We, The People?

by Shelley Bassman

The last time I visited the State Capitol, I went to see a biennial Capitol Quilt Show. That is always a treat.

On Monday February 6th, I went to the State Capitol with a friend from Erie Rising.

Unfortunately, there were no quilts for us to see. That would have been a welcome antidote to what we did experience.

Our interest and concern was for the Committee Hearings for two House bills.

House 1172 would have required a minimum 1,000 foot setback from gas well pad to nearest home, school, religious building, park, play ground, surface water.

This setback is obviously better than the current 350′ for the health, safety, and well-being of people of all ages, and for the minimal protection of surface property values. (1)

In 2006, horizontal drilling became widely used by the Industry. This new technology easily accommodates 1,000 foot setbacks.

In December 2011, the average horizontal bore in Weld County by Encana and Anadarko was 4,200 feet and 4,000 feet, respectively. (2)

Modern horizontal drilling and 1,000′ setbacks go together, protecting health, safety, well-being and surface property values, without interfering with gas extraction.

House Bill 1176 would have mandated Closed Loop Completion of gas wells, banning open pits in populated areas.

Open pits for consolidated multiple well pads are large rectangular “lagoons” (industry terminology). They are used, sometimes with huge mist-makers, to evaporate “flowback” and “produced water.” This “water” is poisonous. It contains frack chemicals, volatile organic compounds, methane, heavy metals, various salts, and NORMS (natually occurring radioactive materials). The many petro-compounds that evaporate along with water vapor have serious adverse effects on local and regional air quality. Every open pit eventually becomes a toxic clean-up site.

Closed Loop technology contains the toxic flowback and produced fluids in pipes and tanks, to be dumped down 10,000 foot “injection wells,” hopefully never to be seen again. It’s not great, but it’s a huge improvement over open pits.

The Committee Hearings for HB1172 and HB1176 were scheduled for late February.

We learned on Sunday night, after the Super Bowl, that the House committee hearings had been abruptly rescheduled: to the next day, Monday afternoon, at the State Capitol.

With such little notice, four people were able to attend, speaking in person for the bills.

The Industry had no problem with the schedule change. Six full-time men from the allegedly “under-manned,” tax-payer-funded Oil and Gas Commission, two full-time men from the industry-funded Oil and Gas Association, one full-time man from the Drilling Association, and one full-time woman from the Chamber of Commerce attended, and testified against the bills.

When the Committee voted, HB1172 failed, 8-3; HB1176 was killed by being indefinitely tabled.

As my Erie Rising friend and I stood and turned to leave, one of the opposition representatives on the Committee said sarcastically, “happy birthday.”

May I understate the obvious? There is undue influence at all levels of government by this industry.
This industry is comprised of corporations, whose sole purpose is the accumulation of vast wealth (currently $28 billion per year in Colorado; our State budget this year is $18 billion) and, whose sole anatomical part is a middle finger.

Our Rights to uncontaminated homes, schools, playgrounds, places of worship, parks, surface waters, air, peace and quiet… and more, are being willfully ignored and trampled by too many politicians who are dependent on oil and gas industry money for their political campaigns.

Until we figure out the answers to this obscene imbalance and skewing of public policy at the state level, here is a modest suggestion: The entire Colorado State Capitol ought to be re-purposed as a permanent venue for Quilts of Colorado.

On a practical level, We, the People can still show up and speak up. We can write our representatives. We, the People who elected them, must tell them to stand up for our Rights to oil and gas regulation that protects us, consistent with the responsible extraction of the gas that is necessary for our energy needs.

BTW, that latter goal has already been accomplished. Since April 2011, USA revenues from exports of natural gas exceed the value of our imports of crude oil.(3) We are “energy independent.” No further drilling of American natural gas is needed. We are now wantonly exploiting and exporting the natural gas that belongs to our posterity.

Where is the PAUSE button?
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(1) University of Colorado School of Public Health Study in Battlement Mesa for Garfield County, Preliminary Report, 20: Recommendation: 1,000′ setbacks to homes, etc. The final report was not completed, due to pressure from the Oil and Gas Commission on Garfield County Commissioners.
(1) Findings for Oil and Gas Regulations of Flower Mound TX, 2011: Property values at 1,000 feet from a well are consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. The closer to the well, the faster and greater the property value decreases.
(2) http://oilshalegas.com/niobrarashale.html
(3) Interview of former Governor Bill Ritter by Tamara Banks on KBDI Channel 12, Autumn 2011.