We are in Erie. The most fracked city in the state of Colorado.
In fact, we have earned the unfortunate nickname “Tour De Frack” by many, including legislators adapting the term. We do not have a choice where a drill or a well goes, whether it is next to our houses or schools, no matter how close it is. Neither does any other community in Colorado.
Don’t want fracking? Guess what, you don’t have a say. You can go to town hall meetings, legislative sessions, and the like — all day long — trying to convey the serious health consequences for those living next to it, as well as the massive impact fracking has on our finite supply of air and water. It does not matter. Your voice is drowned out by millions (and millions…) of dollars spent by the industry to ensure alternative energies and products are suppressed, that misinformation is spread, that any opposition is met with lawsuits — and to ensure that our legislators know their lobbyists by first name.
With a Blue Wave sweeping our state legislation, I asked several of our Democrat elected officials, “Why can’t Colorado pass a ban (or at least a moratorium) with a Democrat majority in our state legislation?” I spoke to six total; Matt Jones, Matt Gray, Stephen Fenberg, Edie Hooton, Jonathan Singer and Angela Williams. Calls to KC Becker went unreturned for interview.
Every single legislator gave me the same answer: “Because it won’t pass.”
From our conversations, in their own words:
Edie Hooton (HD 10):
…what I would say is, in order to get legislation through, this is just fundamental, you need a consensus. You need 33 in the House, and you need 18 in the Senate. And just because you’re a Democrat, just because you have a D beside your name, doesn’t mean that you’re going to be onboard with the ban. Now, if somebody rang a bell on a fracking ban, every Boulder County legislator would vote for it. And we could probably get a handful of others, but then, there you are seen possibly compromised and characterized. So, first of all, it wouldn’t get passed. It would not pass the legislature, it wouldn’t do that. And the legislators supporting it and running those bills, would then … be characterized in a way that might reduce their effectiveness on a bill that we can get consensus on, that would actually make a lot of difference for Colorado.
Stephen Fenberg (SD 18):
If I could get a ban passed I would, but it won’t pass at the state. They will tie anything like that up in court and the state will get sued.
Matt Gray (HD 33):
Well, the ban and moratorium were different questions, I think. But their relations are similar. A ban, the hardest part of a ban in my mind is that we are not yet in a place where we don’t need oil and gas in the state of Colorado. We have almost every single person on cold nights, like last night, that lives here is kept alive by the fact that we have gas furnaces in almost every building that we live in. We’re not in a place yet where we can say we’re at 100% renewable energy, and so we can’t just disregard the need for oil and gas in the state.
And to the extent that we need to continue it, and for as long as we need to continue using it, I would rather the economic benefits of that and the jobs and the taxes and the employment come from Colorado than come from Iran, Saudi Arabia, somewhere along there. I think that as long as we are using these fuels, I would rather these fuels come from Colorado rather than they would come from somewhere else.
I’m a strong supporter of moving to renewable energy as quickly as possible to combat climate change and a lot of other health instances. But as long as we have it, just because if we instituted the ban in our state, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to use those fuels anymore, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to create the carbon emissions anymore. It just means it’s going to come from somewhere else, and the economic benefits that come with it are going to come from somewhere else and we’re just going to say, “Well look, we’re still going to be users … The impacts we’re going to put somewhere else.” You know what I mean? We’re going to say, Wyoming you deal with it, the impacts. Oklahoma you deal with the impacts. We’re not changing the overall carbon picture. We’re not changing the overall climate change picture, we’re just saying somebody else needs to deal with it. (emphasis ours)
That I don’t think is the right approach. I think the right approach is to come up with combined, come up with a policy where we work towards renewable energy and to addressing climate change as effectively and as quickly as we can. I think that work is going on. But for as long as we are consumers of oil and gas, I think that it’s okay that folks in Colorado develop that oil and gas while we work towards minimizing that need as quickly as we can.
Angela Williams (HD 7):
Why do you want to interview me? I said everything I am going to say at the Town Hall. There are drilling opportunities and some communities want that. It’s not fair to those communities to pass a ban. The jobs are too important.
FYI for Senator Williams and anyone else making the jobs/economy argument but forgetting (or omitting) the facts: O&G is approximately 1% of the job market, employing 40,000 people while most of those jobs are filled from out of state people, and O&G makes up approx. 3% of our state economy. A look at our State Budgets and Economy shows this quite clearly. (7-11 employee and bank tellers should not be included in the count.)
These answers are puzzling. Is the new Blue Wave going to be more of a Blue Puddle?
This is a story of Politics 101. The players include:
- Oil & Gas — and their lobbyists
- Legislators — and their Constituents (which should include you and me, but seems to be big donors more than voters)
- Spin Doctors
- The question of philosophical moral ground, species & planetary survival, the health and safety of citizens and the wishes of Oil & Gas trumping them all
Politics are often seen as universally corrupt. We all are watching the current presidency unfold before us. When you are in the trenches, up close, the degree at which Oil & Gas has harmed and corrupted our planet and governing legislation is so much more magnified, leading to the absolute refusal to do anything significant about it. In this place of inaction (or inability to act) to stop the onslaught, we get to see just how much the actions of oil and gas efforts, along with a complicit political class, are harming the environment.
If you have not read Joel Dyer’s investigative pieces on the industry, they are by far the most comprehensive breakdown of how oil & gas controls not just Colorado, but our country, and indeed the planet. We recommend these readings to get you caught up on the work Dyer is doing:
- Behind the Curtain – 2015
- Who Killed the Vote on Fracking? – 2014
- Who Killed the Vote on Fracking? Part Two – 2014
We created a spreadsheet of all the fracking companies in Colorado and then looked them up on TRACER at the Secretary of State. TRACER gives the public records for campaign contributions. From there we looked up all the PACS that the Oil & Gas Industry has donated to over the years. Since 2016, Oil & Gas has made more than $24,000,000 in political contributions to influence Colorado state policy.
Yes, that is $24 Million in 3 years.
This does not count the $40,000,000 they spent to defeat Proposition 112, nor the $35,000,000 they spent to try and pass Amendment 74. Nor does it count individual contributions or undisclosed donations. In fact, more than one in five dollars donated to campaigns in Colorado comes from oil & gas. Why does this industry need to spend this kind of money? (If they had put that money into alternative energies they could get rich all over again.)
The COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission) is the oversight group meant to regulate the oil and gas industry. The Commission has largely been made up of lobbyists and former employees of oil and gas for the better part of their history. To date, there has not been a permit they do not like. If an application is missing information, it is rejected. If an application sits too long, it is closed. To our knowledge they have never, ever denied a single well application.
Their stated mission: “The mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) is to foster the responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources”, isn’t even pretending to regulate for health and safety.
Meanwhile, the numbers are staggering (citations at bottom):
- Colorado has 80,000+ wells, of which 60,000+/- are active and 20,000+/- orphaned – up from 22,000 active twenty years ago.
- Shockingly, over 75%-90% of it is shipped out of state and much of that out of the country. We are not using what we are extracting here in Colorado.
- Gas prices to heat your home have gone up 61.2% in the last twenty years.
- The bond to cover the costs of abandoned wells is roughly $10,000, yet it costs $85,000 to clean up an orphaned well, resulting in taxpayers forking out $7 million in 2017 to cover the shortfall. Colorado has over 300 orphaned wells and many of the companies that created them have since filed bankruptcy. A common tactic.
- A well uses between 1.5 and 16 million gallons of fresh water – which can not be reused.
- Wells emit toxins that can be seen with infrared, thus fracking is the number one reason we now have an F rating for air quality in Colorado.
- Spills have increased 17% in the last year and there are an average of 12 spills a week.
- 1,333 workers died in the nation’s oil and gas fields between 2003 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nationwide death toll in 2014 of 144 was the highest in more than a decade.
- Employees are 7x more likely to get sick.
- Low birth rates are attributed to living near a fracking site for pregnant mothers. A study done by Princeton University that looked at data from 1.1 million babies found that infants born within 1 kilometer of a well were 25% more likely to have low birth weights (less than 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds) than infants more than 3 kilometers away, as reported in Science Advances. Babies born near fracking sites showed significantly lower scores on a standard index of infant health. Weld County, where fracking is the among the most dense in the nation, infant mortality rates are 200% that of surrounding counties.
- A study by Lisa McKenzie, PhD, MPH University of Denver, Environmental and Occupational Health showed a strong correlation between proximity to drilling operations and childhood leukemia. Children with acute lymphocytic leukemia were found to be 4 times more likely to live near oil and gas development than children with other types of leukemia.
- The Colorado Department of Public Health found that people who live within a 1/2 mile of fracking are more likely to experience the most grave health impacts from exposure to toxic emissions like cancer, respiratory illness, and neurological disorders.
This does not include the countless testing these suburbanites are getting done on their blood and their children’s blood, showing benzene, ethylbenzene, and O-xylene – all cancer causing chemicals, typically produced by fracking.
The community is more than frustrated. They are scared. And they aren’t being heard.
These aren’t “eco-terrorists” as many in the Oil and Gas Industry like to call them. They are not the fringe. These are moms living in Broomfield, Erie, Commerce City and throughout the state. These are scientists, medical professionals, business owners, lawyers, writers, educators, and working professionals. It is Suburbia. Most didn’t start as activists, but have become activists, over time, as yet another drill, another well, is placed within 500 feet of their homes.
When suburbia is rising up, that should tell our politicians something.
These are usually the most comfortable communities, middle America, where the major issues used to be enough hours in the day for kids’ activities and making it to the neighbor’s weekly barbecue. This isn’t where most agitation begins. To be clear, none of the community members I spoke to wanted to be angry with the Democrats. They wanted to believe and trust that they would look out for them, as constituents. But over the years, they have been sold out every time. After all, it was Democrats who gave us the CO Clean Air Clean Jobs Act of 2010, which mandated fracking in Colorado, resulting in an F rating in air quality today.
Complicity or something else?
Accusations surfaced recently regarding the new oil and gas regulation bills being shown to oil and gas industry people prior to submission to the floor. The story was broke by Eldorado Underground in a video posted to Facebook. In it, a woman going by E claims to have overheard two gentlemen, one named Joe Milczewski, who the Greeley Tribune wrote was named Director of Government Relations for the Rockies Region by Anadarko in January 2019. The second gentleman named is Larry Holdren. According to his LinkedIn page he’s the co-founder of the Colorado Energy + Water Institute and director of Holdren Strategic Communications.
Miss. E, in the video, says “the thing that caught my attention was Joe from Anadarko started talking about how he oversaw what was happening with oil and gas in Boulder and Broomfield…They then started talking about how Fenberg and KC Becker had told them that they could get an advance look at this legislation, review the legislation that’s coming out. Next they said that they didn’t want that to be public knowledge, meaning KC Becker and Fenberg did not want that collaboration, that partnership to be public knowledge.”
We contacted both KC Becker and Stephen Fenberg who are the legislators crafting the bill. KC Becker denied the allegation. Stephen Fenberg responded with the following:
“I don’t know why they would be making the claims, I have never even heard of them. I have never met them or knew of them to meet with them. To me it’s weird, why would you trust someone from the industry that you supposedly never trust, over the words of people that are actually your allies, trying to solve the problem. I don’t have much to say to it, because it’s not true. We have been working with the advocates every step of the way, working with the groups working on this issue, for some of them to turn around and accuse us of being corrupt is just kind of, I don’t know if it’s worthy of a response. To be totally honest if you asked the companies, Anadarko that they said they work for, they would say ‘this person has never even met with Stephen Fenberg.’
There is zero chance anyone has seen the bill before. The common practice is to work out bill language with stakeholders before its introduced. That is the very common practice. Its encouraged and not considered unethical. Some would say it’s actually irresponsible to write a bill without involvement of the impacted parties. On this particular bill, I have very consciously not done that, because I don’t think the industry is a trusted partner and they have shown year after year, that all they are interested in is status quo and killing any legislation that comes out. Working through language with partners and industry folks only works if they are considered good faith partners and I don’t consider them one of them.
They haven’t seen it and they won’t until everyone else does.”
Calls to Joe Milczewski were responded to with, “I will need my media team to speak to you.” On a follow up call, Larry Holdren stated that he has “never met Stephen Fenberg and that can guarantee that he will not be seeing any drafts of any bills.”
The Highest Levels:
Governor Polis and many of our Boulder County elected leaders tell us they are working on new legislation to protect us; legislation that will make it easier to regulate the industry. Here is what they are telling us they plan to do:
- More electric cars
- Redefining the purpose of the COGCC to health and safety first
- Appointing as new COGCC Head, Jeff Robbins, a lawyer who has experience in dealing with cities and oil and gas issues. (Only time will tell if he is actually new blood or just more of the same…)
- A very vague idea of local control – that does not include the right for communities to ban fracking
Meanwhile there are still 6,300 new permits sitting at the COGCC waiting to be rubber stamped for approval, our air is still rated F, our bodies are still being poisoned, Erie is facing a new proposed “waste site” that will be imposed on residents, a series of new underground pipelines are being proposed, they still want to frack Rocky Flats, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning about climate catastrophe beginning in 11+ years is still a reality.
While electric cars are good, they are not enough if we are going to continue to frack. Time is running out if you take the IPCC warning at all seriously. Our governors’ 2040 renewables goal is literally 10 years past the date of no return.
So tell us, Blue Wave, how do we stop our communities from being fracked to death? Because we sure as hell still don’t know that answer, not in a world where oil & gas controls our state and our politicians.
HB19-181: Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations
Sponsors Sen. S Fenberg, Rep. K. Becker, Sen. Mike Foote
Does the bill protect us from Climate Change? No.
Does the bill prevent oil and gas from drilling? No.
But we are endorsing it.
Overall it is a very well written bill and while it is not the answer to all of Colorado’s Oil & Gas problems, it takes a big step toward protecting residents.
We hope it is one of many bills the legislation will be putting forth and that our legislators do not allow money to be the influencing decision, but rather health and safety.
A Brief oversight of the major pieces of the bill:
What the bill does is create stronger oversights of the COGCC.
Currently the COGCC is to have 3 members from Oil & Gas and one from Environment to authorize permits. The end result has been a rubber stamp. The bill requires the COGCC to be made up of 1 O&G, 1 environmental protection, 1 soil conservation, 1 agricultural producer (or royalty holder), 1 public health, and requires the Director to hire 2 Deputy Directors.
It requires the COGCC change its language from “foster Oil & Gas” to “regulate Oil & Gas”.
It requires operators to install air constant emission monitoring equipment and it allows local governments to be able to monitor inspect oil and gas facilities; impose fines for leaks, spills, and emissions.
Currently local governments are unable to impose any of this.
It requires operators to go to the local government for approval to drill before being able to go to the COGCC.
Currently, operators go to the COGCC and than the local governments resulting in threats of lawsuits if local governments do not approve after it’s been approved by the COGCC.
It changes the language around leaving it in the ground is not wasteful.
Currently, it is stated to not take it out is wasteful.
Colorado Rising Director, Joe Salazar breaks it down from his keen legal mind:
SB19-181 Breakdown with Joe Salazar and Dan Leftwich
Posted by Colorado Rising on Monday, March 4, 2019
- https://www.denverpost.com/2018/01/12/colorado-oil-gas-spills-increase, https://kdvr.com/2018/02/19/oil-and-gas-spills-happen-nearly-12-times-a-week-in-colorado/
- https://www.princeton.edu/news/2017/12/13/hydraulic-fracturing-negatively-impacts-infant-health, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/12/e1603021, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321801272_Hydraulic_fracturing_and_infant_health_New_evidence_from_Pennsylvania
Additional sources (no reason to short ourselves on all the knowledge at our fingertips): https://www.marketplace.org/2017/11/15/sustainability/environmental-protection-agency-drilling-fracking-wells, https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Colorado_and_fracking#Air_pollution, https://www.colorado.edu/business/sites/default/files/attached-files/cbr_2018_issue_3.pdf, http://www.metrodenver.org/media/396253/Economic-Profile-2015.pdf, https://www.colorado.edu/business/sites/default/files/attached-files/cbr_2018_issue_3.pdf, https://www.cpr.org/news/colorado-data, https://www.coloradoindependent.com/2017/06/02/colorado-cogcc-drilling-permits-martinez/?fbclid=IwAR14Dbj_wOcMSgC_rgfqwfC056-VQ8Wixb0SxoXAjVUaEB4soBJRBv6QdtQ
State Budgets: https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/fy18-19bib.pdf, https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/dec2018forecast.pdf, https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/GeneralFund0718.pdf