Tag Archive for longmont

Scepticism exists over economic benefit of airport runway extension

The following was addressed to Longmont City Council on March 14,2011, in response to the presentation of the final three chapters of the Airport Master Plan. This Airport Master Plan is controversial because of the inclusion of a runway extension at Vance Brand Airport. In addition, an ongoing controversy exists over the noise generated by Mile-Hi Skydiving by their dawn to dusk operation during good weather.

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport

Otter at Longmont Vance Brand Airport 11-2-2011

I would like to comment on the airport master plan and urge you to remove the runway extension from the plan. I believe the runway extension will increase airplane traffic and result in more environmental impacts, especially noise.

A major justification for the airport expansion is that it will create jobs. Chapter 8 of the master plan, titled “Airport Economic Impacts” summarizes the economic benefits of the airport on the region’s economy.

For example, “In 2010 the airport supported an estimated 257 jobs in Colorado that earned a total of $5.3 million.” First, these jobs are not necessarily in Longmont. And second, if you do the math that works out to an average salary of $20,622 annually. The scope of the master plan is limited and does not provide any context for these figures.

Chapter 8 devotes a lot of attention to Mile-Hi Skydiving Center – as they are one of the top two employers. The report states “In 2010, the payroll and benefits at each of these companies exceeded $100,000.” Is that a lot? Does the economic benefit justify the cost to the community of living under a blanket of noise? Let’s put the $100,000 payroll in perspective.

For comparison, Chapter 8 mentions a few specific companies in Longmont – IBM, Seagate, Intel and Amgen. These companies employ skilled workers. The average salary for a software engineer is about $100,000 – for one employee. A healthy economy relies on a diverse employment base, but higher salaries generate a bigger impact within the local economy.

Consider also the new Covidien Research and Innovation Center located in Gunbarrel. Covidien employs 1,800 skilled workers locally. They chose to locate in Boulder County because “The culture of innovation here is second to none.” These are the businesses that will lead to economic prosperity. They don’t require being next door to an airport and they don’t rely on government subsidies to remain viable.

The way to build a strong economy in Longmont is by providing a high quality of life, and attracting manufacturing and high-tech companies – not by extending the runway.

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The ball is in council’s court

Editor’s Note: The following address was given before Longmont City Council on March 14, 2012.

I have a new suggestion tonight relative to how we use the moratorium currently in place to delay applications on hydraulic fracturing within Longmont City Limits.  So far we have been talking about state regulation and the city’s limited authority to challenge it.  The question now becomes, have you heard enough and seen enough in the past few months to be just the slightest bit worried about the impacts of fracking to question its appropriateness in this place, our city?  Your answer to this question determines next steps.

I recently sent an open letter to each of you describing the difference between background research on fracking done by county staff at the direction of the commissioners and research done by city staff at your direction.  The difference was that county staff talked about the impacts of fracking on citizens: health risks, hidden infrastructure costs, property values, etc.—all things that elected officials are responsible for, whereas city staff has so far merely presented a legalistic framework for how to indemnify themselves and you in the face of state preemptions.  Well, it’s a good thing we have a little more time under the moratorium to research our alternatives further.

If—and I give the word emphasis—if you would like to prevent urban fracking if you thought you could, you might re-frame it as a rights issue rather than a regulation issue.  You could re-direct city staff to research the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution, and our status as a home rule city to challenge preemption at its core.  One course of action open to you while we’ve got a moratorium would be for you to revisit our city charter.  You could ask staff what it would take to initiate an amendment to the city charter banning fracking within city limits.  Or you could decide to put this momentous decision to the voters.  Many of us would help you with such a campaign. However, if you’re fine with big oil’s PR campaign, commissions, and now a task force about how safe and green and inevitable directional hydraulic fracturing is, then you probably won’t welcome this suggestion.  But there it is.  For now the ball is in your court.

Back door deal compromised clean water

Image courtesy of SXC.hu

Loopholes are supposed to be for defense, not offense.

If fracking is as safe as the oil and gas industry would like us to believe, then why in 2005 did Congress — at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of gas driller Halliburton — exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act? If fracking doesn’t affect drinking water, why would an exemption be needed? Don’t believe me? Just google “Halliburton loophole.”

When Colorado Oil & Gas Association and Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission officials say we shouldn’t complain about the dangers of fracking if we use natural gas, it’s like saying, we shouldn’t worry about keeping our water supply safe if we drink water. Huh?

So, what can you do about it? Join LongmontROAR.org and take back your rights to clean water and clean air.

Open Letter to Longmont City Council

I attended the hearing for Boulder County Commissioners last Thursday, March 1, about terminating, renewing, or amending their Moratorium on accepting applications for oil and gas development in unincorporated Boulder County.  I don’t know if the commissioners had directed their staff differently from how Longmont City Council directed its staff in doing background research on this issue, but I can report that the two reports had a decidedly different focus.  Whereas Longmont city staff framed their report along legalistic lines, the Boulder County staff looked at the impacts of oil and gas development on citizens, landscape, and finances.

In addition to hearing testimony from the public, the Boulder County Commissioners heard detailed reports from county staff representing the Land Use Department, the Parks and Open Space Department, the Transportation Department, and—most importantly—from Public Health officials.  Staff from each of these departments presented research and analysis on everything from the inadequacy of county roads to hold up against heavy truck traffic to scientific studies detailing water pollution in Wyoming and air quality in Erie, Colorado, where oil and gas development had compromised public health.  I don’t recall that Longmont even considered requesting input about public health from city staff.  In Longmont that aspect of planning has had to come from the public.

Boulder County staff also looked at some of the dilemmas faced by administrators in the face of pressure from state regulators.  For instance, county roads might have to be rebuilt at considerable expense before they could be safely used by large semi-trucks servicing the industry and before revenues could be collected.  Furthermore, anticipated income from oil and gas development might not even cover the county potential expenses associated with mitigation and litigation.  Boulder County staff also pointed out that the area’s reputation for healthy living, hiking and biking, would be adversely affected by the higher ground ozone levels that accompany large scale oil and gas development.  Again, I don’t believe quality of life was a topic of consideration for Longmont staff input to Council.

Appeals to the “inalienable rights” guaranteed under the U.S. and Colorado constitutions, which county and city officials are pledged to protect, were mentioned by many of the citizens offering public testimony.  Among these are the right to clean air, water, health, and safety—all of these under threat by an overbearing industry in a hurry to preempt local authority.  Legal appeals on these grounds may carry more weight than adjustments to existing regulations in stemming the tide.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest that there are many more avenues of research related to limiting or preventing fracking in the city of Longmont that city staff has so far explored.  Please direct them to study impacts and options for resistance as we move forward with our extended Moratorium.

 

ROAR event take-aways

Last Sunday’s educational event at Trail Ridge Middle School was wildly successful by any measure. Nearly 300 people filled the cafeteria meeting room to hear experts and local residents explain what hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is and how it might affect Longmont unless something is done to slow down the momentum. Scott Rochat reported some of the take-aways of the afternoon (“ROAR urges tighter drilling regs,” Feb. 27), but did not summarize what were perhaps the most important facts introduced.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Recent studies on air quality in Erie and water pollution in Wyoming (not to mention the raised benzene levels near the Trail Ridge school itself) counter the industry’s claims to being safe.

The oil and gas corporations exert immense pressure at the state level to pre-empt local home rule regarding our rights to health, safety and protection at the local level.

There is no way to protect our rights even with strict regulations because inspection and enforcement are inadequate.

Costs for everything from road damage to emergency response must be borne by local communities.

We residents are not always told the truth about accidents and the long-range consequences of fracking. Or about such things as the effect of fracking on homes built over abandoned mines or wells that might not have been disclosed when the home was purchased.

Longmont’s 120-day moratorium expires April 17, but an extension of at least six months was recommended by Sunday’s speakers in order to tighten proposed regulations for Longmont and to consider other options that would ban fracking altogether within city limits.

For more information about fracking, visit LongmontROAR.org.

Council gives thumbs up to “local control” — or not

A funny thing happened at “the Forum,” that is, City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 14. Toward the end of the meeting, assistant city manager Sandi Seader reported on the 100-plus bills in this year’s state Legislature that she is tracking on behalf of Longmont. She wanted direction from council.

Seader is tracking one bill that proposes to make installing residential fire suppressant sprinkler systems compulsory throughout the state.

An ever-lugubrious member of the council’s majority spoke passionately about the importance of “local control.” She’d just hate to see anyone building a home in Longmont being forced to install a ceiling sprinkler system just because the state says so. Unanimous agreement. Local control, yes!

Later, HB 1277 was described (kinda). Sandy paused, then meekly agreed with a usually quiet councilwoman who had quickly opined, “This doesn’t change anything.” Two other councilmen agreed.

The bill’s title is: “Concerning Strengthening Local Governments’ Regulation of Oil and Gas Operations, and, in Connection Therewith, Strengthening Local Government’s Zoning and Land Use Authority Over Oil and Gas Operations.”

In the real world, this bill changes the very basis of the state’s pre-emption of all meaningful local control of oil and gas drilling and extraction.

It simply and succinctly says that “local government regulation of the impacts of land use and development (including oil and gas operations) furthers the state’s interest in orderly land use and environmental protection.”

Without HB1 1277, Colorado state law and case law sustains that the extraction of oil and gas is so vitally important to the state, that only the state can regulate it. The viewpoint of the tyrannical Colorado Oil & Gas Commission is that home rule and local control must be pre-empted.

Without HB 1277,

Can the city zone hazardous multiple gas well pads to the city’s heavy industrial zone? Nope.

Require setback distances from wells to actually protect the people in homes, hospitals, churches, schools, parks, playgrounds, surface waters and home property values? Nope.

Refuse to allow large gas wells on city open space and wildlife sanctuaries?  Nope.

Prohibit open pits of toxic waste water?  Nope.

Set noise levels?  Nope.

Monitor and regulate toxic emissions?  Nope.

Inspect the well and well site?  Nope.

Have city fees and/or fines to recoup city expenses of monitoring and inspecting the well?  Nope.

All of the above local land use and zoning prerogatives are currently pre-empted for oil and gas wells.

HB 1277 clearly states that “an operator” (oil and gas corporation) “is also subject to zoning and land use authority and regulation by local governments, as provided by law.”

The summary of HB 1277 states that it “clarifies that oil and gas operations are subject to local governments’ authority, as well as the authority of the oil and gas commission. The bill establishes that oil and gas operations are subject to the same local control as is established for other mineral extractions.” That is, a lot of Local Control.

HB 1277 concludes: “Safety clause. The general assembly hereby finds, determines and declares that this act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety.”

HB 1277 is on one side of one piece of paper.

An ever-bellicose council member thundered: “This bill does NOTHING! We gave Representative Jones (the bill’s sponsor) a whole long list of things we wanted. This is only one sheet of paper.” Holding and shaking the piece of paper above his head he roared, “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on!” and tossed it aside.

Council voted to not support HB 1277. Instead, it was relegated to the bin of the hundred or so bills on Ms. Seader’s city watch list.

Strong local control over home fire sprinkling systems? Hell, yes! Longmont’s government lobbies for it!

Stronger local control over oil and gas drilling and wells? Hell, no!  Longmont’s council will not endorse.

It really would be funny, if it weren’t so pathetic.

Let’s all, as individuals, contact the House Local Government Committee members to support HB 1277.   It is scheduled for hearing Monday afternoon.

Contact information is available at LongmontROAR.org.

LongmontROAR event plays to packed house

A huge shout-out to all who attended and to all who assisted in making “The Truth about Fracking” an enormous success!
The event was held at Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont on Sunday, February 26, 2011 with an official count of 275 souls in attendance. The overflow crowd found people sitting on nearby stairs and looking on from the floor above the presentation area.

This venue was chosen because only a few hundred feet from the school is the Rider Well. The operator, TOP Operating, has failed repeatedly to mitigate a multi-year history of benzene leaks and contamination. Astonishingly, before the operator placed a fence around the well, children would play on the tanks in this highly contaminated area that has registered benzene levels as high as 100 times the designated safe level of exposure.

Leading off the event was a powerful presentation by research biologist Shane Davis of the Sierra Club, Poudre Canyon Group. The factual material was drawn directly from the website of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The power point presentation covered a wide area, including an explanation of how horizontal drilling and fracking is accomplished, the chemicals used in the fracking fluid, the scope of drilling in Colorado, to name only a few areas.

Despite what the oil and gas industry and the COGCC frequently state, Colorado has a questionable, if not poor, record on inspection and mitigation. As Davis presented from COGCC data, there are approximately 47,000 active wells in Colorado and approximately 80,000 abandoned wells. Only 17 inspectors are staffed to cover inspections that are meant to occur yearly. That amounts to nearly 8,000 wells per inspector, a physical impossibility. COGCC depends on the operators to follow the rules. We know from experience that without supervision, regulations mean little. We also know that the “honor system” does not work in our current national climate, if it ever did.

Weston Wilson, retired Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental engineer, spoke following Davis. Wilson was the EPA whistleblower on the dangers of fracking. He testified before Congress and was featured in the Academy Award winning documentary Gasland.

Wilson spoke to the current conventional belief about natural gas as a clean energy source that will serve as a bridge fuel to a future of renewable energy. But natural gas is only “clean” when the analysis is limited to the burning of the gas. When taken in totality, from drilling to consumption, natural gas is actually as dirty as coal. This is the result of the methane that leaks into the atmosphere when the gas is released to the surface. Methane is several times more damaging to the upper ozone layer than carbon dioxide and also is a major contributor to ground level ozone that puts all of us, especially children, the elderly, and those with compromised respiratory systems, at risk. A recently released study shows that there is higher pollution in Erie, Colorado, from methane caused by drilling than there is in Houston, Texas, and Pasadena, California. Both of those cities have a long and documented history of unhealthy ozone levels.

Phil Doe, former head of the policy office for the administration of water law in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water operations, concluded the professional presentations. Doe spoke about the excessive amounts of water required for fracking in a state that is legally over-committed in water allocation contracts. Typical consolidated drilling pads cover 10 acres with eight wells each. Five million gallons of water are required for each fracked well. The water used in this heavily industrialized activity is lost forever to the hydrologic cycle. It will never be used as drinking water, to bathe, to irrigate agricultural areas or for any other life-supporting purpose. The human uses of water just mentioned return about 50% to the hydrologic cycle.

The produced water, as it is known, is occasionally treated and reused for fracking, but is much more frequently deposited underground in what are known as “waste injection wells.” These wells are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency with enforcement designated to the states, and are known as Class 2 wells. Yet there are 600 wells in Colorado that are not designated as Class 2, which begs the question of adequate regulation and oversight.

Those whose lives have already been disrupted by oil and gas drilling and fracking provided the human perspective to the invasion that is coming to Longmont and Boulder County by the “mother lode” of oil and drilling quests.

Chris Porzuczek lives near Union Reservoir. His home is 350’ from a proposed consolidated drill site that is 50’ from his property line. Porzuczek has an 18-month-old son and fears for his health and safety with drilling and its threats so close. Rod Brueske lives just east of Weld County Road 1 on the Boulder County side. For Brueske, the damage is neither theoretical nor anticipated. It is in the here and now. He and his family have had to endure not only the threats to health but the 24-hour non-stop of lights and noise that have often forced them to rent hotel rooms.

Members of the audience were provided with index cards in order for them to write down their questions. The cards were collected throughout the presentation. Following the speakers, Shane Davis conducted the Q & A. There were more questions that there was time to address all of them. Even so, the event extended beyond its advertised hour and a half and only concluded around 4:15 PM. Those who didn’t get their questions answered will have them addressed on this site.

LongmontROAR again wishes to thank all of those who took time out from their Sunday afternoon to inform themselves about the issues surrounding oil and gas drilling and fracking.

We ask again that you, as well as your friends and neighbors, contact your Longmont city council members and request that they extend the existing moratorium for an additional six months, rather than the planned extension of only two months.

We must get things right. Once the bores begin penetrating the ground there will be little that can be done. This is a case where there will be no do-overs. Time is needed to make change happen, the right change, the best change.

The future of our homes and families and the character of our city depend on your action and your voice.

Santos storms out of council meeting

Gabe Santos, Longmont City Council 2012

Bullying his fellow council members isn't working.

Council Member Gabe Santos stormed out of the February 21 council meeting when things didn’t go his way.  I could say “like a bully in a china shop,” but council is far from that delicate status, though certainly the moniker of bully is apropos Santos.  After all, someone had to fill ex-Mayor Bryan Baum’s shoes.  Longmont can’t have a city council absent at least one right-wing bully.

So what got his knickers is such a tight twist.  Senate Bill 12-015, the ASSET bill, which provides for standard-rate tuition for undocumented foreign students who have spent at least three years in a Colorado high school and have applied for admission within one year of graduation or completing the GED.  In addition to the in-state tuition, the student would be required to pay the opportunity fund stipend that is offered to in-state students. How dare the city help it’s young people pull themselves up by their bootstraps!

In order for the Longmont City Council to vote on endorsing SB-015 during a study session, it was necessary to suspend Council’s Rule of Procedure 17.5. Mayor Dennis Coombs made the motion, seconded by Sarah Levison, and that prompted Santos to go ballistic.

He put his ever-so-oppressive foot down and said, “I’m not going to vote for this. If we’re going to bring up potentially contentious items before council at the state or federal level, then I got a whole slew that we can bring up.”  He ranted and raved about precedent, about future votes on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or saving the trees in Afghanistan.

In response, Mayor Coombs explained that the bill is largely bi-partisan and that Longmont has a number of Hispanic students.  That triggered even more raving by Santos who accused the mayor of making it a race issue.  Mr. Santos, do you have a problem with being Latino/Hispanic?  Or do you have to prove to the right-wing racists in the community that you’re one of the acceptable ones?  If you’re paying attention you will know that there are many racists in Longmont who consistently spew their racist venom in comments to Times-Call articles whenever the opportunity presents itself, or even in Letters to the Editor.

Santos didn’t get any help from Council Member Brian Bagley either.  Bagley pointed out that council gives direction to staff about which state bills to support or oppose and once or twice a month offers proclamations on issues that are often beyond the scope of the city’s direct business.

The hilarious portion of Santos tirade was his statement about the Council being a non-partisan board.  Technically, he’s correct.  But most Longmont voters know what party their council members belong to.  And if they don’t know it by a candidate’s admission, history or information supplied by their friends and family, they know it by the platforms the candidate adopts and by who are the visible endorsers.  So once more, of the countless upon countless times, Council Member Santos is – how shall I say this politely – DISINGENUOUS.

Disingenuous?  Aw, let’s forget that one.  Council member Santos repeatedly (let me say that again – repeatedly) couches his arguments fer or agin a matter with supposedly acceptable or righteous reasons.  He does this to avoid a record that could cause damage downstream in his political pursuits. Hell, even Tom DeLay wasn’t slick enough for that.  But then he was a Republican partisan with a major position in the Republican-led House of Representatives at the time.  While in the employ of Representatives Tom DeLay and Roy Blunt, I’m sure Santos had ample opportunity to learn how to be slicker than the supposed “Slick Willie,” whom they tried so desperately to throw out of office. They’re using other tactics this time around with Obama, but that’s subject for a different article.

A vote was taken on the motion to suspend Procedure 17.5 and the result was 6-1;  Santos was the LONE dissenter.  Following that Mayor Coombs moved and it was seconded that the Council instruct Sandi Seader, the city’s lobbyist, to convey the City of Longmont’s endorsement of SB-015 to the Colorado Senate and House.  Again, the vote was 6-1 with Santos as the LONE dissenter.  While Santos may have strengthened his right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic credentials with Longmont voters when he tries to climb the ladder out of Longmont into state office, he’s left one helluva stench elsewhere.

Immediately following both votes and before the routine comments from council members, the city manager and city attorney, Santos stormed from the council chambers.  He didn’t get his way.  He didn’t have the support of other council members whom he “whips” (bullies) into shape lest they stray from the fold.  He was left hanging out to dry all by his LONEsome.

What is council member Santos going to do next week for a second act?  We’ll just have to stay tuned, won’t we?

Will Longmont rush to judgment?

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

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

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

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

Paramount is the issue of RISK.

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

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

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

Lady Justice

Justice, both the scales and the sword.

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

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

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

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

Union Reservoir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural gas & Longmont: Risk motivation

The following is a statement excerpts of which were read before the Longmont Planning Commission February 15, 2012.

At one time I earned my living acquiring land rights and permits for two oil majors consecutively – CONOCO and Union Oil of California (UnoCal). I know a little about the natural resource industry, and a bit about the risks it faces and generates. More about that in a moment.

All the regulations in the world won’t prevent use of a defective piece of well casing, or what can result from a poor cement job. BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico is one illustration of the latter.

A major condition or factor that could materially reduce potential damage from a modern directionally- drilled oil and gas well is less-dense well spacing. Unfortunately, spacing is controlled by the state.

I’ve read two authorities (one is Fitch, the debt rating concern) stating that the natural gas market is essentially selling the stuff today at the marginal cost of production. Now, there’s risk. Many holes are probably being planned under a “drill it or drop it” scenario. Loss of a lease may be more important than revenue.

I  have a list of some of the kinds of chemicals used in hydrofracturing, presented in the fall of 2008 at the annual Ground Water Protection Council forum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here are just three:

Ethylene Glycol. This is good in your car’s radiator; not so good in your drinking water.

Glutaraldehyde. This is a “cold sterilant” used in the health care industry as well. Read “biocide;” you wouldn’t want your dog to go near this.

Hydrochloric acid. At any strength this is nasty material. You would find just a drop quite objectionable, and especially on your skin. If that isn’t taxis enough for you, in its stead Muriatic Acid is often used. This is fine for cleaning your swimming pool, but definitely not if anyone is in it.

I’ve learned that the typical fracked hole uses the equivalent of two rail tank cars of these chemicals. This is not the drilling fluids, but rather only the fracking additives. The next time you see the Burlington Northern go by, have a look at the tank cars so that you can comprehend the magnitude of this use.

We can only hope that that the first local drilling effort results in a dry hole. This would provide little to no encouragement to the mineral operators. Once these chemical migrate vertically through seams or joints in sediments (don’t believe they cannot), or up old, abandoned, even undocumented wells that did not have to be cased or cemented, then it is too late.

Interesting to me is that some sources in the industry say “fracking” can withdraw hydrocarbon gases and liquids from a radius as great as ten miles. I don’t remember granting a lease for my property, so if this is done from the east side of town then some oil firm is in mineral trespass. Many cities require a covenant of non-development (of minerals) in return for annexation or plat approvals. I recommend everyone thoroughly examine his title insurance policy.

The City as a surface owner has a bully pulpit from which to hold feet to fires. But more important would be a substantial performance and damage bond. While I worked for those mineral operators I secured legislative clearance to place mineral operations within the River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, and gained regulatory permission to conduct operations within the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland. The latter went within 150 feet of the Patapsco Reservoir, a city drinking water source. Obtaining these permits is responsible for only some of my grey hair.

To me the key for this city is to make failure very expensive for this undertaking. This explains why neither the Idaho wilderness nor the Baltimore reservoir has been threatened by drilling to date. Without a solid and enduring market, then, perhaps these promoters will go away.

We can only hope.

You Will Comply or Else

First published Feb 18, 2012 at CounterCurrents.org republished by author.

18 February, 2012 Countercurrents.org

Wheels of war, once made, want to be turned.

Wheels of war, once made, want to be turned.

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, once asked General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Albright’s statement nicely captures the U.S. approach to dealing with troublesome leaders. By troublesome, I mean those who have the temerity to oppose U.S. positions and who, at the same time, are far too weak to pose a real military threat to the U.S. Examples of nations that had such troublesome leaders include Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The leaders of Syria and Iran are also currently in the crosshairs.

Note the contrast between Albright’s words and those of President Eisenhower in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953. Eisenhower addressed the idea of regime change when he said: “Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.” He added: “Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.” Unfortunately the U.S., even under Eisenhower, did not base its actions on these words.

A pattern also emerges from examining the above one-sided conflicts that led to regime changes. The U.S. clearly feels no need for real diplomacy in these cases. For example, the U.S. often even refuses to talk with the other side. Instead, what passes for U.S. negotiation is the making of demands that the other side cannot accept. When the other side fails to accept all the U.S. demands, it faces U.S. action.

In general, the actions begin with a campaign by a compliant media here to frighten the U.S. population into supporting steps against the crazy leader who is a threat to his own people or to the U.S., covert acts including assassinations, creating and/or building up opposition leaders, threats of an attack against the enemy, the use of economic sanctions, and a military attack if the other steps haven’t worked. Sometime the U.S. attacks without going through most of the other steps. In the case of Iraq, even acceptance of U.S. demands was not enough to prevent the illegal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack.

The U.S. sometimes seeks to enlist the UN to provide a legal cover for its actions. For example, the U.S. often seeks the UN’s support for the sanctions. However, if the UN doesn’t accept the U.S. position, the U.S. and/or some of its allies apply the sanctions anyway. The U.S. also often attempts to gain the UN Security Council’s support for a military attack. However, if the UN doesn’t go along with an attack, the U.S. then turns to NATO or forms an ad hoc coalition of nations willing to join in military action.

Unsurprisingly, the compliant corporate-dominated U.S. media seldom, if ever, address the morality or legality of this approach that usually leads to a U.S. military attack on a far weaker nation. For example, the threat or use of force, except in self-defense against an armed attack or, unless taken by the UN Security Council, is prohibited under the UN Charter.

Sanctions have been in vogue for the last twenty years or so. However, more and more people today realize that harsh economic sanctions are, in effect, collective punishment of innocent populations. The devastation sanctions cause, particularly those wreaked on Haitians and Iraqis, has led to more frequent discussions about their appropriateness and legality. Some in-depth articles dealing with the legality of sanctions include:

The legality and morality of the U.S. approach should be discussed, especially given the U.S. campaigns regarding Syria and Iran. However, in the U.S. today, it seems to be outside the realm of polite discussion to point out that the threats to attack Iran by the U.S. and Israel are violations of the UN Charter. Few in the corporate-dominated U.S. media also challenge the idea of preemptive self-defense.

President Eisenhower also had some strong opinions on preventive war. He said: “I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing. …It seems to me that when, by definition, a term is just ridiculous in itself, there is no use in going any further.” Mary Ellen O’Connell’s article, The Myth of Preemptive Self-Defense, goes into much more detail about this issue.

When the US says that no options are off the table, it raises the awful possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state that has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty clearly is an extreme violation of the UN Charter.

Instead of the U.S. approach that relies heavily on the threat of the use of its military, real negotiations without preconditions are the key to resolving conflicts, including those with Syria and Iran.

Ron Forthofer Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado rforthofer@comcast.net

Marriage Equality – a personal viewpoint

Ray John Rodriguez - Longmont, CO

Ray John Rodriguez - Longmont, CO

Open Letter to Governor Chris Christie and his Vote Against Marriage Equality:

Dear New Jersey Governor Chris Christie,

I am writing this open letter in the hopes that you or someone you know or someone who can vote in your state will read.

I remember watching you on Oprah’s Next Chapter where she shared dinner with you and your lovely wife and kids. What an engaging, thoughtful and charismatic man you proved to be to me. Today you vetoed the Marriage Equality bill that was passed by the New Jersey Legislature. I guess that’s politics for you.

As a young gay man from Longmont, Colorado, this issue is very important to me. I know that Marriage Equality is only one step in the right direction for full human equality, yet some may assume that Equality is a single issue. In fact they look down on it politically as such. When Marriage Equality affects every aspect of those who are in a loving family, explain to me how this is just one issue. Inheritance (yes if you die your life-long partner if not protected by marriage can be robbed of all that you earned together by distant relatives because the law doesn’t consider you anything more than a roommate), hospital visitation (imagine going to say goodbye and denied the last words together), employment (yes in America you can still be fired JUST for being gay), homelessness (if you are kicked out of your home by your parents because you are gay, 1 in 4 gay high school students face this reality). Explain to me how Equality is ONE issue.

While I respect people’s right to adhere to their private and personal religious values, there is a difference between that and having their religious values literally enforced on the rest of society by robbing rights of those who do not share their religion. In ten years when LGBT Equality is a reality, my husband and my children will look back at votes like yours the way people look at white supremists today. Definition of supremist: One who takes supreme authority for him/herself; one who believes in the supremacy of one race, sex, or social group.

Mr. Chris Christie, you believe only heterosexuals deserve Marriage. By definition that makes you a heterosexual supremist. It took one vote that affects the community in so many ways to paint you in such a dark light. In time, you might be deserving of another episode of Oprah’s Next Chapter. However right now, the way I feel for my gay brothers and sisters in New Jersey, you are but a footnote in Americas Timeline that needs to be elected out. I guess that’s politics for you. In the words of State Senator Pat Steadman, “…the kind that puts people in the back of the bus.”

Respectfully Yours,

Ray Rodriguez

Take 2 or ? on the Mayor and Marriage Equality

There has recently been a good deal of sharp discussion in Longmont over the Mayor’s declaration of some support of “civil unions,” whereby so-called “same-sex marriages” result.

First, it looks like most of the noise originates from sour grapes over the November election. Second, there may be semantic bias — for example, “support” might not mean “approval.” Third, it is difficult for me to decide whether the whole subject is political or religious. These are THE two topics one NEVER brings up in family gatherings, after all.

At the risk of sounding self-righteous (he who is not guilty may cast the first stone), I wonder if some of the rhetoric about the matter may represent some intolerance. I’m not thrilled over “civil (same-sex) unions,” but I recall that many Americans were anything but pleased about allowing African-Americans to vote. The matter easily boils down to consideration of what persons do (vote, marry, invest, eat, die), versus what they are (Caucasian, Republican, Lutheran, homosexual). Not a little of our intolerance can often bounce out of the mirror and strike us upside the head. I know, it’s happened to me.

The question keeps coming up for me: what “class” of citizen am I, really? We can impute all kinds of “meaning” to the symbols in our lives, assuming they are truly needed. If symbols become their objects or their artists, what then? Much of the time one’s point of view determines his reality and acceptance of it. Who’s to say the animals in the zoo do not consider that the bars somehow hold us in, not out?

We have an interest in expecting some things, including much but NOT ALL the behavior of our public servants. The recent case of Hygiene’s fire chief comes to mind. His actions potentially threatened public safety; the actions of people (and that’s all they are) seeking a way to bequeath an estate to a legal “joint tenant” instead of a dachshund don’t harm anyone. I wonder what would have happened if Longmont’s Mayor had said he is gay. But, again, that would be an “is,” not a “do.”

What does a mayor do? In the Longmont form of government the Mayor is really one of the members of City Council. The Mayor administers nothing (a City Manager does that). A mayor can be a booster and a spokesperson in that he or she officially auditions the City to receive benefits including business as well as largesse from higher levels. But the mayor is not a priest whose utterances lobby the Almighty. If citizens expect a mayor to reflect their own thinking to a “T,” there will be disappointment. Group-think reached its nadir in Germany between 1932 and 1945. It works poorly.

Any mayor must represent an entire constituency and not only a slice of it. Those who insist otherwise will probably not be able to stop on the retreat past a very primitive organization of society (think family-clan-tribe), but will likely proceed to a point where Longmont has 87,000 mayors. That’s called anarchy.

In “Fiddler on the Roof” Tevye relaxes his practices for two of his daughters, but he never stops keeping his head covered. What he does socially is compartmentalized from what he is and remains. No mayor ceases being a citizen or a father or a husband or a sibling just because of an election.

I believe a city is fortunate when it has a leader who tries to DO that city’s business, not BE the city’s business. There be dragons in that, a lesson learned in too many places the hard way.

Community requires strict regulation of oil and gas drilling

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.