In “Guest Opinion” pieces of corporate propaganda, such as Wendy Wiedenbeck’s the recent post in the Boulder Daily Camera, reality gets buried by twisting the facts with half truths, misrepresentations, innuendos, and claims of innocence and victimization, that in the end amount to lies. Let’s get real about this. Wendy Wiedenbeck’s job as “community relations adviser” is to create a positive image for one of the most ruthless industries on the planet, whose only consideration is maximum profit, regardless of any ill effects to local citizens.
The laws and “”regulations” have gradually evolved to allow corporations to “legally” degrade the health of our families and our ecosystem. We have tried in vain to be heard by our elected officials at all levels of government, yet the assault on our quality of life worsens by the hour. We have tried Wiedenbeck’s “civil discourse” and figured out that it is a sham. The public forums are almost all we have left, because we are not being represented in the back rooms and the boardrooms. Now grassroots groups around the U.S. and the world are finding creative ways to fight back.
And as for Wiedenbeck’s “silent majority”, they recently spoke loud and clear in Longmont, 60% to 40%, and said “NO”, you will not be allowed to wreak havoc on the health and welfare of our community with your fracking and waste.
Wiedenbeck’s Opinion is filled with half-truths.
“I’m also guessing that they don’t know that hydraulic fracturing has been taking place in Boulder since the 1950s.”
Current fracking methods have little or no resemblance to previous methods. When Dick Cheney exempted fracking from parts of the Clean Air and Water Acts the industry took pollution and contamination to new levels.
“But there have been no signs of regret from the activists, or from the out-of-state pressure groups — such as Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C. — that encourage their behavior, train and fund them.”
Food & Water Watch did not “encourage” the behavior at the Commissioners meetings. The only “training” they have done is to show local concerned citizens how to best coordinate outreach to the community. And the only “funding” has been on an “in kind” basis. Wiedenbeck’s allegation is a thinly veiled attempt to discredit all of these concerned groups into one group, to make corporate thugs, like Encana, look good by contrast.
We’re on to you and your industry’s dirty tricks, Wendy. And that is your real concern. The citizenry has finally figured it out, and we are fighting back. Our only goal is to protect our families and communities.
A good number of folks have inquired in recent months as to how I became a part of the local fracking issue. I have been deeply involved in this wonderful community of Longmont for more than 20 years (a Chamber member for most of those years, a longtime Rotarian, an advocate and fundraiser for many local nonprofits, and current board member of the Friends of the Longmont Senior Center).
My wife and I raised our two daughters in Longmont, having chosen to move from Houston, Texas, and avoid its extreme traffic, pollution and frantic pace. I have also owned and operated a local business for more than 10 years.
So why did “mild mannered” Michael Bellmont become involved with so contentious an issue as fracking in the city? It initially had little to do with fracking specifically or even oil and gas generally. Rather, it sprang from a deep concern around my perceptions that our culture is allowing the democratic process to be effectively bought by the highest bidder. A good example is the trend evidenced by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gives corporations (which can always outspend individuals) the ability to donate unlimited dollars to political action committees and thus “purchase” the votes needed to further their own interests and profits.
Self-interest and profit are not in themselves good or bad. However, we all know that, without restraints, history is replete with examples of the abuse of power. In our world, power is always associated with great wealth.
The recent frenetic proliferation of the newer, “unconventional” fracking into densely populated communities like Longmont is a clear incarnation of the abuse of such power. I am personally not an advocate of “banning fracking” generally. Though it grieves me, we were all born into an unfortunate dependence on fossil fuels.
Both sides of this issue agree that oil and gas drilling, including “fracking,” is a heavy industrial operation. Interestingly, not a single other industrial activity is allowed in proximity to homes and schools in this city, and would, in fact, be illegal. Why does the oil and gas industry enjoy a special privilege that none others do? Why are their dangerous industrial operations that belong far from a healthy community like ours not only allowed, but actually forced upon us under current regulations?
Twenty-eight oil and gas companies (including Halliburton and Chevron) that are all based outside of Colorado have contributed almost $500,000 to defeat Question 300, which only prohibits fracking and its toxic waste disposal from within city limits.
Do you believe they have your and your family’s health in mind? Do you believe they care about the protection of your property? Do they have a stake in the quality of the air we and our children will be breathing for decades to come? The desire for profit is not inherently good or bad, but it can never be justified if it is elevated over the health and well-being of human beings.
If we are willing to believe the expensive, bullying, high cost, full-page ads designed to strike fear in us using fabricated, inflated projections of a lawsuit, then we will have once again fallen prey to being bought and paid for by wealthy corporations. Do not let them “buy” your vote. Tell them, “We, our children, and our health are not for sale.” Join me in voting “yes” on Question 300. Let us exercise our constitutional right to health, safety and protection of property. I can honestly say that “mild mannered” Michael Bellmont will be very glad when Nov. 7 rolls around. It will be good to return to pre-fracking days!
I will vote “yes” on Ballot Question 300 because it will protect our lakes, our irrigation and our drinking water from the destructive effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). I have been wondering why proposed drill sites are often close to water, such as Union Reservoir and the St. Vrain State Park wetlands. What’s the attraction? As a spokesperson for EnCana explained: “It is always our preference to identify a nearby water source because it significantly reduces our truck traffic associated with the transport of needed water to the location” (Boulder Camera). Said in another way, they jeopardize natural and other water bodies because it is cheaper and more convenient for them.
What is the water plan for the development of fracking? There doesn’t seem to be one, even though water is an invaluable resource. Water used in fracking becomes contaminated with toxins that cannot be removed. Unlike irrigation water, this water cannot be reclaimed and restored to the system. The oil companies do not dispute that. We are about to make an irreversible decision on fracking. There’s no taking it back if we find out we should not have allowed it.
How much water does it take to frack a well? It takes 5 million gallons to frack it once. Most wells are fracked several times. Even if it’s only three times, that’s 15 million gallons per well. The oil companies now say they are going to put several well heads on one well pad. That’s 75 million gallons for just one new well pad with five wells, fracked three times. These 75 million gallons must be stored somewhere since it can never be used again, and it becomes a potential source of contamination of other water sources. What are our plans for storing 75 million gallons of poisoned water? This is just for one well pad.
When oil companies say they use only a small fraction of the available water, they are talking about present usage, not future use. It is misleading because what is planned is a large expansion of drilling along the Front Range, so the percentage of water that will be used, and destroyed, by fracking companies will be much, much greater than is being used now. Anadarko, another company trying to drill wells in this area, plans to create 2,700 new wells. Multiply that 75 million gallons by 2,700, and one begins to see how massive this danger can become. Do we really have this much water to spare, to sell, to destroy? Where will we store this much contaminated water? Will local lakes and creeks become silent and accidental repositories of seepage?
The cheapest method is open pits. These are pits dug in the ground, with a tarp lining. To see what one looks like, check out the DVD “Land Out of Time,” available on the Internet. This documentary shows an open pit, surrounded by the bloated corpses of animals that drank from it. It also creates air pollution since the toxins can become airborne. Covered pits are not much better. Over time the covers will leak. The use of “injection wells” is yet another alternative, but these wells can leak, just as fracking wells can leak.
Please join me in voting “yes” on Ballot Question 300, to ban fracking and waste pits in Longmont.
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.
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.”