Regarding the approval of the special-use permit to perform fracking in Routt County, I learned a big lesson about government in action in witnessing this approval.
There was a lot of good in what I witnessed, but I am limited to 600 words here, so I have to get to the items of concern immediately.
■ Despite the hundreds of lawsuits, settlements and gag orders involved in groundwater contamination causing sickness and death of humans and animals because of fracking that have been litigated across the country, even in Colorado and Wyoming, two of three Routt County Board of Commissioners members voted to approve the special-use permit allowing fracking in our county.
Both commissioners who voted for approval made statements that they thought they could not say “no” to this special-use permit without threat of a lawsuit (I think they were implying the threat would come from the oil company and possibly the owners of the surface land). I think the position of the oil company would be that the commissioners would be attempting to legislate on an issue over which they have no authority. They would claim the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has jurisdiction.
Our confidence in this authority, with its incestuous relationship to the industry, may be misplaced. The oil company repeatedly insinuated we should be reassured by their willingness to comply with Oil and Gas Commission regulations. This is misleading.
■ Several people spoke during the public commentary portion of the meeting about their willingness to overlook the risk of groundwater contamination in favor of financial gain (like in the movie “Gasland”). Some of these speakers said they had mineral rights and had been paying taxes on them for years. They said it was their right to harvest those minerals despite the risks associated with fracking. The public should not accept these risks.
■ The petitioner for the special-use permit submitted mixed information that was misleading to the public. Only 500 barrels of water will be used, but 500 gallons is only to drill the well. Actual fracking operations require millions of gallons, only a fraction of which are recovered, leaving toxic, carcinogenic and radioactive material in the ground (one mile from the Yampa). The petitioner is allowed to do so because of its exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption was championed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney (ex-CEO of Halliburton, an industry leader in fracking).
■ The petitioner said that it would be installing only a vertical well and that the fracturing would radiate out from the center. In the hearing, it said that it may decide at a later date to fracture on a horizontal plane an unstated distance from the center and that a new permit would not be sought.
■ The special-use permit submittal was to have required a mitigation plan for all risks but didn’t. There is no mitigation plan for groundwater contamination. Once contaminated, there is no fix.
■ The oil company still has insisted on weasel words to allow it to further debate the Condition of Acceptance requiring ongoing groundwater monitoring.
■ The responsibility of our commissioners to protect the health and safety of the public has been compromised by the few in a position to profit financially.
It now is apparent to me that it is imperative that public pressure be brought to bear on the Oil and Gas Commission to truly protect public safety when it comes to fracking. The highly polished, professional industry lobbyists of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Colorado Petroleum Association already are doing so. Get cracking! No fracking!