Statement to Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force
15 January 2015
My name is Doug Henderson. I am a member of the organization 350, a national and international movement addressing climate change. 350 is active and expanding locally, with thousands of supporters and activists in Colorado, including Ft Collins where I live. The larger 350 network shares the intent of my comments here, even though the broad grassroots nature of 350 precludes vetting the specific words.
Many concerns and problems have been raised by people who have the misfortunate to live where wells have been located and where fracking is occurring or will occur. Residents, families, neighborhoods, and community facilities such as schools suffer impacts from nearby O&G production facilities and associated activities and transportation. Escalating problems include:
- health issues and health damage
- air and water pollution
- noise, dust, odors, vibrations, lights and other visual impacts
- traffic problems and dangers, especially with heavy truck traffic and non-local drivers
Especially alarming is increasing information regarding toxic impacts of O&G industrial processes on human health. The State of New York recently banned fracking after extensive review and assessment, largely out of concern for health risks and concerns. How honest is the State of Colorado being in its assessment of these risks? And who will bear liability for skyrocketing costs, if/when health damage is conclusively linked to O&G development?
These concerns are real and serious, and are increasing significantly with expanding O&G development in close proximity to residential areas and communities in this area, as elsewhere across Colorado. These problems need solutions that satisfy the local citizens and organizations that have raised them. O&G development in proximity to residential areas and community facilities should be halted and prevented until such time as adequate solutions are agreed.
Issues related to property rights need careful consideration and resolution, as property rights are fundamental to relationships in our society and our legal system. However, property rights arguments are often framed in overly simplistic terms, or presented to reflect only a narrow set of property rights, particularly those claimed by owners of mineral rights. There are also other property rights to be upheld. What about the property rights of homeowners impacted by adjacent or nearby O&G development? Homes and neighborhoods suffer value declines as a consequence of proximity to O&G facilities and activities, and/or perceived risks associated with O&G development. What about losses suffered by home owners, local businesses, and local community services as a consequence of O&G-caused catastrophe such as groundwater pollution and chemical spills, which have occurred in many places and are certain to occur in the future as well? Are those who directly benefit from O&G development willing to compensate local property owners, local businesses, local schools, and local governments for the “taking” of their property, for the full cost of losses in property value? Will O&G developers and owners fully compensate people and communities for damage to their health resulting from O&G development? Is the O&G industry prepared to fund a Superfund insurance facility up front, as a demonstration of its commitment to upholding property rights and responsibilities?
In addition to local issues and problems, we are concerned about serious problems with fracking that have broad geographic and environmental impacts. These impacts are local and also extend far beyond local areas, with damage to people and ecosystems all across Colorado and much farther away. These include water depletion and misallocation, air and water pollution, and exacerbation of climate change.
With water supply already a major concern along the Front Range, in part fueled by ongoing rapid population growth, allocation of water to ‘best use’ is imperative, now and especially in the future. Fracking has major impact on water supplies and groundwater quality. More fracking means greater impact on water supplies and greater risk of water degradation. It is unconscionable to use and permanently remove vast quantities of irreplaceable water – from 5 to 9 million gallons per well – and to increase groundwater pollution. There have also been more than 5,000 fracking-related spills of diesel fuel, oil, toxic chemicals, and other contaminants in Colorado, over 1,000 in the the last four years alone, many of which have polluted groundwater. What is really in the chemical cocktails being used by the O&G industry, which they hide from scrutiny by claims of proprietary information? Given the terrible track record of pollution and scurilous behavior by the O&G industry, their public information regarding these chemicals cannot be trusted without independent analysis and reliable monitoring. It is foolhardy to believe that a radical expansion of fracking will not increase toxic spills and groundwater pollution.
The 350 movement is especially focused on climate change and advancing solutions to the climate crisis. We understand that contemporary civilization depends extremely heavily on fossil fuels, but we also recognize the urgent need for rapid innovation and change in our energy system, to reduce the greenhouse effect in order to preserve a livable planet. The best science available says that we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm. Even though the science is far from perfected, it is clear that continuing “business as usual” is a path to catastrophe. We need to be innovating and investing in a sustainable energy future, reducing as rapidly as possible the dependence on fossil fuels.
From this perspective, we believe the continued priority given to O&G development is fundamentally misguided, and fracking is especially so because of myriad local problems and broader damage including accelerating climate change. Research by NOAA and other scientific organizations has shown that methane leakage from fracking results in more climate-change impact than burning coal, giving fracking the distinction of being among the worst fuel sources in terms of climate impact.
We represent a growing awareness locally, across Colorado and the US, and around the world, that believes it is time to take a different path, out of concern for ourselves and for our neighbors, for our children, and for their children.
We encourage you to embrace a greener future starting now, by recommending a major shift in energy policy toward innovation and investment in renewable energy sources and technologies, by scaling back O&G development in general, and by an immediate moratorium for the most damaging types of fossil fuel exploitation including hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, at least until results of health and environmental studies are much more fully understood.
Thank you for listening to the public and for doing what is right and responsible for Colorado now and for the future.