A Community Open House and a Joint Meeting between the Board of Environment Affairs, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Water Board were held at the Civic Center on Monday, February 6. The two events were a big success for Longmont residents.
While the battle is far from over and the opposition to communities who seek to protect their health, safety, well-being and property values is ferocious, the battle has been joined. The public has spoken resoundingly and the board members heard and in most cases shared the positions of the community on a number of issues involved in drilling oil and gas within Longmont’s city limits.
The “Oil and Gas Regulations Update” document released in advance of these events was weighted with communications from the Colorado Attorney General’s office and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) that sought to intimidate and threaten communities who had attempted to wander beyond parameters endorsed by the oil and gas industry.
Although the two Longmont public events were meant to be highly structured, both events did not bow to clearly predetermined outcomes and conclusions.
The Community Open House featured several boards placed on easels in the Council Chambers lobby asking questions that allowed community members to prioritize their concerns. The public was given orange dots to place by their highest concerns. Strong uniformity was apparent by the time the “voting” was completed.
Questions and sticker votes can be viewed here.
One option that was not offered was a total ban on drilling within Longmont. There is an overriding, although unacceptable, provision in state legislation and case law that no community has that choice. The State of Colorado has decided that industry exploitation of mineral rights takes precedence over all human needs if a choice between these interests has to be made.
If drilling is to occur, the public wanted setbacks well beyond what has been provided in regulations by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The public demanded closed-loop systems (no open pits for “produced water”) and the use of “green fluids” for fracking. Air and water monitoring, inspections, wide community notifications of all drilling applications, spills and accidents were also uniformly demanded.
Longmont ROAR established separate easels for dot placement on its highest priorities: an extension of the moratorium, 1000 foot setbacks and the use of closed loop systems. The public endorsed these priorities.
At 7:00 PM the Joint Committee met. It heard a lengthy presentation from Brien Schumacher, the city’s point person on the regulations and the “Local Government Designee” to the COGCC. That presentation followed closely the material presented in the Update. After the staff presentation, members of the boards sought answers to additional questions and clarifications of the material presented.
During Public Invited to be Heard approximately 15 to 20 people addressed the boards, reiterating their concerns and rejecting the limitations that the COGCC, and the courts, have established.
The board members understood and substantially accepted the community’s position. Fourteen of the twenty-one board members were present and were electronically polled with questions and issues similar to those during the Community Open House. Board member responses closely tracked community concerns and demands.
Most encouraging was the willingness of board members to “push the envelope” and risk legal action in pursuit of community protection.
During the final portion of the joint meeting, board members stepped up to an issue that staff had not offered – the extension of the oil and gas application moratorium. One member asked the pointed question, “How far can we extend the moratorium without risking a legal challenge?” City Attorney Eugene Mei cited a court case that upheld a 10-month moratorium.
With that information, a motion was made by the board to recommend to the Longmont City Council that the moratorium be extended a minimum of two additional months. All but two of the members present supported that motion.
As we move forward with the next phase of this process, it is essential that the community continue to assert its requirements to the City Council. Information, education, persistence and determination are the necessary ingredients to assure that the residents of Longmont are not only heard but that their demands are accepted.