From the Publisher:
I have lived in Erie for 29 years.
I don’t feel safe in my community anymore.
I attended the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) hearing September 26th, 2019 at the Erie Community Center. I went in with high hopes that the new Director, Jeff Robbins, was there to really listen to residents regarding the Acme Pad. I had my 3 minute speech all prepared and everything.
For those unfamiliar, the Acme Pad is a massive site-the size of four Walmarts directly in the middle of a neighborhood. It sits approximately 500 feet from homes, 1000 feet from the airport runway, and several hundred feet from Highway 7. It has no emergency road exit. The Acme Pad was pushed through by Crestone Peak Resources, and approved by Erie officials who claim they had no choice but to approve it. The long and short of it goes: Crestone threatened to get it approved through the state without an Operator Agreement if Erie didn’t approve it.
You can read more about the Acme Pad site and the process that took place in Erie to approve it in YS coverage over the last year.
When we got to the meeting we were told there would be NO discussion about the Acme Pad, that we could only address rule-making.
They told us that if we wanted to discuss the Acme Pad, we would have to go into the room next door and they would show us how to leave a comment on the website. We were also told that disruption – of any kind – would end the meeting.
In the back, Erie Trustee Dan Woog and some of his followers had green tape over their mouths, presumably in protest of Senate bill 181 that passed earlier in the year. Mr Woog, who is running for Weld County District 63, presented himself as a centrist in the not so distant past, in an interview with YS in 2012.
Here is his answer when asked about Fracking in 2012:
Are you concerned about the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing in Erie? If so, what would you do about it as trustee?
“Yes, as a husband and father of two little ones who is raising his family here I do have concerns about hydraulic fracturing in Erie. I would have an extremely hard time forgiving myself if one or more of my family members have health complications 5, 10 or 15 years from now as a result of polluted air or water from hydraulic fracturing. I do support the current moratorium and am pleased that we are installing water-testing equipment to ensure clean drinking water. I am also anxiously awaiting the air quality testing system that we hope to have done by some independent researchers this summer. As a trustee, I will continue to support the forward thinking of the current board by insisting that we take the lead in air and water quality control measures as the state and national government continue to support hydraulic fracturing.”
Today, it appears Mr. Woog has gone all-in on Fracking. Oil & Gas has contributed over $24 Million to political campaigns over the last 3 years in Colorado (this does not include the $80 Million spent to defeat 112 or the attempt to pass 74). Over $50,000 was spent on behalf of Mr. Woog and his cohorts by oil & gas interest groups in his failed bid for Mayor in 2018. Currently, the Secretary of State shows no donations for his race for Weld County District 33; the next contribution filing is due on October 15, 2019.
I was extremely puzzled by the allowance of Mr. Woog’s crew to remain in the audience with green tape on their mouths since the audience was warned against public displays at the beginning of the meeting.
Discouraged but not defeated, I still held onto the belief that this new Commission was there for Health & Safety and it would not be business as usual.
Since its inception, the COGCC has never denied a permit. Not one.
With the passing of Senate Bill 181, the Mission language was changed from “foster oil and gas production” to “regulate the development and production of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner that protects public health, safety, welfare, the environment, and wildlife resources.”
SB-181 puts Health & Safety first. SB-181 also changed who serves on the Commission. In the past it was largely staffed by Oil and Gas employees. Today O&G is allowed two seats at the table. Learn more about SB-181 through our article The Blue Puddle.
High hopes and speech firmly clutched in hand, I continued to believe that somehow this commission was there to hear from residents and not just Oil and Gas.
We heard from Elected Officials first.
Boulder County Commissioner, Elise Jones, gave a thoughtful presentation on the necessity for Health & Safety and the need for the COGCC to be ready to say NO when a project does not meet Health & Safety standards.
Mr. Woog bantered around the word Freedom a few times, stating that it would be lost if the board passed any more regulations, while praising the services of Oil & Gas and expressing his concerns about profit.
Erie Trustee Christiaan van Woudenberg discussed the implications of 181 and the new responsibilities of the COGCC with its passage. He pointed out that even though 181 has been in effect for 6 months, no new rules have been implemented. He asked for the COGCC to pause the permitting process until the new rulemakings are completed.
State Representative Mike Foote arrived a little late, but spoke on his displeasure regarding the tone at the Wednesday COGCC meeting in Thornton. He stated that personal attacks on community are inappropriate. He addressed that many of the sites that were previously approved are too close to residential homes to meet health and safety standards and he hopes going forward the COGCC puts Health & Safety first.
We then had a number of speakers, which Oil & Gas also turned out for. Many residents spoke out about the health issues that they experienced living next to well sites, and implored the Commission to look at all of the studies. We also had a lot of Oil and Gas employees speak, with one employee bringing his 7 year old son to speak on behalf of the good health of the industry.
Oil and Gas proponents spoke to the safety the industry operates under (leaving out there is an average of 12 spills a week). They also recounted personal anecdotes of their own good health, leaving out that per the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health (NLM/NIH), they have an accident rate 2.5x higher than construction and 7x higher than the general industry. The NLM/NIH also report they believe some accidents are not being reported.
Most of the dialogue from Oil and Gas revolved around their jobs, regulations being too strict, and the safety of the industry. With a little research, many of these claims are easily refuted.
The audience in attendance was large and at one point a group of activists outside the building demonstrated by holding up signs shaped to look like caskets and gravestones with varying messages on the dangers of fracking.
Mr. Robbins then shut the meeting down and we were all asked to leave the building.
It seemed odd to me that the Commission was okay with a group of protestors inside the building wearing green tape over their mouths, but shut down a public meeting because of legal signs outside the meeting.
I don’t know if the COGCC understands that most of these activists come from the suburbs; that most people in the community didn’t start as Anti-Fracking advocates but became one when their communities and neighborhoods were invaded by many of the 60,000 wells in the state. They are not extremists as the industry works to paint them. They are residents who bought a home not knowing how heavy fracking is in their community and they want drilling to stop next to the places they sleep at night.
For me, the event took an even more bizarre turn when outside waiting to be let back in. A man came up to me and asked why I had taken a picture of his son. I told him I had taken pictures of all the speakers and proceeded to show him my phone. Angrily, he told me he believed the shot I took of the crowd purposefully included his son. I had no idea what he was talking about, as when I took the group shot, I was looking at the room. Apparently his son was directly behind me, but I did not see him as I was focused on the room. I attempted to explain this, but he refused to believe me. I asked him if he was threatening me since he was extremely hostile and, frankly, a little scary in his tone and approach with me. At that point four more Oil & Gas employees encircled me and begin yelling at me. Even though I had never met any of these people, some called me out by name.
It is a little scary when you have people you have never met surrounding you to scream at you by name.
I then went and sought out the police that were talking to the activists with the signs. The police came over to the area where the crowd was standing and remained until we were allowed back inside.
When we were allowed back in the building I attempted to tell Mr. Robbins and the other commissioners that I did not feel safe because I was being harassed. It seemed to me that they were more worried about the signs outside than the environment of the meeting.
We returned and testimony resumed. We heard more from oil and gas affiliated individuals than we did from residents of Erie.
About 45 minutes into the second round of testimony the activists appeared again with the signs held up to the window behind the Commissioners. Mr. Robbins than shut the meeting down completely.
Outside in the hallway, one of the people that had encircled me earlier came up to me and began accusing me of paying the activists, which has some irony, since I was unaware of their plans. She proceeded to scream at me in the hallway, and I insisted she back away. She then threatened to call the police on me.
This incident is not isolated. Both YS associates and myself have been targets of Oil & Gas confrontations before. From writing bad reviews, to making threatening posts about shutting down my business, The environment is rife with hostility and threats directed at my business, and myself. YS is not the only one who is targeted. Slap suits on activists is a common tactic, as well as following candidates around and filming them in public.
- I don’t feel safe in my community because I have no choice whether my backyard will be drilled or not.
- I don’t feel safe in my community because I have approximately 50 wells within a 2 mile radius of my home.
- I don’t feel safe in my community because the Town of Erie is not fighting for me or my neighbors’ health and safety and instead are approving more wells; from which the town receives approximately $800,000 of its $106 million dollar budget.
- I don’t feel safe in my community because, since the passage of SB-181, an average of 28 wells a month have been approved and no new rules have been implemented.
- I don’t feel safe in my community because my business and my personhood are constantly harassed by employees of the Oil & Gas industry- be it online or in person.
- I don’t feel safe in my community because elected officials who have opposed more fracking in the state are followed around by Trackers (people hired by the Oil & Gas industry to film them when they attend public events).
- I don’t feel safe because the data being used on air quality is outdated by nearly 7 years.
- I don’t feel safe because no testing is being done on blood or methane in our state.
- I don’t feel safe because Erie already has hundreds of wells and is looking to place a site that is the size of four Walmarts in the middle of a neighborhood. The COGCC did not accept public comment – except through a website.
I have lived here for 29 years. Never did I think that anyone in their right mind would approve wells 500 feet from people’s homes, let alone 30 of them. Never did I think that we would have literally no say in this and the powers that are supposed to protect us from Industry don’t.
I fear that the COGCC will approve the Acme site and we will learn that SB-181 is being ignored, and that it is “business as usual” for the Oil & Gas Industry.