I will vote “yes” on Ballot Question 300 because it will protect our lakes, our irrigation and our drinking water from the destructive effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). I have been wondering why proposed drill sites are often close to water, such as Union Reservoir and the St. Vrain State Park wetlands. What’s the attraction? As a spokesperson for EnCana explained: “It is always our preference to identify a nearby water source because it significantly reduces our truck traffic associated with the transport of needed water to the location” (Boulder Camera). Said in another way, they jeopardize natural and other water bodies because it is cheaper and more convenient for them.
What is the water plan for the development of fracking? There doesn’t seem to be one, even though water is an invaluable resource. Water used in fracking becomes contaminated with toxins that cannot be removed. Unlike irrigation water, this water cannot be reclaimed and restored to the system. The oil companies do not dispute that. We are about to make an irreversible decision on fracking. There’s no taking it back if we find out we should not have allowed it.
How much water does it take to frack a well? It takes 5 million gallons to frack it once. Most wells are fracked several times. Even if it’s only three times, that’s 15 million gallons per well. The oil companies now say they are going to put several well heads on one well pad. That’s 75 million gallons for just one new well pad with five wells, fracked three times. These 75 million gallons must be stored somewhere since it can never be used again, and it becomes a potential source of contamination of other water sources. What are our plans for storing 75 million gallons of poisoned water? This is just for one well pad.
When oil companies say they use only a small fraction of the available water, they are talking about present usage, not future use. It is misleading because what is planned is a large expansion of drilling along the Front Range, so the percentage of water that will be used, and destroyed, by fracking companies will be much, much greater than is being used now. Anadarko, another company trying to drill wells in this area, plans to create 2,700 new wells. Multiply that 75 million gallons by 2,700, and one begins to see how massive this danger can become. Do we really have this much water to spare, to sell, to destroy? Where will we store this much contaminated water? Will local lakes and creeks become silent and accidental repositories of seepage?
The cheapest method is open pits. These are pits dug in the ground, with a tarp lining. To see what one looks like, check out the DVD “Land Out of Time,” available on the Internet. This documentary shows an open pit, surrounded by the bloated corpses of animals that drank from it. It also creates air pollution since the toxins can become airborne. Covered pits are not much better. Over time the covers will leak. The use of “injection wells” is yet another alternative, but these wells can leak, just as fracking wells can leak.
Please join me in voting “yes” on Ballot Question 300, to ban fracking and waste pits in Longmont.
Mike Soraghan is a reporter for Energy Wire, and division of E&E News. Free Range Longmont extends a heartfelt thanks for the gracious permission given to republish his article. Visit E&E News and Energy Wire for great coverage of both energy and the environment.
LONGMONT, Colo. — Kaye Fissinger can point to where every oil and gas well will be drilled around Union Reservoir. Not that she’s welcoming them.
As a breeze broke the stillness, lifted the branches of shade trees and pushed a small catamaran across the small lake on a Wednesday afternoon last month, she pointed to the one already there.
In the distance was a beige tank battery, the pipes, tanks and other equipment that remain after a well is drilled. It is the first of eight wells expected to be drilled at the city park around the lake under an agreement between the driller and the city government.
“Look at what it’s going to do — derricks, trucks, tank batteries …” said Fissinger, activist and campaign manager for a local anti-drilling effort called “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont.”
A new wave of drilling, fueled by the practice some call “fracking,” is promising prosperity and energy security for the country. E&E investigates whether anyone is ensuring it’s done right. Click here to read the report.
The question of whether there will be more derricks, wells and tank batteries is the subject of a legal fight between that same city government and the state focused on who can regulate drilling. The City Council passed rules in July barring oil and gas wells from residential neighborhoods. Within days, the state sued to block it.
Longmont is where the spread of drilling on Colorado’s high plains, spurred by advances in hydraulic fracturing, is slamming into the sprawl of Denver suburbs along the state’s Front Range. It is not the first place where advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have pushed drilling deeper into suburban and even urban areas.
State officials have banded together with the oil and gas industry to head off regulation by both federal and local governments, arguing simultaneously against a federal “one size fits all” approach and the “patchwork” that would be created by giving cities and counties control over exploration and production.
In Pennsylvania, local governments sued the state after the Legislature passed a measure limiting local control over drilling. In New York, drilling companies such as Colorado-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. have been losing legal challenges to local bans.
But the Colorado suit is the first case in the nation’s current drilling boom in which a state agency has gone to court to prevent a local government from asserting jurisdiction over drilling. The city’s formal response is due by Friday.
The plaintiff in the suit is the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), a state body charged with policing and promoting development. But Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has led the charge against Longmont’s ordinance, calling Longmont’s rules “to a certain extent too forceful” in a recent speech and saying they would put “intense pressure” on other local governments to create a patchwork of different rules.
“I think there’s got to be a limit to it,” Hickenlooper said (EnergyWire, Aug. 16). “We literally begged Longmont not to go forward.”
Drilling in suburbia
Anti-drilling critics have taken to calling the popular governor “Frackenlooper.”
Those critics say exempting oil and gas from city zoning amounts to special treatment for a powerful industry that endangers people’s health.
City governments can generally decide where to allow factories, convenience stores, subdivisions and strip clubs. State governments such as those in Pennsylvania and Colorado are asserting that those city governments have no such say about oil and gas production.
“Name another industry to me that doesn’t have to comply with local, disparate zoning regulations,” said Michael Bellmont, another Our Longmont leader, sitting in his long-term care insurance office in Longmont’s trendy Prospect New Town district.
In Texas, where drilling is more entrenched in the culture, cities do have jurisdiction over oil and gas wells. Two years ago, the Texas Legislature rejected efforts to give the state’s oil and gas agency — called the Railroad Commission — authority over drilling in cities.
“The state has very minimal guidelines for where you can drill. What the cities have done is try to fill in the blanks,” said Terry Welch, a lawyer who represents cities in Texas. “The cities said, ‘Why should every city have the same rules?'”
But some local officials agree that rules should be uniform across the state.
“COGCC rules in Colorado work well for the industry,” said Bonnie Finley, a Longmont City Council member who opposed the zoning ordinance, “and I think that’s all we need.”
Driving north out of Denver on Interstate 25, sprawled-out townhouse complexes slowly give way to cows, hay farms and then pumpjacks, frozen in time. Just off the highway, one pumpjack gyrates slowly next to a line of frack trailers, looking like a cow chewing its cud next to the thoroughbred barn.
Four miles closer to the mountains, Longmont restores the suburban feel. But it is still a town of contradictions. It is a former farming town on the western edge of Colorado’s High Plains. But it is on the eastern edge of Boulder County, home to the University of Colorado and the famously liberal county seat of Boulder. The city has both the county fairgrounds and the “Anti-Corporate headquarters of Oskar Blues Brewery.”
Longmont does not have the history with extractive industries that some of its neighbors do. In the decades before Denver’s growth spilled into the area, pumpjacks were common to the east in Weld County. Not in Longmont, though, where the economy revolved around agriculture. People who moved there in the 1990s and early 2000s had little indication they might find themselves dealing with drilling.
“It’s a cultural divide,” said Sean Conway, chairman of the Board of Commissioners in neighboring Weld County. “They don’t have the benefit of experience and battles fought.”
Fissinger, the anti-drilling activist who moved here from California in 2006, wants Longmont to retain some of that unique identity. Driving through Firestone, the city to the east of Longmont in the more growth-friendly and agribusiness-oriented Weld County, she started pointing out each beige tank battery.
“There’s a tank battery. … There’s a battery,” she said. After just a few moments, it started to seem pointless, like pointing out burgundy cars on the interstate.
“That’s what I mean,” Fissinger said. “We don’t want Longmont to be another Firestone.”
And that is why her group is taking things a step further than zoning wells out of neighborhoods, pushing for a total ban on hydraulic fracturing with a proposal that will be on the city’s ballot in November (it would not cover drilling without fracturing). If it passes, it will likely be subject to the same legal challenges as the zoning ordinance.
Oil and gas drilling companies say Longmont and Firestone, and other areas of the state, should have the same rules. The industry says it needs a “predictable regulatory environment” and that allowing Firestone and Longmont to have different rules slows permit approvals. In comments sent to the city in February, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) noted that state officials process about 5,000 permits a year, which result in the drilling of about 2,000 wells each year in the state.
“If each well approved by the state is also forced into a months-long local permitting process, the number of wells annually drilled in Colorado would plummet, along with tax revenues, economic activity and jobs,” the industry association wrote in comments to the city.
Powerful forces are arrayed around this fight. Fissinger’s group is getting help from Food and Water Watch, a national environmental group that split off years ago from the Public Interest Research Group and now has an $8 million annual budget.
Longmont’s elections have been shaped by the American Tradition Partnership, a conservative group based inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway that has been active in state and local elections in Montana, Oklahoma and Virginia and pressed a pro-drilling agenda in Colorado’s Garfield County.
And Hickenlooper, a popular governor whom some envision as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, has come down firmly on the side of industry. Hickenlooper became prominent in Colorado as a brew-pub pioneer in Denver. But before that, he was a petroleum geologist.
Hickenlooper did a radio ad earlier this year for COGA, asserting the industry talking point that since rules were created in 2008, the state hadn’t “had one instance of groundwater contamination associated with drilling and hydraulic fracturing.”
But oil and gas commission spill records show 255 incidents in which groundwater was “impacted” during 2009, 2010 and 2011.
And before the new rules, Colorado was already the scene of a few of the nation’s highest-profile groundwater contamination cases.
‘Once they invade, they’re here’
Laura Amos of Silt, Colo., blamed hydraulic fracturing chemicals for the rare tumor she developed after a well near her home blew out in 2001 during the fracturing process. State regulators concluded fracturing was not to blame for the problems but fined the operator $99,400 because gas was found in her well.
Nearby in 2004, a drilling crew poured a faulty cement seal around another well in 2004 that allowed gas and benzene to seep into a nearby stream, called West Divide Creek. The state hit Encana Corp. with a fine and declared a drilling moratorium in the area for several years.
People complained in 2009 that gas was once again seeping into the creek, but the state rejected the claims. The residents’ complaints were detailed in the 2010 anti-drilling documentary “Gasland.”
In 2008, COGCC asked gas drilling companies to investigate whether they had contaminated the drinking water at Ned Prather’s hunting cabin near DeBeque, Colo. (Greenwire, Oct. 12, 2009). Tests showed the water had benzene and related chemicals at a concentration 20 times the safety limit. The companies determined they had not caused the contamination. The state went back, hired its own consultants and fined the lead company more than $400,000.
Through a spokesman, Hickenlooper declined to comment beyond what he’d already said publicly.
In Longmont, groundwater around a well 360 feet from a middle school has been contaminated with carcinogens such as benzene, which was measured at almost 100 times the state limit.
Underscoring some of the dangers of drilling, the same day Fissinger pointed out the tank batteries in Firestone, a well blew up and killed a 60-year-old well worker not far away in the Fort Lupton area of Weld County (Greenwire, Aug. 17).
State and industry officials say that Colorado has some of the most comprehensive state rules in the country. Even if that is true, state oil and gas regulation across the country is looser than regulation of other industries and is characterized by minimal fines and built-in conflicts of interest (Greenwire, Nov. 19, 2011).
Industry is guaranteed three seats on Colorado’s nine-member commission, down from five of seven in 2007 (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2011). And its mission is to “foster” development while also protecting health. To Finley, whose day job is with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, something of a state chamber of commerce, that makes sense.
“You want people who know what best practices and safe practices are, and those are the people from the industry,” she said.
But it leaves Fissinger and her colleagues with little faith that the state will protect residents from the ills of drilling. She and her fellow drilling opponents say the state agency is interfering with rights granted in the state constitution, including residents’ right of “seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”
Camouflaged with beige paint against the arid, drought-darkened landscape, the tank batteries at Union Reservoir don’t leap out like a neon sign for a strip club or car wash. Even if they’re not that hard on the eyes, she said, they can still be rough on the lungs and the rest of the body.
She added that Colorado has only 17 full-time field inspectors; state officials note that an additional 20 people conduct oil and gas inspections as part of their work.
“Air pollution, fugitive gases, spills,” Fissinger said. “By the time they get around to looking at it, the damage is done. Once they invade, they’re here.”
An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the August 16, 2012, issue of the Boulder Weekly.
Not red or blue, it’s completely clear: all about the MONEY.
I read with both amusement and a bit of consternation the article describing Longmont City Council Member Bonnie Finley’s attempt to inject a poison pill onto the November ballot. She’s apparently so frightened that the charter amendment, The Longmont Public Health, Safety, and Welfare Act, will pass and be upheld by the courts (if and when it’s challenged) that she’s looking for a method to scare the bejesus out of the Longmont electorate. What better way to do this than to start talking about taxes, always a “four-letter word” in Longmont.
Longmont is entitled to a fair election on the issue. Blatant voter manipulation is an abuse of the democratic process. And that’s precisely what Bonnie Finley is proposing. Ms. Finley ought to be ashamed of herself. Furthermore, it’s unethical and likely also illegal for the Longmont City Council to participate in Finley’s manipulation.
The Longmont Public Health, Safety, and Wellness Act would prohibit the extremely hazardous process of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as well as waste injection wells within the city limits of Longmont. Fracking lowers property values, damages tax-payer funded roads, endangers our health and safety, and contaminates the air we breathe and water we drink. But apparently, Bonnie Finley wants to derail a citizen effort to keep Longmont a great place to live so that the oil and gas industry can frack next to our homes, schools and Union Reservoir.
Finley first slipped her proposed Finley Tax into discussion during the “Mayor and Council Comments” section of the July 24 city council meeting. Her position is predicated on her belief that mineral rights owners would be deprived of the property right to access those minerals. Ms. Finely grossly, and probably intentionally, misreads the language of the charter amendment.
The Longmont Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act prohibits only the extraction method of hydraulic fracking. It does not ban oil and gas drilling by other methods. Owners or lessees of minerals are free to use, and have used, other methods of acquisition besides hydraulic fracking. They are not being deprived of all economically beneficial uses of their minerals.
Think of the oil and gas industry as a fisherman. When the Longmont voters pass the hydraulic fracking prohibition, they will be effectively saying, “You can’t fish with dynamite. You can buy a rod and reel and go fishing and eat all the fish you can catch by that method. You just can’t blow up the lake because it’s a faster way to get a whole lot more fish.”
In essence, the charter amendment is telling the oil and gas industry and their political supporters like Ms. Finley that they can’t access and sell these minerals using an inherently harmful process to do so. Make no mistake; fracking is harmful to children, families, the community, and the environment. The evidence keeps mounting, much to the dismay of the oil and gas industry and those people and agencies that facilitate the industry’s wishes.
Finley is employed by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), which serves as the Colorado chamber of commerce. On the CACI board of directors is the Vice President of Encana USA, with substantial interest in drilling and fracking throughout Colorado. In a war there are always “minders.”
The Finley Tax is a blatant attempt to scare voters. Apparently Council Member Finley wants voters to make a false choice between their family’s health and safety and their wallets. All Longmont voters should be highly suspicious of Finley’s motives in proposing this tax. So who is she representing? I’d say the oil and gas industry – hands down.
Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont is made up of people like you, your families, friends and neighbors who believe in Longmont’s quality of life and want to preserve it for ourselves and our children. Please join us by voting for the Public Health, Safety and Wellness Act when you receive your ballot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3 out of 7 wells on Longmont Open Space are contaminated.
TOP Operating’s Stamp 2 gas well is located on the western edge of Union Reservoir. It is 506 feet from the water. It is approximately a mile from TOP’s contaminated Rider 1 well, near Trail Ridge Middle School.
The Stamp 2 gas well is contaminated by toxic petrochemicals above State regulatory standards.
Regulatory limits are placed on petrochemicals because of their strong toxicity.
The Stamp 2 site environmental investigation reported Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons at 1970 mg/kg in the soil, which is almost 4 times the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission regulatory standard for soil of 500 mg/kg.
Soil contamination at the Stamp 2 by benzene is .029 mg/kg, almost 6 times above the regulatory limit, 0.005 mg/kg.
Ethylbenzene levels are 10 times the statutory level; Xylenes are 340 times the “safe” limit; gasoline range hydrocarbons are 38 times allowable levels.
These readings were from samples taken near the wellhead.
Near the Stamp 2 tank battery, ethylbenzene levels were 20 times the statutory limit; xylenes almost 3 times; and gasoline range hydrocarbons almost 20 times statutory limit.
The Investigation found that the soil has “dark gray petroleum staining and odor” 3.5 feet deep, beside the wellhead,
From 4 to 8 feet deep, the soil is “dark gray-gray, weathering decreasing with depth, petroleum gray stain and odor, slightly moist.”
There are no ground water monitoring wells at Stamp 2. Terracon pushed a 1-inch temporary PVC pipe 8 feet into the ground on December 17, 2010. No ground water was found, at that time of year. Nearby residents report that ground water is encountered at depths of 9-10 feet, 1600 feet from the water’s edge.
Ground water at Stamp 2, so close to Union Reservoir, and now on City Open Space, needs to be monitored and tested more carefully. Engineered groundwater monitoring wells, are the best method for monitoring ground water at oil and gas wells. The COGCC and the City must require that TOP install, monitor and report to the COGCC and the City, accurate reports on the ground water between Stamp 2 and Union Reservoir.
During January 2012, activity was observed at Rider 1 and Stamp 2. Bulldozers, trucks, and pumps were seen at the sites.
At Stamp 2 in late January 2012, a truck with high pressure hoses was observed. The tank battery was being washed down. The wash water, detergents, petroleum wastes and contaminates were not contained, and now leach toward Union Reservoir, as the only protection around the tank battery is an unlined clay berm.
Terracon recommends that the City contact TOP Operating “to pursue remedial activities of the petroleum impacted soil and groundwater above regulatory standards.” The Oil & Gas Commission should also be notified.
There are other TOP operated wells on the Boggot and Sherwood properties, now owned as open space by Longmont. Of the 7 wells where Terracon took soil and groundwater samples, three wells have contamination levels over COGCC limits.
I wonder how the residents in Spring Valley Estates (in northeast Longmont) feel about having three historic gas wells and three abandoned waste pits located beneath their homes? It is likely that these historic wells and pits could rupture, fail and/or blowout if fracking were to occur within a few miles (planned for the Union Reservoir area), releasing poisonous gases such as methane, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes in and around people’s homes. This very same situation occurred in Florence, CO, in late 2010. Explosive levels of methane were found surrounding dwellings in that vicinity.
This is a serious issue that could bring great harm to our residents. We need to ask our public servants (Mayor and Council) to honor the oath they took as elected officials to protect the health, safety and well being of Longmont residents. Tell them that extending the moratorium on oil and gas drilling is in the best interest of the City and its citizens. For more information and to see maps of where the gas wells and pits are located, please visit LongmontROAR.
The City of Longmont is in the process of developing revised and additional regulations covering oil and gas drilling within city limits. Applications for permits are expected following a 120-day moratorium that is scheduled to end on April 17, 2011.
Oil and gas drilling at Fairview and SH 119
Draft regulations were intended to be published on January 31, 2011. It was clear from the outset that a 120-day moratorium was inadequate for the amount of work that is required to craft regulations that would protect the health, safety, and well-being of citizens and residents. City staff is now making changes to its schedule in order to meet the arbitrary moratorium expiration on April 17, 2011.
At the January 24, 2011, city council meeting, City Manager Gordon Pedrow announced that instead of releasing draft regulations on January 31, “options” would be made available to council members, board members and the public.
January 31 came and went without “options.” On February 2, the city released a document that was not the promised “options” (whatever those might have been), but a 60+ page document titled “City of Longmont Oil and Gas Regulations Update.”
Mr. Pedrow indicates that the options, now known as “questions,” will be delayed until a Public Open House on February 6, 2011, to be held in the lobby of the City Council Chambers between 4:30 and 6:30 PM. No one will have an opportunity to see these “questions” until that time. There will be no opportunity to reflect on their meaning or potential implications for the future of Longmont.
The city has created a highly controlled environment for the release of questions. It will establish parameters and attempt to squeeze the public into a narrow band of choices that reflect the choices that the city’s attorneys and staff believe are acceptable.
It is important that members of the community maintain their own integrity on this issue and insist that the city respond to their demands and requirements.
Following the Public Open House, at 7:00 PM in Council Chambers, a joint meeting of the Board of Environmental Affairs, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Water Board (The Super Committee) will be held.
Information will be presented by city staff to the Super Committee and questions will be taken from the Super Committee. At that point, the public will have an opportunity to be heard in the same manner as at council meetings, a 3-minute Public Invited to be Heard.
Following the Public Invited to be Heard segment members of the Super Committee will be electronically polled with “multiple choice” style preferences to pre-determined questions. These questions may or may not be the same as those given to the public.
Mr. Pedrow has indicated that the responses from the public and the Super Committee will be compiled and presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission on February 15. That meeting is held in the Council Chambers at 7:00 PM and also has a Public Invited to be Heard Segment.
On February 21, the results of all three events will be presented in a Study Session to the City Council in the form of Draft Regulations. At that point the council may address an extension of the moratorium, provide additional input as to what should be included in the Regulations Ordinance, or accept the draft regulations as presented.
Barring any extension of the moratorium, the First Reading of new regulations will occur on March 13 and the Second Reading and Public Hearing will be held on March 27, 2011. If the ordinance passes, it will become law in the City of Longmont effective 10 days later and applications for permits will be accepted beginning April 18, 2011.
There is a confluence of issues that city council needs to address. The first is the city’s neighborhood notification policy. The second is the trail around Union Reservoir. And the third is the train wreck of oil and gas drilling and fracking coming into Longmont and specifically at Union Reservoir.
Residents on the northern shore of the reservoir by County Road 28 insisted that they did not receive notification. Believe them. While they may have, in fact, received some sort of communication from the city, it was clearly inadequate to define the scope of the issue.
This isn’t the first time that the city has inadequately notified neighborhoods. And unless the policy is changed, it will not be the last.
The issue of drilling for oil and gas at Union Reservoir was on staff’s table as early as June of 2011. Ex-mayor Baum recently said in a radio broadcast that “drilling was nothing new,” that “it had been in the works for a year and a half.”
Really! But the public was not made aware of this until October. And the plan was to ram the issue through for a hearing by the Planning and Zoning Commission on November 18th. The P&Z was intended to be the final word on the matter.
Had citizens not been alert, those living outside the immediate Union Reservoir area would not have been present at the “neighborhood meeting” to learn that drilling was intended to be imminent. Most of the residents in the area did not grasp the city’s intentions and had to be separately notified of the threat.
While the Union Reservoir Master Plan was modified and vetted, it is essential to note that this vetting was without any knowledge whatsoever by the public that the area was going to be invaded by the oil and gas industry.
Union Reservoir is unique. Drilling has no business anywhere near it. And it should be stopped by any and all measures available.
Council needs to direct staff to revise the notification process so that full implications are apparent. The notifications need to go beyond small neighborhood geographical areas when the impact is broad and/or citywide. And the council should table the $750,000 expense of the trail until there is a full understanding of the impact of drilling at Union Reservoir.
The last recommendation I make with reluctance as I am strongly supportive of such a trail. However, the impact on wildlife, whether from the trail or from drilling, needs careful assessment before, not after, the financial cost is incurred.
I want to applaud Mayor Dennis Coombs for suggesting a 6-month moratorium on Hydraulic Fracking before the City Council. However, it is truly sad that only Sarah Levison voted along with the Mayor. Are these five dissenting Councilmembers not concerned about the health, safety and wellbeing of the citizens of Longmont?
At the Nov. 15 Longmont City Council meeting, a Firestone resident shared about 24/7 drilling operations behind her home – with lights, noise, and strong petroleum and rotten egg odors that occurred during and after the drilling of the well. She stated that her house vibrated all night long and there were 50 water trailers parked behind her home. The traffic from semi-trucks delivering water for fracking the well occurred all hours of the day/night. Would you call this a friendly industry?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) escaping during and after drilling operations have been implicated as being carcinogenic, endocrine disrupters and nerve agents. Dr. Theo Colborn of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), addresses the dangers from natural gas drilling in this video.
I encourage you to watch the movies “Gasland” or “Split Estate.” These are both available at the Longmont library. What you’ll find is that fracking is not a benign method of drilling as the industry touts.
Is Longmont going to become a ‘Drilling’ sacrifice zone? I urge you to contact the council members that objected to a moratorium – Santos, Sammoury, Witt, Bagley and Finley – and tell them that it is not in our best interest to allow fracking in and around the City of Longmont.
An informational meeting will be held on December 7th (Wednesday) from 6 PM to 9 PM at the City Council Chambers (350 Kimbark Street) to to provide information on oil and gas issues to the members of the Board of Environmental Affairs, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and Water Board . Members from the Planning and Zoning Commission will not be attending the meeting. Presentations will be given by city staff and outside agencies and organizations. The presentations will be similar to those provided at the November 15th City Council meeting. In addition to the previous speakers, Mr. Wes Wilson, an ex-EPA staffer who has information on the environmental effects of oil and gas operations, has been invited to give a presentation.
This meeting will be educational only. Board members will have the opportunity to ask questions of staff and the presenters as they relate to the presentations. While this is a public meeting and the public is invited to observe the presentations, there will not be any public participation or a Public Invited to be Heard period at the meeting.
For those who would like to preview the presentations or for those not able to attend the meeting, the video of the presentations at the November 15th Council meeting is available here.
Editor’s Note: The following address was presented to the Longmont City Council on November 15, 2011. The address was authored by Darcy Juday, Vice Chair of the Water Board, who has 20 years experience in oil and gas exploration. It was presented and endorsed by Kaye Fissinger, Chair of the Board of Environmental Affairs.
Council has met with Weld County and heard of their positive experience; but that’s been mostly in rural areas. We should also hear from Boulder County which has had drilling on Open Space, and from Arapahoe County which is about to experience a drilling boom. Other counties and cities are drawing up their own regulations. We should learn about what they are considering. We should learn what other counties and communities are proposing to add to their regulations, regulations that likely may go beyond those that Longmont currently has in place.
We should ask for air pollution controls, pre- and post- drilling water sampling, enclosed drilling mud circulation, visual barriers, and landscaping in our parks. Those are big picture items.
We should also know about the operating company. Weld County has had good experience with large companies but problems with smaller ones. This smaller company, TOP Operating, has drilled on Longmont property before. Did they perform as they said they would?
And lastly, our investigation should be a joint effort with Council, Water Board, Parks and Recreation and the Environmental Board in any studies, meetings and presentations. Deliberate study can prevent future regrets.
Those who are following the issues of drilling (and fracking) oil and gas on City of Longmont property will want to attend the City Council meeting tomorrow Tuesday, November 15th. The meeting begins at 7:00 PM.
Appearing before the council will be representatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (industry trade group), the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (the state agency that authorizes oil and gas development), representatives from Boulder and Weld counties, and Phillip Barber (an attorney who specializes in oil and gas hired by the city).
TOP Operating, who owns mineral rights beneath Union Reservoir and other city properties, has approached the City of Longmont for a conditional use permit to drill on city-owned properties. Five drill pads are under consideration: two on the west side of Union Reservoir, one at Sandstone Ranch, one on the “Sherwood property” at County Road 20-1/2 and one known as Evans #8 (somewhat near Sandstone). A surface use agreement is intended to be a companion to the conditional use permit.
The city adopted oil and gas regulations in 2001. Those standards include well and production site setbacks from occupied buildings and public right-of-way, production site containment, visual impacts and aesthetics, access road design and maintenance, noise mitigation, floodplain compliance, oil and gas transport, air quality, wildlife mitigation, signs, screening and landscaping.
Some of the Colorado Commission’s answers to Frequently Asked Questions is extremely bothersome. The following is a sampling.
The COGCC’s authority to prevent and mitigate significant environmental harm does not negate its obligation to encourage development of the oil and gas resource.
As long as there is severed mineral interest ownership in Colorado law which protects the property rights of mineral rights holders to access their mineral estate, and as long as the COGCC’s statute charges the COGCC with promotion of oil and gas development, the COGCC will be limited in its ability to satisfy surface owners or to stop oil and gas development.
Cases of public safety impacts from oil and gas operations are extremely rare and generally non-existent in Colorado
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) provides for a defined “cumulative impacts” analysis for proposed projects classified as “federal actions”. Colorado law does not provide for a NEPA “cumulative impacts” analysis for projects proposed on private or state-owned lands. The COGCC can consider cumulative impacts within the limits of its authority under state law.
Within the city’s Municipal Code, there may be opportunity for greater protections than are expressed in some of the answers provided by the Commission. Specifically, the city code states, “To the maximum extent practicable, a well site and a production site shall be located away from prominent natural features such as distinctive rock and land forms, vegatative patterns, river crossings, city-owned and city-designated open space areas, and other designated landmarks.
Considerably more details from the city’s municipal code can be found in the packet for tomorrow’s meeting.
This issue is extremely complex. Securing the best possible outcome will require genuine environmental concern from the sworn city council, stewardship and commitment from city staff, specialized legal counsel willing to push the envelope as far as legally possible, and outside expertise willing to stand up for the needs of Longmont residents who strongly object to drilling and fracking, particularly on Longmont Open Space.
Plans are being prepared by city staff and others to allow drilling for gas and oil on Longmont properties. The mineral rights involved are substantially owned by others with Longmont owning only surface land, although the city itself does own some mineral rights.
TOP Operating, a drilling firm, has already held a neighborhood meeting in conjunction with the city for those in the vicinity of Union Reservoir, Sandstone Ranch and the Sherwood property at County Road 20-1/2. The company’s representative, Dale Bruns (of the LifeBridge/West Union development infamy) also appeared at the October Water Board meeting and Bruns and the owners of TOP Operating appeared at the Board of Environmental Affairs October meeting.
Cougar Land Services, a seismic survey firm that has requested a permit to conduct surveys on Longmont property, is expected to appear before the two boards in November. The purpose of the seismic surveys is to locate additional oil and gas under Longmont properties.
The TOP Operating plan is to access 80 to 100 wells through five drilling pads located on the Bogott and Adrian water and open space properties west of Union Reservoir that are owned by Longmont, at Sandstone Ranch, on the Sherwood open space property and one additional site. These plans include directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
Drilling preparations could begin in as little as two to three months.
Frack near Longmont? It's no fairy tale.
Mineral rights issues are complex. Those of you who have seen “Gasland” and/or “Split Estates” will understand that there can be surface land rights and mineral rights for the same piece of property. Most landowners only own surface rights. Federal and Colorado law actually permits owners of mineral rights to locate on surface-owned lands of others to drill for the oil and gas (mineral rights) that they own. In most cases, property owners have acquiesced and leased to them — in some cases for revenue, in some cases for some control over location and/or the number of drills. If these companies so choose, the can erect a vertical drill for every well. Outrageous, but true!
While there can be many wells of oil and gas near each other, today’s technology allows for drilling directionally or horizontally to access several of these wells through single drilling sites. Fracking now makes many of these sources economical for the oil and gas industry. Fracking uses a combination of water, sand and a chemical cocktail to break apart shale rock and release trapped oil and gas. Fracking is a serious threat to water supplies regardless of industry propaganda to the contrary. There are also other environmental hazards with fracking.
About three weeks ago, Longmont voters received a telephone poll conducted by American Tradition Partnership (ATP), formerly known as Western Tradition Partnership (WTP). Among their many questions was, and I paraphrase, “Would you be OK with oil and gas drilling on Longmont’s open space?”
American Tradition Partnership is rabidly anti-environmental. They are funded by the oil, gas and coal industries. Even more significant, the organization is amongst the nation’s best liars who have never had a relationship with shame, and likely never will.
ATP/WTP fully funded Longmont Leadership Committee in the 2009 Longmont election that conducted the ugliest political campaign in Longmont’s recent memories. That election ushered in a majority on city council that espouses a radical ideology. In this year’s election, American Tradition Partnership has openly endorsed Bryan Baum and Health Carroll and opposed Sarah Levison and Sean McCoy in Longmont’s upcoming election.
Mayor Baum raised the issue of Longmont’s mineral rights at the 2010 council retreat. The subject was not openly resurrected after that time and most of us who are concerned about potential drilling wrongly assumed that the subject was going nowhere. It is my belief that American Tradition Partnership has acted with the mayor and his block on council since the 2009 election, if not before. The dots connect. In essence ATP/WTP is receiving payback for the support provided to elect Baum, Santos, Witt and Sammoury.
This latest turn of events is appalling and our options are limited. We are losing control of our city and our environment. Let your voice be heard in whatever forum you have available or feel comfortable in using.