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.
COGA seeks to deprive Lafayette community of opportunity to vote.
Last week the city of Lafayette received a clear glimpse of the true nature of the oil and gas industry. Within a 24-hour period of time we saw a Halliburton employee, backed by a Colorado Oil and Gas Association law firm file an effort to remove a community’s democratic voice on our future.
COGA attempted to strip Lafayette from our right to determine if our community would become a gas field by removing the Lafayette Community Rights Act to Ban Fracking from our November ballot. The Lafayette city clerk and city attorney ruled against the industry and with relevant law and our community. The effort to take the vote away was defeated.
Not skipping a breath, the industry attempted to create fear in the community with the impossible and unfounded claim that voting to ban gas and oil drilling within Lafayette city limits would mean that natural gas would be cut off to people’s homes. This would be similar to saying that if we don’t refine gasoline in Lafayette, we cannot fill up our cars. It should have been clearly reported that the Community Rights Act addresses extraction, and has no provisions at all about natural gas as a product.
If the industry is treating our community is this way before the first drill even hits the ground, imagine how we would be handled once they have established a real foothold in Lafayette.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s full board has 39 members. These 39 individuals are attempting to determine how life for Lafayette’s 25,733 citizens looks for decades to come. This is the world according to the oil and gas industry, which cannot tolerate a democratic voice to be present. And so if fracking cannot coexist with a community voice, clearly one of these has to go.
Preserve Lafayette and our community rights. Vote for the Lafayette Community Rights Act to Ban Hydraulic Fracturing.
Our Broomfield Protests City’s Title for Fracking Moratorium Ballot Initiative
City’s Ballot Title Violates State Law, Does Bidding of Polluting Fracking Industry, Undermines Democratic Process
Broomfield,CO — Today, Our Broomfield, which collected 3,000 signatures to place a 5-year moratorium on fracking on the November ballot, filed an official protest of the City’s wording of the ballot initiative that will appear on the November ballot. The wording was adopted by the City Council on Tuesday August 13th and violates state law as well as the intent of the petition circulated by Our Broomfield. This is the language proposed by Our Broomfield:
“Shall Broomfield’s Home Rule Charter be amended for five years so as to prohibit the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract oil, gas, or other hydrocarbons within the City and County of Broomfield and to prohibit the disposal or open pit storage of solid or liquid wastes created in connection with the hydraulic fracturing process in order to protect property,property values, public safety, welfare and the environment?”
This is the language the Council adopted:
“Shall Broomfield’s Home Rule Charter be amended to prohibit the owners of property rights in oil and gas minerals from extracting their property through the use of hydraulic fracturing methods and impose additional restrictions on wastewater storage and disposal methods than existing state regulations for the next five years to address concerns about the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing?”
Our Broomfield contends that the City Council manipulated the language for political purposes in order to persuade voters to not vote for the amendment,also violating State Law under the Colorado Municipal Home Rule Act of 1971.
“We feel that the Title language agreed to by the Broomfield City Council in their 5-4 vote is prejudicial to the outcome and does not correctly and fairly express the true intent and meaning of the ballot measure. The majority vote of the City Council is attempting to undermine the local democratic process – we feel this violates the ballot initiative process as well as state law,” said Laura Fronckiewicz of Our Broomfield.
“We presented the City with an Amendment with the required signatures and in good faith expected that the Ballot Title would accurately represent the proposed Amendment. The words “public safety and welfare,” which are clearly and expressly stated as being central to the intent, have been removed from the Title altogether.”
“The City Council must respect the will of the people and not be subverted by this billion-dollar industry,”Fronckiewicz said.
The protest, filed by the University of Denver Law Clinic on behalf of Our Broomfield, is posted here:
Broomfield County Residents to Submit 3000+ Signatures to add Fracking Moratorium to November 2013 Ballot
BROOMFIELD, Colorado (August 2, 2013) – Our Broomfield will conclude its petition and signature drive on Friday, August 2nd, and submit signatures in support of a City Charter Amendment to place a 5-year moratorium on Oil and Gas Extraction on the November 2013 ballot. The ballot initiative will give Broomfield voters the freedom to wait for the results of ongoing research on the effects of fracking on health, safety and property value.
Over the last month, more than 3,350 Broomfield voters signed the ballot initiative petition— over 1,000 more than the 2,082 required signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot. The Charter Amendment will be put to a direct vote by the community, allowing citizens to decide for themselves if they want to proceed with allowing heavy industry in our neighborhoods and near our schools prior to a full examination from independent sources on the health effects of fracking.
Within just 4 months of organizing, the group has been met with encouragement from the community and genuine appreciation from residents who were not aware how quickly oil and gas extraction was proceeding in Broomfield. Petition volunteers have reported many instances of residents thanking them for taking the time to work on this important issue and bringing it to the voters of Broomfield. “By going door to door, I was able to talk to numerous Broomfield residents. There were so many residents who were surprised to hear that this issue was going on in Broomfield. I had people giving me their business cards because they were in agreement that the process known as fracking shouldn’t be happening near schools and residential areas. They wanted to help. We believe this is a cause worth fighting for. Not just for ourselves, but for our children and future generations,” said Our Broomfield volunteer, resident, and mother of three, Meghan Mariner.
Said another Our Broomfield organizer, resident and mother of two, Jennie Markarian, “It is amazing what can happen when concerned citizens stand up for their basic human rights. Citizens with jobs, children, and busy day-to -day lives gave up their time, and in many cases their own money to raise awareness and collect signatures to get this issue on the ballot. We have nothing to gain but the truth, and for so many of us, the truth is invaluable. I feel honored to have met some of the wonderful people who helped make this happen for Broomfield.”
Our Broomfield will now begin the campaign to educate our community further on the potential dangers of oil and gas extraction, which include water and air contamination, health impacts and depreciation of property values. Broomfield resident and mother of two, Jackie Houle, adds “I have met so many thoughtful and educated people during the past few months. The facts speak for themselves and the anecdotal evidence gives us pause… Which is why taking a time out on fracking in our heavily populated town is paramount to ensure the health, safety, and environment for Broomfield, neighboring communities, and the citizens of the Front Range.”
“I recently saw a video where Governor Hickenlooper was quoted as saying ‘Oil and gas is an industrial process that none of us want in our backyards.’ As a Broomfield mother I agree with the Governor – none of us want to see the dangerous process of fracking next to our homes and schools,” said AnnMarie Clearly, Broomfield resident and mother of two.
“Our Broomfield sees the effort to protect the people’s health from the dangers offracking for oil and gas as part of the larger movement throughout Colorado,” said Laura Fronckiewicz, who is expecting her second child any day. “We support the initiatives in Lafayette, Loveland, Boulder and Fort Collins to assert public health and safety as the highest community objective.”
Contact: Laura Fronckiewicz, 312-533-0525, Jennie Markarian, 805-587-5282, Nate Troup, 314-330-4467
The following Guest Commentary appeared in The Denver Post on June 27, 2013 and is reproduced on Free Range Longmont with permission from State Representative Mike Foote.
Mike Foote, Colorado State Representative, House District 12
Oil and gas is an issue that will not go away. The number of active wells in Colorado has doubled over the last four years. The number of spills and other contamination incidents has also increased. Drilling has encroached ever closer to more densely populated areas. The industry will spend and make billions of dollars in Colorado in the upcoming years.
People across Colorado have expressed legitimate concerns about their health and safety as well as their lack of a voice in the process. Changes to the system to increase transparency, accountability, local control and safety can go a long way in addressing those concerns.
That’s why I and other legislators brought forward proposals, including imposing minimum penalties for serious violations of the Oil and Gas Conservation Act and changing the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to focus on protecting public health and the environment, ending its conflicted dual role of promoting oil and gas drilling while simultaneously regulating it.
The industry opposed those bills, as well as others increasing water monitoring requirements, increasing the number of well inspectors, creating a health impact study, and assessing fees for local inspection programs. None of those common-sense reforms made it through the legislature.
However, some hope emerged at the end of the session when Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order directing the COGCC to “reevaluate its enforcement philosophy and approach.” The governor’s order went on to say, “Colorado requires strong and clear enforcement of the rules and assessment of fines and penalties accordingly.”
Implicit in the order was the recognition that enforcement of oil and gas industry regulations in Colorado is neither strong nor clear, and that the COGCC has become too cozy with the oil and gas operators it is supposed to be monitoring. It is my hope more progress can be made on this issue as well as many others related to oil and gas over the next year.
Recently, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association announced it would conduct a “listening tour” around the state this summer. As an elected official, my job is to listen to the people of Colorado all year long, and I hear widespread frustration about the current oil and gas system. Perhaps after listening like I have, COGA will be more interested in partnering toward some solutions rather than saying no to any real reform. Because if the industry continues to say “no,” the people of Colorado will say “no” to oil and gas.
That is exactly what is happening across the Front Range right now. Concerned citizens’ groups have popped up from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. A ballot measure banning fracking passed in Longmont with a bipartisan 60 percent margin. Ballot measures in other cities and counties are promised this year.
Instead of taking their concerns seriously, industry supporters have called these citizens extremists and hypocrites for heating their homes and driving cars to work. That isn’t the language of dialogue; that’s the language of confrontation. People have responded with the tools available to them: public protest and the ballot box.
Coloradans know that our most precious natural resources are not gas and oil, but water, air and natural beauty. They will act to protect what’s most precious.
Until Coloradans have confidence that the oil and gas industry is behaving responsibly in our state, and under strict environmental safeguards, we will see this dynamic continue. Building public confidence by setting and enforcing high standards will not only protect the environment and people’s health and safety, it will also protect the livelihoods of the Coloradans who work in the industry.
Negotiation requires more than just sitting at the negotiating table. It requires a willingness to accept opposing viewpoints and a commitment to find common ground. Coloradans deserve no less.
State Representative Mike Foote represents House District 12 in Longmont, Lafayette and Louisville.
I watched with anticipation yesterday as President Obama delivered his speech laying out his new climate action plan. Climate change is one of the most pressing issue of our time, and one on which the United States desperately needs to lead. While it was heartening to hear the President take on climate deniers and pledge to fight the problem, his full-throated advocacy for fracked natural gas and oil was more a case of two steps back than a giant step forward.
A major pillar of the President’s climate action plan is increased production and use of domestic fracked natural gas – and it wasn’t just gas – he also lauded increased domestic oil production. While Obama didn’t use the word “fracking,” that is the method used to extract gas and oil in communities across the country. He repeatedly referred to “clean burning natural gas” and lauded it as a “bridge fuel.” But if our goal is stemming climate change, fracked gas is a bridge to nowhere. It’s true that we need to identify new sources of energy, but we can’t drill away our energy problems.
There is a strong and growing movement against fracking – not just because of its documented impact on water, air and communities, but also because it is a driver of climate change. Americans Against Fracking, a national coalition to ban fracking has over 200 organizational members and vibrant state based coalitions pushing for a ban in New York, Colorado, California and elsewhere. People across the country are growing to understand what climate scientists have said for years—that we must leave our fossil fuels in the ground to avert climate change.
Our movement is growing and our elected officials have not caught up to their constituents. It’s critical that we pressure President Obama to listen to the science and to this growing movement against fracking for oil and gas. We also need to continue to hold him accountable for decisions he is making that contribute to climate change. His Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, for example, is facing critical decisions about fracking on public lands and his administration is also making key decisions on liquefied natural gas exports, pipeline projects and other infrastructure projects.
Tisha Schuller, CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, has been busy making the public relations rounds these days. And she’s promised to remain busy all summer as she goes from editorial board to editorial board with her latest talking point: polarizing.
What has Ms. Schuller (and the oil and gas industry) so motivated? Fracking, of course. Or more accurately, public opposition to fracking, a highly toxic and dangerous extraction method that threatens the health of every man, woman and child nearby or downwind of the volatile organic compounds that are released.
“Out in the boonies,” for the most part, and away from populated areas, until recently, the oil and gas industry had the luxury of operating under the radar of the air traffic control of the Front Range.
We should have been paying closer attention. But then, those in powerful places really didn’t want you to know very much. It might raise your eyebrows; bring frowns to your forehead; make you question. It might even activate you.
The West Slope has been fighting the fallout from fracking for oil and gas for years. Trying to preserve their health and their way of life, our friends on the other side of the Rockies have been battling their county commissioners, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, elected officials and don’t forget Big Oil, tirelessly and with determination, while most of the rest of us were leading our lives in “blissful ignorance” to the looming threats.
Ah, Ms. Schuller, I’m sure you long for the good old days, when all you had to do was keep an eye on the politicians in Denver to be sure that enough of them were on the same page as you.
So you tell your tale of woe to the newspapers so that your message, “We’re the good guys,” will be delivered by reporters not organizations that Big Oil has created and financed (Longmont Times-Call, “Colorado Oil and Gas Association seeks to depolarize local drilling disputes,” June 4, 2013).
With the inside media track, you write more of the same in the Denver Post. You moan and wring your hands about how abused the oil and gas industry is when all they do is provide you with, well, “everything.” You claim that “drill, baby, drill” is not you. If there even is such a thing, it comes from “extremists” on your side.
You claim that anyone against the vile consequences of horizontal hydraulic fracking is an “extremist” on the other side. Big Oil is no “villain.” They are your mommy and daddy taking care of your every need. “You’ll realize we were right when you grow up.”
But you, COGA and all of your industry members and the 501(c)(4)s that carry out your public relations and advertising directions, who execute your carefully crafted talking points are the “moderates.” Oh, please!
You do know “Energy in Depth,” don’t you? When you read about them on their website, you are given to believe that they are just a nice public service organization who will deliver, as “Dragnet’s” Sgt. Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”
But founding member IPAA (Independent Petroleum Association of America), in a 2009 internal document, wrote, “IPAA’s government relations and communications teams have been working around-the-clock on a new industry-wide campaign — known as ‘Energy in Depth’ — to combat new environmental regulations, especially with regard to hydraulic fracturing.”
It went on to say, “The ‘Energy in Depth’ project would not be possible without the early financial commitments of: El Paso Corporation, XTO Energy (now owned by Exxon/Mobil), Occidental Petroleum, BP, Anadarko, Marathon, EnCana, Chevron, Talisman, Shell, API, IPAA, Halliburton, Schlumberger and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.” Giants, all giants of the most profitable industry on earth, pretending to be the “David” in a battle against attacks from folks like the Longmont voters who banned fracking in our city.
EID was orchestrated as a “major initiative to respond to … attacks” and to devise and circulate “coordinated messages” among federal and state associations and member companies “working closely with news media and policymakers.”
So look for the word “polarize” to repeat over and over while COGA presents itself as the only sensible entity. But don’t believe it. Don’t count on COGA to protect your health and all that derives from it.
Ah, for the “good old days.” It’s a lament that’s heard a lot these days — from a lot of quarters and for a lot of reasons. Some pine for their youth and vigor. An “empty nester” might long for the days when the kids were little. Some might wish for a full head of hair.
But more often than not, those words are spoken in a political context. Conservative Republicans long for their hero, Ronald Reagan. Progressives have to go all the way back to Carter or Johnson, and especially to Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Up and down the political “food chain” there are not many “real Democrats” left. (Yes, I know, very punny.) It’s especially true as you go further up that chain. The genuine Democrats were replaced by others heralding from the Democratic Leadership Council or eliminated by the painstaking work of Newt Gingrich to poison the public’s perception of Congress so that it would be ripe for a takeover by his clones.
OK, I can see conservatives and corporatists “visitors” uttering “yeah” with two thumbs up. The “flat earthers” and the “birthers” and the “Bible thumpers” may not join in the cheers. But, hey, they are mostly just along for the ride (or the votes), while the money changers are forming “one world under the dollar with liberty and “justice” only for them.”
In reality, there is no more Democratic Party. Oh, yes, they still use that name. We have only ONE political party in charge of our government; but it has two branches. I like to call them the Republican Corporate Party and the Republican Lunatic Fringe Party.
Which leads me to the point of this article — President Barack Obama and his junior wannabe president Governor John Hickenlooper. The “we have every right to spy on Americans” president and the “fracking fluid drinker” governor are two cases in point.
While spending some time exploring the many articles that find their way into my Inbox, I found one especially astute and honest, brought to me courtesy of OpEdNews. “Dear Obamaheads” by John and Jean Anton is worth reading in it’s entirety. Please do. But here’s the part that I’ll borrow for this article. (Some of my good Democratic friends may not like this. But there’s an elephant that some don’t want to see.)
[Obama] should consider how much easier life would be for him, if he were a Republican. He wouldn’t have to make any more promises that he had no intention of keeping. He could build even more nuclear plants, extend even more gas lines, and subsidize fracking everywhere without worrying about environmentalists. Whistle-blowers could still be arrested as traitors, tortured, and imprisoned indefinitely “for their own good” without guilt….
Best of all, in the name of national security, he could join Republicans in ignoring all the amendments to the constitution except two: the one that says corporations are people, and the one that says yes, even four-year-olds have the right to carry weapons of mass destruction to school, to libraries, to lavatories.
He could lie like a Republican. He could bully like a Republican.
He could steal from the poor and the middle class to give to the rich like a Republican. He could continue to wage war everywhere in the world with only a nod of his head, without congressional approval, without the support of the American people whose blood he could spill and treasure he could spend because — he wants to.
In other words, instead of being a fake Democrat, he could be a real Republican.
What is it that broadcasters like to say? “And now we return you to your local programming.” Moving on to Colorado…
Frackenlooper appears to be digging his own political grave.
Yes, I really need to say more about our beloved Frankenlooper. We wouldn’t want him to feel slighted. After all, he may be the “chosen one” to replace Obama in 2016. The Democratic Governors Association loves him and is doing everything in its power to elevate Hick’s profile (with a little help for oil and gas $$$). And he’s a safer bet than New York’s guv, Andrew Cuomo — at least when it comes to oil and gas.
Although not everyone has faced the true political identity of Barack Obama, there IS a growing body of awareness where Frackenlooper is concerned. He knows how to get down to business, Big Business, Big Oil Business. Whether overt or covert, he gets the job done for them.
BUT! He overplayed his hand when he sued the City of Longmont. No one bought his “sleepless nights” or his “last resort” rhetoric. Well, maybe not “no one.” But it certainly was a media and public wake-up call. Even then, Hick was more politically tone-deaf than what might be expected of a calculating pol. He went for the knock-out punch and instead got knocked out himself when he strutted his stuff and said that he’d sue the pants off anymore communities that dared to ban fracking for oil and gas.
Oops!! That’s when his handlers stepped in. And if he didn’t figure it out all by his lonesome, they said, “Hey, Hick! You can’t keep doin’ this. When you find yourself in a hole, stop diggin’. Let COGA [Colorado Oil and Gas Association] and the industry folks do it for you.”
It wasn’t long ago that Hickenlooper was sporting a 54% approval rating. However, the recent Quinnipaic poll has him now at 47%. That’s frightening for an incumbent, even if it’s spun otherwise. Quinnipaic coupled this survey with Hickenlooper’s decision on the Dunlap death penalty matter. But they were too narrow in their research into causation. Many of those up in arms about Hickenlooper’s decision for a temporary reprieve won’t vote for the governor for any number of other reasons.
Hick is losing support from “his base,” the Democratic voter that is furious with him for his position on oil and gas legislation.
So here’s the message to our Colorado governor: If you want to get re-elected in 2014 and have that shot at the coveted whole enchilada, get on the right side of history. Let local governments determine whether or not they want oil and gas drilling and specifically hydraulic fracturing for the stuff in their communities. Don’t con us. No weasel words. No lies.
If you do this, most will come back to you next November in stead of staying home or even voting Republican because they just can’t pull the lever for you. The big oil and gas bucks into your campaign account are not going to save your political hide. In fact, they will help do you in. “You can run but you can’t hide.” has all kinds of meanings this time around. Your Republican opponent may not bring that up, but be sure that others will.
So spend some of those sleepless nights that you really didn’t spend before you sued Longmont thinking about YOUR future. The rest of us are going to do all we can to preserve ours. And that might not include YOU.
The final language for the Lafayette Community Rights Act, which will prohibit new oil and gas extraction within the city, was approved today by the Lafayette City government. This will officially launch the public effort initiated by East Boulder County United to establish a Community Bill of Rights that includes our rights to clean air and clean water, and our right to community self-determination. We hold that the rights of people and communities are the highest governmental authority, and that corporate interests are subordinate to the health, safety, and sustainability of the Lafayette community.
Starting the week of June 9th, East Boulder County United and the people of Lafayette will initiate a large-scale petition drive to place the amendment onto the November ballot for the direct vote of the Lafayette public. It is clear to us that an industrialization of this scale, forced onto this community by State government acting on behalf of oil and gas corporations, is far more dangerous to our public health, environmental sustainability, property values, and democratic decision-making than any threats of State or industry litigation. Hydraulic fracturing and its unpredictable threats to community health, economic viability, and environmental sustainability are too severe, and oil and gas profits are not worth more than human life.
There will be a kick off meeting for the Lafayette Community Rights Act, which will be held at the Vitamin Collage, located at 100 S. Boulder Road in Lafayette, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM on Tuesday, June 11. The meeting will underscore the campaign’s ideas and goals, and train the numerous volunteers in gathering signatures necessary to place the Act to a direct vote of the Lafayette public.
East Boulder County United considers the future and safety of Lafayette part of the new civil rights movement that has bloomed across Colorado and the United States in response to corporate interests and the threats of the oil and gas industry. Like other civil rights movements, we are forced to protect ourselves by confronting the corporate laws that threaten the many for the gain of the few.
The Lafayette Community Rights Act will aim to protect our community members, our city, and our environment, and help to stem the long tide of corporate abuses and their real-life impacts to people and environment. This will begin the march for a just, democratic, and sustainable future.
East Boulder County United
Do you want to know how cold it can get in Antarctica in midwinter? Go to a city council meeting in Greeley, CO, any time regulation of the oil and gas industry is on the agenda. You’ll get an idea.
Last week, the room temperature felt near absolute zero from the iciness of the council’s reaction to citizen petitions to rein in industry designs on their neighborhood, a place called Fox Run.
What was up for debate was a proposal to approve permits for 16 horizontally fracked oil wells on a small parcel of undeveloped land, itself about 16 acres within the city. The 16 wells would be only 350 feet from the back door of some residences. These wells, according to the oil company, would be fracked four at a time, meaning the citizens of these neighborhoods could expect heavy industrial activity out their back door for up to three or four months a year, 24/7, over half a decade, perhaps. We’re talking literally tens of thousands of truck trips to deliver water, chemicals, steel pipe and a variety of heavy industrial machinery via a single point of ingress.
Envision, if you will, the Saturday afternoon barbeque, with the excited voices of children at play competing with the drone and Earth rattle of drilling next door as unknown quantities of who-knows-what are spewed onto the festivities. This scene could be played out over and over again as money is made for the few and public health and social well-being are sacrificed for the many. That was the argument most often made by the homeowners.
Add to this that some local businesses would actually be only 200 feet from the wells. It happens that the man who owns the 16 acres for the drilling site also owns the street-front buildings in which these businesses are housed. They had all voluntarily agreed to the reduced setback, and no one suspected collusion in these robust economic times. As the owner said—employing small town, Daddy Warbucks logic—these people couldn’t tell him what to do with his land. That would be a takings, and he would have to be compensated, royally. In his mind, his individual rights were superior to the public’s rights.
His understanding is almost certainly wrong, for the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed over and over again that the protection of the public’s health and well-being is superior to property rights, but no use to talk to this scion of “private property rights uber alles.” The only thing keeping the takings assertion alive for the oil boys and rent-seeking land owners is that government refuses to look at the health implications of fracking systematically, even though a host of scientific and public policy leaders at all levels of government and academia are asking for them. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying the impacts on water. A draft of this study is to be released in 2014, but the agency has scrubbed any analysis of air impacts as a result of oil industry pressure.
From the Greeley Communities United Appeal of the Sheep Draw Oil and Gas Proposal presentation.
In the end, despite roughly 45 people speaking in opposition to the permit, and only about seven in favor—four of them owners of the permits and the property involved—in an audience of about 150 people, the city council voted 7-0 in favor of the oil company and private enrichment over repeated calls for caution and deferral until the health impacts of fracking were better understood.
Of the opposition, many were homeowners in Fox Run, some were tearfully concerned about their children, all were concerned about the air impacts. A doctor, head of the pulmonary unit at the Greeley Hospital, tried to appeal to the council’s better angels. Another woman explained that Fox Run was home to two city-chartered apartments for the disabled, 40 units in all. These units had been built with $4 million in public money from HUD. Ranging in age from 20 to 70, many of these citizens are wheelchair bound, and the majority use oxygen, in the newer unit all but one. The impacts on them might prove frightful she reasoned.
One person said she had heard the vote was rigged, it had already been decided, but she had come to the meeting anyway just to find out. She was not to be disappointed.
Leading the charge for adoption was Mayor Tom Norton. Of stentorian voice, laced with perhaps just a whisper of whiskey’s telltale raspiness and coiffed in surprisingly vivid auburn hair, he was in control, for, after all, he was used to a much larger stage. He had been president of the Colorado Senate during the heyday of former Gov. Bill Owen. Owen fancied himself a Texas oilman and had the pickup and plates to prove it, though perhaps not the chin, but that too has been altered to fit his rough and ready oil patch persona.
Norton, himself an engineer, had risen to become Owen’s director of the Department of Transportation, before retiring to Greeley, his longtime residence, and running for mayor. A family affair, Gov. Owen had appointed Norton’s wife, Kay, to be President of Northern Colorado University. It, too, is in Greeley. She still heads this university of over 12,000 students. Previously, she had been a staff lawyer for Monfort Meat Packing.
This “private sector” experience, she recently wrote, caused her to take the lead in leasing 246 acres of mineral rights under the university to Mineral Resources, Inc., the same family oil company that was seeking approval for 16 oil wells that would run under Fox Run.
In glowing terms, she described the Richardson family owners as our neighbors, much in the same fashion they had described themselves at the hearing. She went on to fancifully describe their oil business as “boutique.” She reasoned, too, that since city records showed the Richardsons already had leases to the mineral rights under most of the city, both public and private, a little more land couldn’t hurt and might foster orderly development.
She also wrote that the university had considered student public health issues and, in her opinion, there was nothing to worry about. In fact, she effused, the state’s regulations would only get stronger and more protective of the students.
Well blow-out near Windsor, CO, in February 2013.
The idea of stricter regulation to protect public health was not what her husband argued last winter when the state was considering greater setbacks. The proposal, eventually adopted, increased the setbacks from 350 feet to 500 feet. But as Matt Lepore, the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state’s oil regulatory agency, said to the press, these regulations were not to protect public health, but to reduce noise and dust near homes, or more concisely, the anger factor in neighborhoods invaded by the industry. Lepore added that the state hadn’t really gotten its head around the health issues. This fiscally wasteful and cynically driven form of decision-making was recognized as dangerously flawed by COGCC Commissioner Holton who said in these debates:
I just felt like we should wait until we get some good data, in order to make a decision. If it’s 100 feet, fine, if it’s 1000 feet, whatever. Basically it looked to me like we were just changing the rules because we could, and I don’t think that is a good idea.
Norton, speaking for the city council, felt none of these compunctions. He was worried about reduced revenues to the city if some areas were no longer available to the industry because of a 500-foot setback rule. After all, he said, the city already has over 400 operative wells and with the potential for many more, new setbacks might “affect the $3.2 million in annual city revenue from oil and gas, and the $900 million of royalties projected over 25 years to Greeley…”
Clearly, the Nortons see Greeley as a classic company town where public services are paid out of monopoly oil and gas revenues. Moreover, the mayor and the council need not have worried because the COGCC and the Department of Public Health approved a setback of only 200 feet for businesses in the case at hand. The Richardsons did admit under friendly questioning that the council needed to act quickly because the new setback rules, which become effective on Aug. 1, would make their well oiled plans more difficult, perhaps requiring even more official variances.
Unknown to most in the audience was that Mayor Norton, only weeks earlier, dressed all in black, with resplendent auburn mane, had come to Denver to testify against HB 1275, the only significant piece of fracking legislation before the 2013 state legislature. It would have funded a one-year effort to survey reported health impacts from people living near fracking. Mayor Norton said it was unnecessary, that everyone was happy with fracking in Greeley, for revenues from fracking helped pay for public services. His testimony was seconded by the boldly feckless Dr. Chris Urbina, Gov. Hickenlooper’s choice to head the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment. Dr. Urbina spoke against the bill because of the dangers of collecting medical data too hurriedly, as opposed to the dangers of collecting none at all. These two presumed representatives of the public provided the cover needed to allow the state representative from Greeley, Rep. Dave Young (D), to vote against the measure, thus ensuring its defeat. Company town, indeed!
Greeley has suffered greatly from oil and gas development. Its attempt to deny drilling within the city boundaries back in the 1980s was met with one of those great, dunderheaded decisions that only courts can make. The Colorado Supreme Court, uninformed about geography, apparently, reasoned that oil and gas development was so important to the state and nation that any attempt to deny the industry access to the city proper would pose a threat to national security. Colorado is 104,000 square miles in size. Greeley is 47. Couldn’t they do the math?
Consider, too, that most of Colorado is underlain by shale deposits, the ancient sea floor that is giving up its treasure to the industry through the “magic” of horizontal fracking. All the incorporated cities and towns in the state comprise about 1900 square miles, less than two percent of the state. Yet, it is this wrongheaded 1980′s court decision that is allowing the oil and gas industry to invade cities at will across the state.
The testimony of the city planner, parrying the comments of the young attorney, Matt Sura, who had been hired to represent the home owners, was straight out of Charles Dickens. Sura had been masterful in pointing out the numerous holes and unanswered questions in the city’s evaluation of the 16 permits. Chief among them was the unanswered question of the impacts of these wells on public health, particularly those people living in close proximity to the wells. The city manager told the council that he thought the city had done a stellar job of answering all questions except the questions concerning public health. But he said that shouldn’t concern the council since the public’s health was a matter of state and federal concern. It was not their responsibility.
Surely there can be no truth in the old notion that we deserve the government we get.
Want to get an idea about the scale of industrialization of Boulder County?
Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange
Let’s take a look at truck traffic alone. According to the recent “Boulder County Oil and Gas Roadway Impact Study” presented to the Boulder County Commissioners, each well fracked in Boulder County would take about 2,206 truck trips to complete. Given the commissioners’ estimate that up to 1,800 wells are conceivable in Boulder County, this equates to 3,970,800 truck trips to complete these wells. If we assume the average tractor-trailer length to be 70 feet, this gives a perspective on the scope of the industrialization being considered.
Given the report and county’s numbers, the resulting line of trucks would span from New York to Los Angeles and back over 10 times. Of course the study assumes the wells are fracked only once. In reality wells can be fracked up to 18 times. Can you imagine, from truck traffic alone, what the sky above Boulder County might look like to someone from on top of the Flatirons by the end of this process?
The study does not calculate the costs to people. What would the rise in cases of asthma cost due to ozone? What are the total costs to public and environmental health associated with the full process of gas and oil operations? It is clear that the Boulder County Commissioners need to take as much consideration into the human impacts of industrialization as they do roads. For a real picture of what this would mean we would have to include complete health impact studies and baseline air and water quality studies. For a county whose oil and gas permit moratorium expires on June 10, it sure seems like there is a lot of homework to be done.
Vote endangers public's health and property and puts Democracy at risk.
GARY WOCKNER is the Colorado Program Director for Clean Water Action, Fort Collins
The environmental community — and our organization, Clean Water Action — was extremely disappointed to see the Boulder County commissioners cave in to the oil and gas industry. The commissioners could have extended the moratorium on drilling and fracking and spared the toxic pollution and trespass that this rogue industry will now splatter across Boulder County.
Fracking causes air and water pollution, has been shown to increase cancer risks, and reeks havoc on nearby homes and families. In addition, methane escaping from fracking operations and the burning of natural gas is a significant contributor to climate change.
Shame on the commissioners for not protecting their citizens. Their vote endangers the public’s health and property and further puts our Democracy at risk.
That said, we were happy to see Commissioner Elise Jones try to persuade the other two commissioners to extend the moratorium. Commissioner Jones’ grit and leadership was apparent and appreciated a few weeks ago when she took on (and beat!) Gov. John Hickenlooper in the fracking debate at the University of Denver. And again, Commissioner Jones stood up for the publi when she supported the extension of the moratorium.
Gov. Hickenlooper is a bully, and the oil and gas industry is an even bigger bully with billions of dollars. Commissioner Jones: Please keep standing up to these bullies, and please keep speaking out against the frack attack coming into Boulder County.
On May 2, Gov. Hickenlooper participated in the FrackingSENSE lecture series at the University of Colorado. There he stated that he wants to be a “fair witness” of oil and gas development (particularly of fracking) in Colorado.
The term “fair witness” was introduced in the 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. In this book, a fair witness is defined as an individual trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions. I would venture to say Hickenlooper is anything but a fair witness when it comes to fracking.
Consider that he has appeared in paid advertisements for the oil and gas industry claiming that fracking is safe. He has been called a “stud” by oil and gas lobbyists, hardly an impartial reference. He intentionally misled a Senate hearing committee and the press with his claims of drinking fracking fluid, which in reality was not the kind of highly toxic and carcinogenic fracking fluid that is routinely used throughout Colorado. He has sued a local community, Longmont, for imposing a ban on fracking. He has not only continually threatened to veto just about any bills that would strengthen regulations or enforcement of existing regulations, but has pressured Democrats to kill such bills before they even reach his desk so he can avoid looking like the bad guy.
At this same conference Hickenlooper stated that “if we find unhealthy air quality around a community and something coming out of a well that is an issue, we will put the brakes on faster than you can imagine.” Oh really? NOAA recently reported air quality in Weld County that is worse than Los Angeles and Houston and is directly related to oil and gas activity, yet there is no slowdown on activity there. And a recent gas leak near Parachute allowed a carcinogen to seep into the ground near a large creek that feeds into the Colorado River, and I have yet to hear of any “brakes” being applied there.
Probably the most alarming statement that Hickenlooper made at the FrackingSENSE event is that the science on the impacts of fracking is far from settled and that scientists don’t know the impacts of wells on air and how that might affect the health of nearby residents. If this is true, then why are we continuing to drill, baby, drill? Shouldn’t we be implementing the precautionary principal and putting the brakes on fracking until we know the answers to these important questions? Shouldn’t we be putting state money toward studies that would answer these questions instead of toward costly lawsuits against residents who are trying to protect themselves? Instead, Hickenlooper’s appointee to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Dr. Urbina, specifically testified against HB 1275 that would have produced a study on health impacts.
The fact that our governor is saying one thing but doing completely the opposite leads me to believe that he is certainly no fair witness to oil and gas development and fracking but instead is a colluding representative of the industry.
Our founders stressed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in their Declaration of Independence. A recent survey found the happiest Americans live in Hawaii. Coloradans are second! The unhappiest people live in West Virginia. I think I know why: degradation of the environment and poor health.
I grew up in the 1940s and ’50s in Nitro, W.Va., in the Kanawha River Valley, home to a huge chemical industry. Cancer rates were high, particularly liver and lung cancer. The chemical plants sat outside our city limits, so there was no local control over what they did to our environment. The paint on our houses and cars faded from the chemicals in the air, the water stank and was unpalatable.
West Virginia coal mining mountaintop removal Courtesy EcoWatch
Alternatives for West Virginia workers included working in the coal mines. Explosions, collapses and “black lung” took their toll. The coal industry has mined the coal easiest to reach, so they’ve begun blowing up the beautiful West Virginia hills to get at the coal. They let what’s left roll down into the streams, fouling the water, killing the fish and causing landslides onto private property.
Why are West Virginians the unhappiest Americans? Their land, air and water have been degraded by corporations seeking profits without regard to the health and safety of their workers and other citizens.
I hope more Colorado residents will join Longmont and Fort Collins in drawing the line in the sand between us and the oil and gas industry: You cannot ruin our beautiful state, destroy our precious, scarce water resources, pollute our formerly pristine air for your profit. You have a right to extract the minerals you have purchased, but not at the expense of the health and safety of present and future Coloradans. Stand up and fight, Colorado!
This article was first published at EcoWatch – Cutting-Edge Environmental News Service
If the public are bound to yield obedience to laws to which they cannot give their approbation, they are slaves to those who make such laws and enforce them. —Candidus in the Boston Gazette, 1772
Colorado Springs is Colorado’s second largest city. Perhaps unfairly, it is also known nationally as a bastion of conservative politics. Yet, a little over a week ago, on March 12, conservative and liberal—indeed people from every shade in the political spectrum—found common cause. They stood united in fighting the prospect of the oil and gas industry taking over their city, one open space at a time. They stood together at a rally on a chill-wind morning in front of the Colorado Springs City Hall, and then in a packed council chamber to testify against fracking rules and regulations that would have given the industry the keys to the city.
Fortunately, the concerned citizens of Colorado Springs prevailed in convincing the majority of city council members that fracking is not safe. Now the city must start from scratch with new rules and no drilling can take place in the meantime.
Right to Say NO! Rally outside Colorado Springs City Hall on March 12 . Photo credit: Scott Flora
On March 12, Colorado Springs residents, in a packed council chamber, testify against fracking rules and regulations that would give the industry the keys to the city. Photo credit: Eric Verlo
On March 12, Colorado Springs residents, in a packed council chamber, testify against fracking rules and regulations that would give the industry the keys to the city. Photo credit: Eric Verlo
Check out this video of the rally:
Colorado is a strong “home rule” state. That is, cities and towns with home rule charters have powers superior to the state in matters of local jurisdiction. This straightforward declaration is found in Article 20, Section 6 of the Colorado Constitution. It says in part:
“The people of each city or town … shall always have the power to make, amend, add to or replace” their “charter” … This … “shall be its organic law and extend to all its local and municipal matters.”
“Such charter … shall supersede within the territorial limits … of said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith.”
Predictably, the courts and legislature have made a mockery of the latter provision when it comes to the oil and gas industry having its way with the local folk. Oil and gas development has been declared by them to be a matter of supreme state concern over which the state and only the state has jurisdictional powers.
It means in practice that the industry does not need the consent of the governed, only the consent of Governor Hickenlooper, Hick to his friends. Hickenlooper, famous for speed-dialing up his political career by jumping out of an airplane as a campaign stunt and wearing an open-throated shirt under his suit except at coronations, recently told a Senate committee he had drunk fracking fluid and had found it safe.
My colleague Wes Wilson at Be the Change told me, “Hick’s drinking habits might pass for science in Louisiana, where creationism is also taught as science, but not here, where empirical evidence is still consulted and weighed, at least by those outside politics.”
No clearer demonstration of the wackiness of the Governor’s new religion of public-safety-through-selective-tasting was more evident than at a March 5 town hall meeting in Fort Collins. There Colorado State University’s Monfort Professor of Climate Science, Scott Denning, told those assembled that he had worked as a field geologist in the industry, and that fracking is a dangerous, heavy industrial activity that should not be allowed in any city. He also said that new data gathered in Weld County showed the methane (natural gas) production losses were at nine percent. Over the critical short term, the next 20 years, this makes methane 4.5 times worse than coal for climate change because of methane’s much greater heat trapping capacity.
His remarks concerning the dangers of fracking were not necessarily remarkable for their originality, for scientists and activists have made similar statements from across the country. What was remarkable was the Stepford Wives reaction of Hickenlooper’s show-case representatives on the panel—one, the second in command at the state oil and gas commission, and the other, the head of air quality for the state department of public health. They did not engage his assertions. They simply stared blankly ahead and told the audience of their agencies many accomplishments. Clearly, for them, happiness is playing housewife to Anadarko, Encana and Shell, and perhaps servicing their neighbors Noble, Anschutz and Conoco when needed.
But fortunately, in the end, the Colorado Springs City Council, several of whom had been well tutored by local activists on the dangers of fracking to their city, voted down the rules.
Enriching the tableau being played out that day in Colorado Springs was the introduction of an initiative to ban fracking within the city by a local grassroots group. It is human rights based, focusing on the constitutional guarantees of the health, safety and the general welfare of every citizen, the guarantees, they argue, that give government its only legitimacy.
They hope the city will refer it onto the ballot. If not, they will go forward with it as an initiative. To be successful, they will need to collect perhaps as many as 27,000 signatures. The citizen’s initiative, or the right of direct democracy as it’s sometimes called, is the process the citizens of Longmont, Colorado were forced to take last year to enforce a fracking ban within their city. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, are now suing the city. Incredibly, Hick is openly cheering them on.
During the Colorado Springs council meeting, a couple councilmembers provided excellent public theatre. Realtor Tim Leigh, who voted for the rules, and some would say against the people, said he was voting for the rules because he didn’t like the way the public had conducted itself, that it hadn’t been decorous enough. Someone behind me muttered he should have been present at the French Revolution. Another in the back of the room yelled that he didn’t think a “spite vote” should be considered valid. A woman sitting next to me wondered if he’d ever had to share his sand pile when he was young?
Equally entertaining was the exchange between Councilwoman Angela Dougan and the public. She had been criticized from the audience for constantly being on her cell phone during the several hours of public testimony. In explaining her vote for the rules she said she had been on her phone because she was fact checking the assertions made by the public and could find no evidence of their accuracy. This was met with moans.
I was told that Dougan, very recently, had called the police department—in a theatrical panic, perhaps, since her husband is on the police force—when she got a hand delivered flyer in her mail box from an anti-fracking grassroots group. She complained she didn’t want them to know where she lived. It is unclear if she was relieved to find out it had been a saturation effort. That she had not, in fact, been targeted by the rabble.
Council members voting against the rules most often cited the high handedness the Governor and his staff had shown in denying any modification to the state’s regulations. Asked and denied were requests to allow the city to do its own air monitoring of fracking operations, require the installation of water monitoring wells around every gas well, place all residential areas off limits to fracking and allow the hiring of one city inspector, underwriting his salary by charging a $5,000 fee for a drilling permit review. These were the suggestions of Councilwoman Jan Martin. She characterized them as modest and reasonable. Because the Governor’s representative, Matt Lepore, had rejected them out of hand, she voted against Hick’s rules, saying she could not vote for rules that did not give any consideration to the constitutional rights of home rule cities and the concerns of local citizens.
Both council members Brandy Williams and Val Snider said they were supporting what they perceived to be the majority view that the state rules were not adequate to protect the citizens of Colorado Springs. Days earlier the local weekly newspaper, The Independent, published the results of a poll it had taken showing 51 percent of those polled supported a ban, 43 percent opposed and six percent were undecided. Phil Anschutz of Anschutz Exploration Corporation, one of his many corporations, recently acquired the Colorado Springs Gazette. He is believed to have fairly vast oil and gas holdings in the state, as he does across the nation. No poll on the merits of fracking is expected in this daily newspaper.
Rumors continue to circulate at the capitol that the industry has taken its own poll on fracking, with the results showing opposition to the way the industry and the Governor are running roughshod over citizen rights. Some have speculated this phantom poll may have played into Ultra Energy’s announcement it would not develop, at least for now, its mineral rights on 18,000 acres of Colorado Springs land in a place known locally as Banning Lewis Ranch. The city annexed it several years ago for open space after a land developer went into bankruptcy. Whether Ultra’s announcement was merely a ploy to get the city to think it was out of immediate danger from fracking is unknown. What is known is that it didn’t work.
Banning Lewis Ranch on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Dave Gardner
Banning Lewis Ranch on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs. Photo credit: Dave Gardner
Citizens addressing the council were often concerned about water. Several wondered how and why the industry was apparently able to get water for fracking when the city was already in drought mode with twice a week watering restrictions? Only days later, Denver Water, the largest water purveyor in the state, announced it would be draining Antero Reservoir to save 4,000 acre-feet in evaporation losses and that it too was considering twice a week watering restrictions. The reservoir’s storage of 19,000 acre-feet would be released downstream to lower reservoirs where the evaporation would be less.
Antero is a world-class, flat-water trout fishery. I’m told it receives more than 100,000 visitor days a year. It is one of the chief economic drivers in Park County, Colorado, the rural mountain county in which it is situated. Studies done at Colorado State University on recreation values suggest it may contribute more than $4 million a year to the local economy. The last time it was drained, it didn’t reopen for seven years, representing a loss of $24 million to our economy.
The best conservative estimate of how much water the industry will need to frack around 2,000 wells this year—half horizontal and half traditional—is about 16,000 acre-feet. This is four times the loss through evaporation at Antero. In fact, it approaches the entire storage capacity of Antero. If the industry continues to ramp up to where they are drilling mostly horizontally wells at a rate of more than 3,000 a year, as predicted, the water requirements could easily exceed 40,000 acre feet annually—horizontal drilling water demand goes up exponentially compared to traditional fracking.
Colorado Springs uses about 74,000 acre-feet annually. But here’s the rub, when the city uses water, half is returned to the system to be reused. When the frackers use it, they consume all of it. More accurately, they destroy it for any other use. So, from a consumption standpoint, which is what really matters, the industry in just a very few years will be using more water than Colorado Springs does today. If one adds in the prospect of refracks for the 150,000 wells expected in the state in 30 years, the demand easily exceeds that of Denver which uses 260,000 acre feet annually.
The Governor’s office and the Water Buffaloes seem unconcerned. This may partly be explained by the fact the Water Buffaloes get a substantial portion of their funding for new water projects from severance taxes paid by the oil industry to the state—life is often full of these small surprises. A larger surprise for most people is that of the 30 gas producing counties in the state, operators in only five of them even pay a severance tax to the state since local taxes paid, when combined with 19 statutory oil and gas subsidies, fully offset the severance debt. The largest surprise is that the industry pays no net severance taxes from Weld County, the fourth largest gas producing county in the U.S., proving once again, as many have argued, that tax laws are written by the rich for the rich.
Several days after I attended the Colorado Springs council meeting, I read newspaper reports of a large uncontrolled leak and probable ground water contamination in Garfield County, Colorado, near the town of Parachute. I tried to miraculously consider, for purposes of social and environmental analysis, what if this incident was in Colorado Springs?
It seems the leak was first verbally reported in Garfield County on March 8. It was discovered by accident during unrelated excavation activity. Ten days later it was still uncontrolled and the source still unidentified. As of March 19, the state had not yet issued a cease and desist order to Williams Energy, which operates a gas plant on Parachute Creek. Despite the delay, it claimed an order was in the works. Parachute Creek empties into the Colorado River which is federally protected under the Clean Water Act. More than 60,000 gallons of contaminated groundwater and 5,000 gallons of oil had so far been recovered, but, remarkably, some would say unbelievably, the source of the leak was still unknown. To protect its water supply, the town of Parachute had closed its municipal intake on Parachute Creek. According to locals, industry leaks and spills are common though they are usually covered up and go unreported—Hick is a big supporter of the industry’s self-reporting regimen. One of the Colorado Springs activist leaders, Laurel Biedermann, told me, “if you believe in the efficacy of oil industry self reporting you probably believe in flying unicorns too.”
Try to imagine a city of 360,000 people not storming city hall over such a lackluster effort. Colorado Springs has a police force of more than 600 officers, a fire department of about 400 firefighters, runs its own utilities and has a public health department. In a word, it has all the accoutrements of a modern middle-sized American city. How the Governor continues to claim that he can do a better job of protecting the local population with his merry band of 16 inspectors at the oil and gas commission than the city can is simply ludicrous, it may even border on malfeasance. Is it any wonder that many cities are moving toward an outright ban?
To make the day in Colorado Springs complete, mentioning of the citizens supporting the fracking rules needs to be included. Though few in number, one stood out. Full of the insouciance that comes only when one is sure the message he is carrying will be greeted with delight by his paymasters, Shawn Paige was ripe with economic wisdom of a kind, sure that he knew the true American way. Paige, deputy director for the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an organization funded by the Koch brothers, said the rules were great, just what the country needed, and that we must learn to live with risk if we want to live in heated homes. Its been suggested that someone should ask him at the next council meeting if the mess in Parachute was the kind of risk he thought the people of Colorado Springs needed to endure to have a heated home?
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.