Tag Archive for Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter

Our Longmont, others act to protect fracking ban

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 11, 2013

CONTACTS:
Kaye Fissinger, 303-678-7267 (Our Longmont)
Michael Bellmont, 303-678-9470 (Our Longmont)
Bruce Baizel, 970-903-5326 (Earthworks)
Shane Davis, 303-717-4462 (Sierra Club)
Sam Schabacker, 720-295-1036 (Food & Water Watch)

Coalition Acts to Protect City of Longmont’s Ban on Dangerous Hydraulic Fracturing

LONGMONT, CO – Today, a coalition of community, public health, consumer and environmental organizations filed a motion in the Weld County District Court to intervene in the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Longmont’s ban of the oil and gas practice known as “fracking” and related surface activities, such as storage of toxic post-fracking fluids. This ban was instituted by the citizens of Longmont in an amendment to the City Charter, Article XVI , the Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act.

The people of Longmont by an overwhelming vote of 60% (more than 25,000 people), voted in the November, 2012 election to amend the City Charter to ban fracking, affirming their intention “to protect themselves from the harms associated with hydraulic fracturing, including threats to public health and safety, property damage and diminished property values, poor air quality, destruction of landscape, and pollution of drinking and surface water.” This historic ballot measure was spearheaded by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont (Our Longmont).

“We are taking this action because we hope to affirm the rights of citizens and communities to guarantee a safe and healthy environment for themselves and future generations,” said Michael Harris, Director of the University Of Denver Sturm College Of Law Environmental Law Clinic. He continued, “We are honored to represent Our Longmont, Food & Water Watch, the Sierra Club and Earthworks.”

The Colorado Constitution confers on all individuals certain inalienable rights. These rights are expressed in the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, which requires that oil and gas resources be extracted in a “manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare.”

“The extraction process of hydraulic fracturing has not been proven to be safe,” said Kaye Fissinger, managing member of Our Longmont. “Further, the State of Colorado has created a situation where the commission that oversees the oil and gas industry has an inherent conflict of interest. It cannot simultaneously foster the development of oil and gas and protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.”

“The dangerous, toxic practice of fracking has been a matter of grave importance to the people of Longmont since October of 2011,” said Michael Bellmont, spokesperson for Our Longmont. “To assure the protection of those in our community, Our Longmont undertook a petition drive to place the charter amendment on the ballot. In November, our citizens exercised their rights to self-determination, also guaranteed under Article XX of Colorado’s Constitution. In light of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s attack, it is necessary that citizens participate in the judicial process to guarantee our constitutionally protected rights. It is for this reason Our Longmont and others have moved to intervene,” Bellmont said.

Food & Water Watch provided invaluable assistance to Our Longmont throughout the effort to qualify and pass Longmont’s charter amendment. Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Regional Director for the organization, said, “We were delighted to be able to help the citizens of Longmont prohibit the dangerous industrial practice of hydraulic fracking and are pleased to be able to continue to support them. We have every confidence that the courts will reject the claims of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and preserve Longmont’s constitutional and home rule rights.”

According to Eric E. Huber, Senor Managing Attorney for the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, “This lawsuit could have a precedential effect throughout Colorado as other communities work to pass similar prohibitions on fracking and the disposal of its waste products within their boundaries.”

Bruce Baizel, Director of Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said, “The citizens of Longmont took this action because they don’t trust state regulators to protect them. Rather than sue communities acting to protect their public health, industry and the state should be addressing legitimate community concerns by putting the public’s health before industry profits.”

Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont, is a group of concerned citizens from throughout Longmont. We believe that Longmont has a constitutional right to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of our community. Our goal is to preserve the quality of life in our exceptional city. By so doing we will preserve our economic vitality, our home values, our water, parks, wildlife, lakes, trails, streams, open space, and recreational areas for ourselves and future generations. www.ourlongmont.org,

Food & Water Watch is a consumer organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water. It’s essential that these shared resources be regulated in the public interest rather than for private gain. www.foodandwaterwater.org,

Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide, including 160 members in the City of Longmont. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation. http://rmc.sierraclub.org

For 25 years, Earthworks has been dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of irresponsible mineral and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions. http://www.earthworksaction.org.

Oil and gas industry ignores safety

Most of the natural gas industry has turned its back on reasonable public health and environmental protections, and government oversight and enforcement needs to rebalance the equation.

As one of America’s oldest and largest environmental organizations, the Sierra Club’s oil and natural gas policies have evolved as we have learned more about adverse effects on our health and environment, as science evolves, and as we identify operational failures by both the government and industry.

The harms caused by the entire process of producing oil and natural gas must end. Despite claims to the contrary, groundwater contamination caused by drilling and fracking practices is prevalent and must be brought under control.

In February, Shane Davis, the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Oil & Gas Research Manager, announced statistics on a sampling of 1,000 spill reports from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) website, dated after 2008. Davis stated, “We know that in Colorado, 43 percent of all spills contaminate groundwater, and 100 percent of all spills contaminate soils with toxins like deadly benzene, ethylene, toluene and xylene. There are horrific volumes of toxic and radioactive liquids that are never recovered from groundwater and soil.”

Compounding the problem of spills, drilling and fracking operations are running in the heart of Colorado communities. We are alarmed that state and local governments continue to allow heavy industrial activities as close as 350 feet to occupied residences. The industry’s operations are far from Best Management Practices (BMPs), due to their inherent failure rates. Overturning the numerous federal exemptions would be the first step in implementing BMPs for the oil and gas industry.

The Colorado School of Public Health states that people living within a half-mile radius from active oil and gas production suffer a greater risk for health complications and illness. If a resident complains of industrial odors to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, they often take 48 hours to respond, allowing the pollution to dissipate, eliminating the chance to properly investigate the report, and offering no answers for the homeowner. Some dangerous vapors are not even detectable by the human nose. There are no studies on the health impacts of drilling pad air toxins, and we agree with The Denver Post editorial board that comprehensive health impact studies are needed. In the meantime, Coloradans are exposed, yet unstudied, guinea pigs.

How do Colorado families protect their health and safety if an accident occurs next to their home or children’s school? We believe this hazardous industrial activity must not continue to be exempt from human and environmental health protections, or allowed to operate next door to homes with growing children, elderly people, and other vulnerable populations.

The Sierra Club holds COGCC accountable in its mission, part of which states, “Responsible development results in … the prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts.” COGCC can no longer be allowed to fail in this mission. The commission, the governor, and the industry should not be publicly defending the impacts of drilling that uses fracking. They should be mandating protection over profit. Every day we hear more about families being unable to drink their water due to fracking.

Colorado needs to move forward with our abundant, clean, inexpensive, healthy, jobs-generating, domestic, and renewable energy supplies. Because of the hazards created by production and consumption of coal, oil and natural gas, we need to move beyond these fuel sources as expeditiously as possible. Natural gas is a bridge fuel to further harming the planet, including our local environment and human health.

Rushing ahead to drill and burn more oil and natural gas while allowing the industry to operate in secrecy with inadequate protections will continue to harm people and wildlife, squander clean water, air and soil, and slow the development of cleaner forms of energy. We must act now for a better energy future.

Joshua Ruschhaupt is director of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter. Other members of the Oil & Gas Team contributed to this commentary.  Reprinted with permission from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter.