It was an eye-opening week in Erie, Colorado, as the town underwent a surge of attention from the oil and gas industry
On Tuesday January 27, the Erie Board of Trustees rejected a moratorium on new oil/gas development by a vote of 4-3. The two week delay in the vote enabled members of the oil/gas industry to gather their troops in an effort to outnumber and marginalize those of us who supported a moratorium.
I had every intention of speaking in favor of the moratorium at the BOT meeting. However, my work day ran long, and I arrived a few minutes late to the Erie Town Hall. As I approached the doors to the main room, I found a dry erase board indicating that the board room was full and additional arrivals were to use the “overflow room” next door. Upon approaching the overflow room, I found the door was propped open, and the room was so packed with people standing against the walls and even in the doorway itself that I could not get in. At that point, I turned around, walked back to my car and went home. I briefly considered standing outside the board room out in the cold, but I was tired and hungry from my 11 hour work day.
I returned home and immediately turned on Comcast Channel 8 to watch the meeting in real time. I had missed the first half hour, but I’ve subsequently gone back and watched it online. The pro-fracking supporters were certainly out in force. They even found some Erie residents to speak on their behalf. What was really annoying is that the oil/gas industry appeared to pack the room with people who were simply there to take up space and clap. (I am not making this up. Later in the meeting, a few of the Trustees expressed their disdain for the industry’s effort to pack the room with non-Erie residents who were simply there to prevent Erie residents from attending.)
One Vista Ridge resident who spoke out against the moratorium is an engineer who works for a local oil and gas company. She stated that she is also a mom whose home is near a couple of well sites, and she has previously endured the “temporary” discomfort of drilling/fracking operations. She thinks that the industry is making a good effort to keep the practice safe, and she wants to continue to raise her children in Erie. Furthermore she is worried that a moratorium will not only increase taxes, but will cause her to lose her job. (I should really point out here that the “temporary discomfort” that she referred to is a thing of the past. Now, because multiple wells are drilled at the same site, the discomfort is far from temporary. It actually continues for many months at a time).
Another self-described soccer mom from the Erie Commons neighborhood spoke gratefully about the amount of money that Encana has invested in the town, and that she has not found previous drilling/fracking activities to be too disruptive. In fact she actually said she just may not be as “sensitive” as other people are to a little vibration in her house. I must assume that she cannot fully understand how the sound levels and vibrations closest to the Pratt site exceeded what even the state allows or perhaps she would not accuse her Vista Ridge neighbors of being overly sensitive.
A resident of Erie Village who works with the group Protect Colorado also argued against the moratorium. He contended that it will simply be struck down in court and will waste our tax dollars. He asked the BOT if they will protect the rights of individuals or simply give in to the “tyranny of the mob?” So apparently, people who are arguing for the right to live in their homes without being driven away by noise, vibrations, and air pollution are not individuals? We are instead a mob? I think I should take a moment to review how a democracy works. We have a government that is by the people, for the people. The people (or the mob as you call us) have a right to voice our opinions and ask our elected officials to act on our behalf. The opinion of the majority matters; ultimately the government is supposed to reflect the will of the people.
I cannot help but notice that the overriding theme for those who argued against the moratorium is concern about money. A moratorium will raise our taxes. A moratorium will impact jobs. But what about the residents whose property values have fallen in the face of local oil/gas development? What about their money?
In response to those who argue that they live next to active wells and drilling sites and have not had any adverse health effects, I would ask, how do you then explain the people who have reported illness from living in proximity to drilling/fracking sites? If we follow the logic of those who claim drilling/fracking operations are safe, then I would argue that cigarette smoke does not cause illness or injury. Since I lived in a home with a heavy smoker until I was 20 years old and I do not have lung cancer, we can conclude that second hand smoke is not dangerous. Right?
And while we’re on the subject of cigarette smoke, look at how long it took for the medical evidence to catch up with the tobacco industry. Why is it any surprise that we are having a difficult time fighting for our health interests against an equally lucrative and powerful oil and gas industry? (Here’s a link to a compiled list of scientific articles related to health concerns and fracking operations: http://psehealthyenergy.org/data/Database_Analysis_2015.1_.27_.pdf)
Had I the opportunity to speak at the BOT meeting last Tuesday, here is what I would have said:
“What our friends and neighbors who live closest to the Pratt site endured is an injustice. And while I did not experience anything nearly as bad as what my neighbors in Vista Ridge suffered, I will still stand up and help fight for them. Why? Because we are a community – which means that we should help our friends and neighbors in need. Now some argue that the Pratt site debacle was an anomaly, and we should not judge all drilling and fracking operations based upon the problems there. But I think that the problems at the Pratt site, and the profoundly slow and apathetic response by the COGCC, actually proves that current regulations do not protect us. We the citizens of Erie are asking for your protection. We ask you to pass this moratorium and take the time to establish better safeguards for our homes and well-being. We’re asking you to be bold. We’re asking you to be brave. Stand up for the citizens of Erie and approve this moratorium.”
Three of the members of our Town Council were brave and voted to pass the moratorium: Mayor Tina Harris, Trustee Jennifer Carroll, and Trustee Scott Charles. I applaud their efforts. Yet people who side with the oil/gas industry see things differently. For example, our Mayor Tina Harris, who valiantly led the meeting while fighting the flu, has been the victim of online attacks of her character from such bottom feeder groups as “RevealingPolitics”. (You can google them and find them online if you choose — I refuse to provide a direct website link for a group that participates in smear campaigns). At the meeting last Tuesday, Mayor Harris briefly spoke about the outside influences that descended upon Erie in the past week. She referred to the door to door out-of-town solicitors and said they do “not look like Erie or sound like Erie.” She was referring to the complaints she had received from Erie residents that they had been approached by people asking them to sign a petition, which they misrepresented as being against fracking when it was in fact a petition against the moratorium. A few residents had complained that these solicitors were rude college students who reeked of marijuana. Yet RevealingPolitics latched on to the “not look like Erie” phrase and misconstrued it as a racist comment. Mayor Harris has graciously apologized for any unintended misunderstanding of her statement. But then Mayor Harris is a class act.
Perhaps the most informative part of the meeting was when Matt Lepore, director of the COGCC, took a turn at the podium. He admitted that the COGCC fell short in its response to the Pratt site, and he apologized for that. But here’s where his speech takes an interesting little turn: he said when a new well first undergoes drilling, they tend to get a lot of noise complaints. So when the first complaints came in about the Pratt site, they figured it was the typical type of noise issue, and they were slow to respond.
Slow to respond? So the COGCC ignores the initial complaints that come in because they ALWAYS get complaints when a new well goes up? Does anyone else see a problem here?
The take-home message is that we must continue to speak up. The only reason the COGCC finally listened to us is that by December 8th, 9th, and 10th they had been “deluged” with complaints, and they took notice.
Groups such as Protect Colorado and Revealing Politics refer to the citizens of Erie who ask for tighter regulations on oil/gas development, better enforcement of regulations, and more distance between our homes and drilling/fracking sites, as “fractivists”. I believe they are trying to vilify us, and somehow make us seem like crazy radicals. Yet, we are not asking for a ban on the industry altogether. We are merely fighting for our health and our homes. We are literally fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course these are the same principles upon which our country was founded. Instead of calling us fractivists I think they should call us patriots.