Colorado Oil and Gas Roundup
The Rocky Mountain Chapter has recently reorganized our Oil and Gas Campaign to address the expanding threat of destructive oil and gas drilling, and toxic fracking practices, into communities and natural areas across Colorado. We have a fantastic new team and are gearing up to send a powerful message to local, state, and federal officials insisting that Colorado communities and ecosystems be protected from the flagrant harm being caused by oil and gas production throughout our state. Our Governor and state agencies must be held accountable for allowing operators to continue polluting air, rivers, and groundwater without penalty.
For example, to date, our state has failed to fine the companies responsible for massive spills into Parachute Creek and South Platte River. And, according to the Denver Post, “about 20 percent of the 300-400 oil and gas spills reported annually to state commissioners reach groundwater”. No significant improvements to our current state or federal regulations had been made since the Colorado School of Public Health study published in early 2012 found that elevated levels of toxins such as benzene, toluene, and xylene in the air near gas wells in Garfield County significantly increase the risk of serious illness for people living within a half-mile of these wells. The industry remains exempt from important provisions of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water act and other critical federal laws. New federal air quality regulations are not scheduled to take effect until 2015.
Local communities struggling for protection
Now Front Range and West Slope communities are struggling to protect the human right to breathe clean air against industry claims of access to mineral rights. Many local governments appear to be ignoring the pleas of their constituents, fearing the cost of fighting state and industry lawsuits, such as those filed against Longmont for it’s regulations and ban on drilling. At recent hearings in Boulder County, Fort Collins, and Broomfield, scores of citizens lined up for hours to express their concerns about the toxic pollution that would threaten public health if fracking operations were allowed to take place in their communities. In each case, the governing bodies have thus far rejected demands for extended moratoria or bans, apparently succumbing to legal threats claiming “takings” or “state preemption”.
It has not been reported widely that the city council of Broomfield, which now has a number of old—but active—wells in operation, appears likely to allow 11 new wells to be drilled and fracked within it’s borders, including four located near Prospect Ridge Academy charter school. However, there is still time for us to have a voice before they make their final decision in July. Please take the time to contact the council at email@example.com to express your views. Read other letters that have been sent to the council here. Sierra Club and the local group Our Broomfield are asking for a five-year moratorium on new drilling and fracking, allowing time for review of the results of the five-year National Science Foundation study on human health impacts. Until we fully understand the impacts, and establish safeguards to protect public health, we cannot allow this polluting industry to operate near homes and schools.
We support our local Sierra Club Groups and citizen organizations in their efforts to petition for long-term moratoria or local bans. But in townships like Erie and in almost every county, including Boulder, this option is not available. Last year, Erie signed a 3-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with operators, and allowed wells to be drilled and fracked in the town.
As a direct result of Sierra Club and citizen group efforts, the Boulder County Commissioners are scheduled to vote on Tuesday, June 18, to enact a new one-year moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the County. To have this vote is already a victory as the current moratorium is scheduled to expire on June 24. We are asking Club members to email the County Commissioner to strongly encourage them to vote YES on the moratorium at a new email set up by staff for oil and gas communications: firstname.lastname@example.org. Because the swing vote to support the moratorium will be by Commissioner Deb Gardner, we also encourage you to write to her directly at: email@example.com.
Fort Collins killed their own ban on fracking by allowing the sole operater in the city, Prospect Energy, to drill and frack more wells, and agreeing to an MOU” that would raise environmental standards marginally higher than those required by weak Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) regulations. In recent weeks, only the City of Boulder has taken a stand to protect its people, by adopting a one-year drilling moratorium. Neshama Abraham, co-chair of the Sierra Club Indian Peaks Group Oil and Gas Team, and RMC Oil and Gas Team member, has been active in leading this successful citizen effort working with City officials to develop these protective measures. The Boulder City Council will vote on Tuesday, June 18, to put a multi-year moratorium on fracking to obtain public safety studies via the November 2013 election ballot. Please email the Council members to ask that the public safety moratorium be extended for five years to allow time to obtain and analyze the results from the NSF study due to be completed in 2018. Write to the Council members at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the big deal about fracking? They’ve been doing it for decades, right?
While parts of the West have grown accustomed to oil and gas production in rural areas, the risks are higher now because high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking), combined with horizontal drilling technology, and exemptions from federal environmental laws, have made it productive for operators to expand into communities and onto federal lands that would not have been exploited before. New fracking practices vastly increase the amount of water, chemicals, and sand needed, and encourage a greater density of wells on the land being used, with more equipment being required at each well site. The “unconventional” drilling and fracking process, used on 95 percent of all new wells in Colorado, involves the injection of five to nine millions of gallons of our precious fresh water, hundreds of gallons of toxic chemicals, and tons of sand into each well to the extract oil or gas. Each well requires over 1000 diesel truck trips to bring in materials and haul out wastewater. About half of the fracking fluid remains in the well indefinitely. That which is reclaimed may be reused once or twice, but it is generally stored in holding ponds allowing water and toxins to evaporate into the air, or taken to injection-well facilities that pump it deep underground permanently—a practice which has caused earthquakes in Southern Colorado and elsewhere.