the City of Longmont henceforth includes as a condition of every future plat approval a “Covenant of Non-Development.” Many jurisdictions in Colorado apply and require such a provision; it means no mineral processing or extraction on, in, under, or through the premises forever. There is nothing new or radical there. If a developer or property owner sits atop even a partially severed mineral estate, it is thereby incumbent upon him or her to first “make a deal” with the owner of the subsurface estate PRIOR TO application for development.
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.”
Editor’s Note: Gordon Pedrow served as Longmont City Manger for 18 years prior to his retirement in March of 2012.
Nov. 6 is Election Day. Be sure to cast your ballot for the sake of your city, county, state and nation. Tucked in amongst the myriad partisan races is Longmont Ballot Question 300. This question is worthy of your careful scrutiny because it is a proposed charter amendment.
Is this what you want in Longmont?
Ballot Question 300 deserves careful attention for several reasons: It will amend the city charter, it is an important public health and quality-of-life issue, and it was initiated by thousands of your friends and neighbors. Usually, we look to the City Council to appropriately act to protect citizens from negative impacts of heavy industrial activity. However, when a majority of our elected representatives fail to carry out their responsibilities, the city charter and state constitution provide means by which the citizens can initiate actions they believe necessary to protect their community.
Beginning last November, the City Council studied how best to regulate the negative impacts of oil and gas operations within Longmont. This is an industry that is poorly regulated and coddled by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with regulating its operations in order to protect public health and the environment. Until June, when it came time for the City Council to adopt its comprehensive regulations, it appeared that most council members were in favor of acting to protect the community from oil and gas operations. However, at the last moment, under extreme pressure from the industry’s big-money lobbyists and state politicians, a majority of the City Council capitulated to the industry and refused to support comprehensive regulations. When it really counted, only Mayor Coombs and council members Levison and Bagley were willing to adopt adequate comprehensive regulations to protect Longmont residents. Most citizens would agree that an appropriately regulated oil and gas industry can be a win for everyone.
After it became obvious that the City Council majority would approve only a weak, watered-down set of regulations, a group of citizens opted to circulate petitions to amend the charter as proposed in Ballot Question 300. More than 8,000 citizens signed the petitions. All registered voters can now have a direct say in the outcome of the proposed amendment.
This issue deserves your careful attention now for a couple of reasons. First, you need to understand what it says so that you can assess whether or not it reflects what is best for our community. Second, you should examine the merits of the amendment prior to the misinformation tsunami that will soon be launched by the oil and gas industry, along with affiliated special interests, as they try to persuade you to vote no on 300. (Do you remember the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of propaganda our community received from the cable industry when Longmont voters were considering home-rule control of telecommunication matters?) I encourage all residents to study the issues early so that you can adequately assess the veracity of information provided by both sides. Because the citizens who initiated the proposed amendment will have meager resources, it will no doubt be a very lopsided campaign.
It is easy to anticipate a few attack lines you can expect to hear from the well-funded opposition. These include: The industry will sue; Longmont has a representative form of government, so it is a City Council matter; the COGCC adequately regulates the oil and gas industry; and finally, Colorado has the most stringent oil and gas regulations in the nation.
As the attack ads appear, consider the following questions: Do you want to capitulate just because a multi-billion-dollar industry wants to resist adequate regulation and threatens to sue if it fails to get its way? If a majority of our elected representatives fail to protect our health, safety and the environment, doesn’t the city charter and state constitution provide a means for citizens to act? If the COGCC regulations are adequate, why did the governor on Aug. 15 tell the industry that new regulations are necessary for the industry’s “integrity and trust” and that citizens’ concerns about fracking must be addressed? Finally, do we care how stringent Colorado regulations are if they do not adequately protect public health, safety and the environment? Just last month, the governor admitted the state’s regulations are not adequate.
Voters, the issue belongs to you. Do your homework and cast your ballot.
The law should stand behind the people, not on top of them.
Thank you, Longmont City Council, for standing your ground against the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. The regulations that Longmont has put in place regarding oil and gas drilling are weak at best, but so common sense that it’s hard to fathom how the state could oppose them. Wouldn’t everyone hope that we’d monitor groundwater for possible contamination, keep heavily industrialized operations out of residential neighborhoods and have setbacks to protect our streams? Even those who fully support the idea that fracking is safe and necessary can see that in certain settings there should be limits.
The local community should be allowed to have a say in its own health, safety and well-being. And rest assured, there are safety issues when it comes to fracking. Just this week, a blast at an Encana fracking site in Weld County killed one worker and injured three. My heart goes out to the families of those workers. Do we really want to take the chance of something like that happening right next to a school, or playground, or our own backyard?
What’s at issue here is much more than whether or not fracking itself is safe or necessary. It’s an issue about whether or not a local community has the right to protect its own best interests. The COGCC is using its power to bully our small town. And when a bully gets its way, it only makes the bullying worse. If you ask me, the fact that they are actually suing our town over these minimal, common-sense regulations just builds a better case for why we, as a community, should assert our constitutional right to ban the practice of fracking within our city limits by voting for the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act in November.
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.
The following address was presented to the Longmont City Council on July 10, 2012, in response to a “last-minute” attempt to dismantle oil and gas regulations that are already meager.
I speak tonight as Kaye Fissinger. My words are solely my own and do not represent any other person or organization.
Some weeks back a gentleman approached this council at Public Invited to be Heard and minced no words in describing this Longmont City Council as the most unresponsive to its citizens as any he had ever witnessed. He couldn’t have been more accurate and more honest.
And once again the people of Longmont who have made it clear to you that fracking in Longmont is a threat to their health, safety and welfare are being jerked around by most of you as you manipulate the process to allow for drill-baby-drill by an industry who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything but their own profits. Not only have they no interest in the well being of people, they have no interest in the well being of this nation. They are multinationals. And their God is MONEY. Anywhere. Anyway. Anyhow. Anytime.
After nine months, city staff must be beside itself. This council majority never wanted to go down the oil and gas regulation road in the first place and did so only to appease and manipulate.
Council Member Finley has her britches in a twist about the Preamble. Her alleged dispute with its contents is as phony as a $3.00 bill. She won’t vote for the regulations under any circumstance. Frankly, she should recuse herself. She works for the Colorado chamber of commerce and an Encana vice president sits on its board of directors. You’ll never convince me or a huge number of Longmont citizens that she is carrying water for anyone but the oil and gas industry.
Council Member Witt is a Romney Colorado operative. She’ll take no position contrary to her candidate’s position. So she’ll vote “NO,” no question, and will give a poor imitation of Council Member Santos’ tactics of trying to have it both ways. He speaks about the industry and COGCC needing to put up or shut up, but he covers his eyes for the wink-wink so only the industry sees it.
What can I say about Council Member Bagley. He wants TOP Operating to be able to drill. And NOW he’s using his lawyerly skills to override the months of work by staff attorneys. To what purpose? Who benefits?
To the citizens of Longmont who listen and view these council proceedings there’s an 800 pound gorilla in this room sitting next to an elephant of partisan noteworthiness. The oil and gas wizard behind the curtain is on full display.
You, the pesky commoner, have no right to expect a high quality of life, according to Benjamin C. Harper Jr. (Open Forum, May 1 and June 29). Stop “sniveling” about the constant jump plane noise. When you “green stalwarts” feel compelled to speak up about the health and nuisance concerns associated with fracking, just zip it. In his view, we should all gladly live with these inconveniences “in the spirit of coexistence” so that businesses may operate with unbridled freedom. I heartily disagree. The burden of accommodation should be placed where it rightly belongs, on the industry — not on the backs of ordinary citizens.
Mr. Harper’s derisive and inaccurate comments have one aim: to silence critics of the airport and the oil and gas industry. And he gets it wrong on all counts. First, there is no effort to “shut down” Mile-Hi Skydiving. The Quiet Skies citizen group that I represent has repeatedly asked the city to adopt reasonable regulations aimed at curbing the excessive noise. So far the city has failed miserably in that regard.
Second, Mr. Harper states that the city of Longmont, the entity that owns and operates the airport, has no authority to determine whether the airport is expanded. Nonsense. The city has exclusive authority over whether to allow airport expansion.
And finally, he repeats the well-worn lie that only three people are really bothered by the jump plane noise.
We have worked hard to achieve a congenial solution to the jump plane noise nuisance, so far to no avail. A similar scenario has played out with fracking, an issue with truly major consequences.
You, the voting public, can stand up for local quality of life issues by voting out the Longmont City Council members who have no idea what it means to be a true public servant.
Peter Champe, Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, 303-241-8115
Sam Schabacker, Food & Water Watch, 720-449-7505
Petition Drive Announced to Stop Fracking in Longmont
If Successful, Longmont Would be the First Colorado City to Ban Fracking
Longmont, Colo. – Today, the Longmont ballot issue committee Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont filed a notice of intent with the Longmont City Clerk to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within Longmont city limits. This controversial oil and gas drilling method threatens health and safety, erodes property values, and pollutes water and air when done in close proximity to densely populated areas.
“The state and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association are bullying Longmont to take away their local control and the city council is not standing strong to protect the health, safety and welfare of Longmont residents, so this petition is our only recourse,” said Peter Champe with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. “People who live, work and raise their families in Longmont should have a say on whether or not they want their air, water, soil and roadways threatened by the risky process of fracking and the subsequent well production. If no action is taken, existing regulations would allow hundreds of wells to be drilled in Longmont.”
For months, Longmont Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas Regulation (LongmontROAR) has been urging the Longmont City Council to pass local regulations for oil and gas drilling that cover basic protections such as prohibiting drilling in residential areas. These regulations were developed after several months of citizen input, scientific testimony, and research by city staff. However, in the last four weeks, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the Colorado Attorney General have actively sought to derail these commonsense measures to protect the health and safety of Longmont residents. The Attorney General sent a letter to the City of Longmont with a veiled threat of a lawsuit should Longmont proceed with the regulations. Then, COGA conducted a push poll to manipulate public opinion and intimidate members of Longmont’s City Council. Unfortunately, the Longmont City Council responded to this pressure last week by putting the regulations on hold.
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont was created in response to these efforts by the State of Colorado and the oil and gas industry to take away local control from Longmont citizens to protect their health, property and families. The citizens’ petition is based on the Colorado Constitution, which 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,” (Colo. Const. Art. II, Sec. 3). Since Longmont is a home rule city, a charter amendment can be put to a public vote with signatures from 10 percent of registered voters. Our Longmont and its allies will need to collect approximately 6,000 valid signatures from Longmont voters to qualify the measure for the Nov. 6 ballot.
If successful, Longmont would be the first city in Colorado to ban fracking. The national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch supports communities across the country that are fighting to protect their health, safety and environment from fracking. Longmont’s case is of particular importance because it could set a precedent across the state of Colorado where many communities oppose giving the oil and gas industry free rein to frack, but are stifled by industry dominance and state law that prohibits municipalities from protecting their citizens’ health and natural resources.
“Longmont is Exhibit A for how the state of Colorado has failed its citizens,” said Sam Schabacker, who grew up in Longmont and is now the Mountain West Region director for Food & Water Watch. “Under the current state regulations, if fracking goes forward in Longmont, it could take place next to half of the city’s schools, in parks and our neighborhoods. This may mean big profits for oil and gas companies but no amount of money should trump the right to clean air, clean water, or a safe place for children to live and play. The people of Longmont deserve to be part of the decision-making process that will ultimately impact their families’ health, safety and the property values of their homes.”
A moratorium on drilling in Longmont expires on June 16, 2012. When the moratorium expires, fracking could take place throughout much of Longmont– next to homes, in open spaces and parks such as Union Reservoir, Sandstone Ranch and McIntosh Lake, and next to half of the city’s schools.
There are over 47,000 fracked wells throughout Colorado and the oil and gas industry is aggressively moving to dramatically increase that number. Twenty percent of the known chemicals used in fracking fluid can cause cancer, 37 percent can disrupt the endocrine system, and up to 50 percent can affect nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems. According to a Denver Post analysis of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) database, there is more than one spill of fluids associated with oil and gas activity each day in Colorado. One well next to Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont was found to have 98 times the allowable amount of cancer-causing Benzene in the groundwater.
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.
“The COGCC states that it is charged with promoting ‘efficient exploration and production of oil and gas resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare,’ but they have failed to initiate a single study verifying that fracking is safe,” said Peter Champe with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. “State government persistently supports the oil and gas industry’s plans to expand fracking across the state despite communities’ concerns based on mounting data that suggests significant health impacts.”
For more information and to see a copy of the petition, please visit: OurLongmont.org
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 and 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.
How did we get here? As a nation, a state, a community, how did we get here?
How did we lose so much of our humanity that we would by word and deed and law allow the profit of the few to trump the genuine needs of the many?
How did we get to the point where our President listens to an industry and apparently accepts their lies, their propaganda, or perhaps just doesn’t want to be crosswise with it and those with whom it has sway during an election year?
How did we get to the point where our Colorado legislature allows an industry to write legislation with the likely help of organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council? I ponder the word “exchange” in its name. In exchange for what?
How did we get to the point where our governor, elected to represent all of the people, runs interference against communities who DO want to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens?
How did we get to the point where our Attorney General in collusion with the oil and gas industry threatens legal action against communities who dare to seek to preserve our quality of life, paramount of which is our health? Do you know that the oil and gas industry has threatened to bankrupt communities who don’t fall in line? It will not surprise me when they try to do the same to Longmont, even in the face very tepid regulations.
How did we get to the point where members of our own city council value business above all else?