Outrage and Frustration

The drilling rig at Encana’s Pratt site did in fact go away.  And the wall finally came down.  However, peace and tranquility is far from restored in our small town of Erie, CO.

Since August, 2014, the Erie Board of Trustees has been in negotiations with Encana (oil and gas company) to revise the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that had previously been in place since 2012.  The MOU has been endorsed by both the Town of Erie and the oil and gas industry as a landmark agreement that should serve as an example of successful cooperation between municipalities and oil/gas companies.  It is supposed to address public concerns about notification, setbacks, and health impacts of drilling operations.   Click link to read: Article from Boulder Daily Camera newspaper

After 5 months of negotiations, the Board of Trustees was set to vote on the new MOU at the town meeting on Tuesday January 13.   However, after the MOU proposal was published in its written form on Friday January 9, there was public outcry, at least on Facebook.   By Monday January 12, Mayor Harris and the Board of Trustees had pulled the MOU from the agenda.  Instead, the Board would consider an ordinance to place a temporary moratorium on oil/gas development within the town of Erie.   I was thrilled with Erie’s apparent change in direction.

At the meeting on January 13, 17 Erie residents, including myself, spoke out in favor of a moratorium.  Many Vista Ridge residents detailed their horrific experiences of being unable to sleep or work within their homes due to the extreme noise/vibrations from the drilling at the Pratt site.  Some residents also brought up the fact that the activities of digging at the Pratt site unearthed portions of a previous landfill that then remained uncovered; exposed to the air and wind, garbage of various varieties floated around the neighborhood.  I stood up and explained that I believe current regulations to be completely ineffective at protecting our air quality.  I provided details of how I experienced a chemical/burning odor when I went into my yard at 4:45pm on Wednesday, December 10, a time when my neighbors in Vista Ridge reported seeing flames rising up above the sound barrier walls at the Pratt site.  I called the COGCC that night, and filed a written complaint the next day.  The COGCC performed an air quality inspection on Friday December 12, found no violation at that time, and dismissed my complaint.    I argued that intermittent air quality testing is completely ineffective when gas flaring is also done on an intermittent basis.  Air quality must be measured continuously;  if only measured sporadically, we are missing data that is vital to understanding the complete picture.

A few people who work within the oil and gas industry also spoke during the period of public comment.  They believe that wells are safe and insisted that they have no problems with their families living nearby.   None of these people indicated that they live within Vista Ridge or Vista Pointe however.  They focused on the belief that a moratorium on oil/gas development will damage the economy.

A representative from the Pratt family also spoke.  She declared that her family has “farmed” the land for 75 years, and that Encana is a “good” company.  I take issue with her claim that the Pratt family has “farmed” the land, when in fact, they have used it as a dump/landfill.  To me, farming implies some semblance of good stewardship of the land.  In reality, the Pratt landfill has been historically plagued with violations.  Erie residents who have lived here for 30+ years have readily admitted to me that they will not drink the water here.  Perhaps this is why: Columbine – site memo_1992inspection (PDF).  More recently, the Colorado Department of Public Health has investigated the Pratt landfill site for violations of solid waste disposal: CO Dept Public Health Pratt (PDF).

Once the period of public comment ended, the Board continued with discussion of other agenda items.  Knowing that the meeting would likely stretch on for hours, I went home and watched the remainder of the meeting on Comcast Channel 8.  Sometime after 9pm, the Board began to discuss the Moratorium.  The following is my summary of the relevant discussion points:

The Trustees indicated that they were uncomfortable with the wording in the written version of the MOU.  Essentially, what they believed they had negotiated verbally was not reflected in the written version.  For this reason, the Mayor and Trustees pulled the MOU off of the agenda and replaced it with the proposed 1 year moratorium.  They explained that this was a move to bring both parties back to the table for ongoing discussion of the MOU.

During the Board’s comment period, an Encana representative was allowed to speak and answer the Board’s questions. Many of us find it odd that Encana had an opportunity for ongoing discussion with the Board while we, the residents of Erie, did not have that same opportunity.  The Encana representative admitted that Encana had filed 3 new permits for 9 wells within the past 24 hours as a response to the city considering a moratorium.

I cannot recall whether it was the Encana representative or one of the other members of the oil/gas industry in the room who drew the following conclusion, but I will include it here:  He said that The town of Erie requests that oil/gas not perform drilling in the summer because it is too loud during a time our windows are more likely to be open, and yet we also do not want drilling performed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He said, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”   To me that argument is ridiculous.  Erie residents are not getting any cake at all.   Cake is tasty, sweet, and enjoyable.  Drilling is loud and creates nothing but misery for the people unfortunate enough to live near it.

Trustee Carroll, Trustee Charles, and Mayor Harris spoke in favor of the moratorium.  All expressed concern over what citizens in the Vista Ridge neighborhood have experienced with Encana’s Pratt site drilling.  Trustee Charles summed it up best when he stated that one person’s freedom ends where another begins.  In other words, landowners have drilling rights, but those rights end when they infringe on the rights of a homeowner to live in his/her home.

As discussions continued, Trustee Gruber proposed a 2 week stay on the moratorium vote.  He suggested it as an eleventh hour attempt to buy more time to salvage the MOU.  Trustee Carroll argued that since 5 months of negotiations had failed to yield an agreeable MOU, she doubted that 2 weeks would be adequate time to reach a resolution.

Trustees Woog, Schuut and Moore felt that voting in favor of a moratorium would merely give Encana and Anadarko (as well as other oil/gas companies) less incentive to work with the town.  Instead, they feared that oil/gas companies would railroad the town because they really only need to answer to the state.

More discussion ensued.  Ultimately, there was debate over whether or not delaying the vote on the moratorium for 2 weeks would incite a wave of permit applications from Encana and Anadarko in an attempt to attain approval prior to a possible moratorium.  The Encana representative in the room made a “good faith” promise not to submit any new permit applications during the next two weeks.  However, Anadarko did not have a representative present.  Furthermore, Trustee Charles indicated that the Trustees had earlier received a disrespectful/offensive email from someone at Anadarko who was angered by the possible moratorium.  Then, in a strange twist, the Town Administrator received a text message from someone at Anadarko, directing the Trustees to check their emails.  Anadarko apparently also agreed not to submit new permits during the next 2 weeks.  During this time, Facebook exploded.  Erie residents who were following the Board meeting were incredulous that someone from Anadarko could simply text the Town Administrator during a meeting and impact the Board’s decision.

The Board voted in favor of waiting two weeks to vote on the moratorium.  That vote will now take place on Tuesday January 27.  In the meantime, a meeting for further deliberations over content of the MOU will be held with the Trustees, Mayor, Erie residents, COGCC representative, Encana, and Anadarko.  Unfortunately, this meeting has been scheduled for Tuesday January 20, at 5pm.  I suspect it will be difficult for those of us with full time jobs to make it to the meeting on time, if at all.  Fortunately, if you cannot make the meeting, Trustee Carroll will accept your emails with specific additions you would like to see in the new MOU.  Here is her email address:  jcarroll@erieco.gov

There was a lot of anger, frustration, and venting on the Pratt&WC monitoring Facebook page after the Board meeting.  Unfortunately, some of that anger was directed at specific Trustees, and the comments were often unkind.  I think we all need to remember that while we may be angry and want our Trustees to vote differently, we need to refrain from what amounts to bullying on social media.  It is not fair to malign someone’s character because he/she came to a different conclusion than we have.  We need to be better than that.  And selfishly, we cannot afford to alienate the members of our town government, as they are truly the people we most need on our side.  If you do not agree with someone’s opinion, vote for someone else in the next election.  But remember that all of these people have chosen to be public servants, and that is a noble cause.  They deserve to be treated with respect.  When we disagree with them, we need to make logical, articulate arguments as to why they should see things as we do.  Criticizing someone’s character on social media only damages what we are ultimately fighting for.

I plan to email Trustee Carroll to ask that the following be added to the MOU:

1.  There must be constant air quality monitoring (checking levels of volatile gases) at any drilling/fracking site;  monitoring must not be intermittent.  Certainly the once a week “walk by” monitoring by an Encana employee that is currently outlined in the MOU is grossly inadequate.

2.  Set backs should be at least 1000 ft from any home or other occupied building.

3.  When A and C level noise exceeds state regulations, drilling must be stopped immediately.  The fact that it took 30 days for the drilling to stop at the Pratt site caused undo suffering for the nearby residents.

4.  Drilling through an existing landfill should never be allowed.  (While I realize that the permit at the Pratt site will not be impacted by a revision to the MOU, it is not unreasonable to expect that future drilling at other sites should not unearth landfill waste).

5.  Diesel drilling rigs should not be allowed to operate within Erie.  All rigs should be electric.

Finally, I want to revisit the fact that 17 Erie residents spoke up at the Town Meeting last week, arguing in favor of the 1 year moratorium.  While 17 people may seem like a small number to some, consider the effort involved in attending the meeting and preparing to speak.  Certainly I had worked a long day and was not excited to enter the crowded Town Hall and stand in the back for over an hour, awaiting my turn at the podium.  I know other people who wanted to attend were unable to do so due to travel and work obligations.  I was fortunate to be home in time to get to a 6:30pm meeting, as many days that would not be possible.  We are all people with busy lives who would certainly rather spend the evening at home with our families.  But the issue of drilling/fracking has invaded our space and our lives; we feel compelled to speak up and have our voices heard.

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