(This is the testimony of 350CO read on 2/16/17 to the Senate Committee considering SB-035. To send your own letter to the committee, click here.)
February 16, 2017
To: Colorado Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee
From: 350 Colorado
I am speaking today on behalf of 350 Colorado, a non-profit organization representing over 10,000 of your constituents across Colorado. We are deeply concerned about and urge you to reject SB-035, which comes before you today.
At first glance, SB-035 seems to target only physical damage to oil and gas infrastructure and bodily harm to workers, but upon closer scrutiny you will see that this bill could easily be interpreted to include criminalization of peaceful protests at oil and gas sites, making peaceful protest a felony punishable by thousands of dollars in fines and 18 months in prison, if they in any way “interrupt or interfere with” oil and gas operations.
Similar bills have been introduced in 8 states in what appears to be a coordinated effort by the fossil fuel industry to prevent citizens from exercising our Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly and to peacefully protest oil and gas sites located too close to our homes and schools. We call on you to stop this infringement on our rights and vote against SB-035.
The provision we are primarily concerned about is Section 2, which reads: “(2) Any person who in any manner, without the consent of the owner or operator, knowingly alters, obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with or attempts to alter, obstruct, interrupt, or interfere with the action of any equipment used or associated with oil or gas gathering operations or places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury commits a class 2 misdemeanor 6 FELONY.”
As you likely know, people across Colorado are increasingly concerned about the dangerous air emissions, water contamination, and threat of explosions and fires around oil and gas sites that place people’s health and safety at risk. With the Supreme Court’s decision last May to reject local control of oil and gas operations, many Coloradans have little recourse to protect their families or voice their dissent with oil and gas operations that are often sited by neighborhoods and schools. These operations often generate almost unbearable noise and vibration, truck traffic, and fumes that destroy people’s quality of life and home values and produce toxic emissions and ozone that are known to damage our climate and people’s health – especially children and the elderly.
Studies have found that emissions, toxic spills, negative impacts on health, water and air contamination, decreased property values and other deleterious impacts are frequently associated with oil and gas operations near residences. The Denver Post reported that over a three-year period in Colorado more than 1,000 fracking-related spills of diesel fuel, oil, toxic chemicals, and other contaminants, dozens of which have polluted groundwater, were documented by industry. Unfortunately, setbacks of 500 to 1,000 feet between new wells and property lines of homes or schools respectively do nothing to ensure protection of local groundwater, which spans these artificial lines.
According to TEDX – The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, many of the hundreds of chemicals used in oil and gas operations have severe impacts on human health, including the respiratory, digestive, immune, reproductive and nervous systems. A recent analysis of 353 chemicals used during oil and gas operations found that more than 75% of the chemicals could affect the skin, eyes, and other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Approximately 40-50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.
Residents are also concerned about having to clean up the mess left in their communities by insolvent companies, as the fracking boom begins to bust. Most wells decrease in productivity by ~90% in three years, most of the ‘sweet spots’ have been drilled, and oil prices are low due to the current glut. Over the last 2 years, 90 gas and oil producers in the US and Canada having filed for bankruptcy and 135 oil companies are on the edge of bankruptcy.
Allowing peaceful protest is an important part of our history and helps create ‘a more perfect union’. Many times in the past Americans have rightfully stood up in protest against unjust laws – such as slavery, denial of voting rights of women and people of color, and workers’ protections. As the evidence of the harmful effects that oil and gas operations have on people’s health and safety continues to mount, more Coloradans are feeling a duty to protect themselves and their families by protesting when drilling is proposed near their neighborhoods. Studies already indicate that current regulations provided by the COGCC are insufficient to protect people’s health and safety. We will likely learn that those protesting to protect their families are on the right side of history. In the meantime, it would be an un-American violation our Constitutional rights of free speech and assembly to subject those who may ‘attempt to interrupt, interfere or obstruct’ oil and gas operations with a felony charge.
For all of the above reasons, we urge you to reject SB-035.