Gabe Perry has participated in the public comment session at the Boulder County Commissioners’ meeting for years fighting back tears to say he doesn’t want fracking in Boulder County. This time his testimony included an additional message to Commissioners after hearing of Planning staff’s revised recommendations, “You’re trying to regulate the oil and gas industry raping us. We’re still going to get raped. We’re still getting raped. We’re going to fight. We’re going to get hurt either way. Either way we get hurt.”
Boulder County Commissioners faced dozens of residents whom they have faced before who don’t want fracking in the county. Dozens of Boulder County residents repeated Perry’s sentiments; they are willing to participate in non-violent direct action and further, they are willing to go to jail to have clean air, water, and soil.
A moratorium on accepting applications to operate hydraulic fracturing wells in Boulder County was put in place in 2012 and another was placed and set to expire in May. On February 14, 2017 Attorney General Cynthia Coffman filed a lawsuit against Boulder County claiming that Boulder’s current moratorium on fracking was illegal. The AG lawsuit drew additional criticism when the Colorado Oil and Gas Association joined the AG in the suit. That particular criticism came from speakers in the meeting and from US Representative Jared Polis at his March 12 town hall.
Commissioner Elise Jones reported that 90% of the emails received on the topic opposed fracking, wanted the Commissioners to extend the moratorium, or to impose an indefinite moratorium.
Chief Planner for Boulder County Kim Sanchez gave Commissioners Cindy Domenico, Deb Gardner, and Elise Jones and update of investigations along with recommendations for eventually processing fracking applications. Updates included changes to the Comprehensive Plan that she said were necessary since current regulations were outdated due to current industry practices. One of the outdates included how to deal with pipelines since the industry in the past had always used trucks. Sanchez recommended 150 foot setback between pipelines and other structures.
Other recommendations included such regulations as prohibiting injection wells everywhere in the county, requiring disposal plans for wastewater, banning wells in flood areas, and limiting wells on a particular well pad. Staff recommended a $36,000 impact fee per well.
Staff wanted assurances that applicants comply with insurance liability, baseline sampling of air, water, and land. However it was not clear what the consequences would be if applicants did not meet requirements.
Also recommended was what was called a “disruption payment” to those whose homes become unlivable due to industry noise, pollution, or traffic. The payment to residents who need to temporarily relocate would need to be compensated by industry, including moving expenses, rent, and expenses for returning to the home.
Two from the oil and gas industry applied the usual pressure to officials citing oil and gas regulations that exist in Colorado.
Jake Matter is the Assistant Attorney General in the Natural Resources Section of the Colorado Attorney General and said that he came to the hearing in representation of the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC). This comment outraged some who added to their comments that the AG’s office should be there to represent the people and that “It’s outrageous that the AG’s office is using our own tax dollars to sue us.”
Matter reminded Commissioners that “Counties are given the authority that the state gives it. Under the Oil and Gas Act, oil and gas is the sole authority to govern conservation.”
Matter objected to the planning staff’s recommendations that the county ban fracking operations in flood plains, and taking the authority to reduce the number of wells on well pads.
During the 2013 flood in northern Colorado, those concerned about fracking particularly in Weld County shocked the country with photographs that documented multiple cases of toppled tanks at fracking operations. The photographs showed pipes and tanks leaking cloudy and discolored fluid from the location of the overturned tanks that contaminated widespread areas of soil.
Mark Mathews also testifies at many local city and county meetings where fracking is on the agenda. Mathews identified himself as regulatory counsel for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). He supported Matter in challenging some of the proposed regulations by planning staff, “We are concerned that some of the revised regulations are operationally preempted. We’re here really to talk about what the law is.”
Talking about what the law is, was the only point of agreement that those opposed to fracking had with the oil and gas representatives.
Multiple speakers said that they would follow a process of disobeying “bad laws” and encouraged Commissioners to do the same.
Bonnie Sundance said, “If the law makes it OK, then it is the law that is wrong. I oppose Colorado state laws which condone unhealthy practices.”
Karen Conduff went a step further and said, “I will be in jail before fracking happens in Boulder County.”
Rod Brueske went even further and advised Commissioners to begin talking about expanding the Boulder County jail because he predicts overcrowding with people who will take direct action against fracking, “I think you need to set up a family unit because I can tell you right now that not only my family, but there are many families, that since we are dealt an oppressive system, we are the last line of defense for ourselves. I can tell you right now that I will be repeatedly arrested. So will all the members of my family.”