This post was originally submitted as a letter to the Boulder City Council, written by Josh Joswick.
The Oil and Gas Accountability (or OGAP), a program of Earthworks, has been working for many years on issues related to the regulation of oil and gas development at the local, state and federal levels. We recently completed a study of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and its ability to enforce its own oil and gas regulations, and submit the following as comment on the consideration for a moratorium on fracking and drilling in Boulder.
From a health and climate impact perspective, a growing body of scientific studies indicates that communities have reason for concern about how fracking impacts the public health and safety, and climate change. These studies also raise unanswered questions about these impacts, and how they are, or are not, being dealt with.
There is also a growing body of information about the inadequacy of state regulatory efforts to address or reduce the impacts of the oil and gas industry. Colorado is no different than many states, where fines are low, inspections are few and far between and the industry largely functions on the basis of voluntary compliance.
Unfortunately, although the Hickenlooper administration is aware of this information, it has chosen to dither away opportunities to address the issues raised by impacted citizens. Therefore, please consider this as a request that the Boulder City Council not dither away its opportunity to do something meaningful about fracking and oil and gas development.
We understand that the state is proposing a five year study on the Front Range to look at air emissions related to the oil and gas industry and how these could possibly impact the health of Front Range citizens. Yet, in those five years, permitting and drilling of hundreds of wells will continue unabated. In those five years, the state will continue its meager efforts to enforce its regulations on an industry that actively opposes any attempt to control it – all in the name of economic development.
And so, the onus of government oversight falls directly on local authorities like the City of Boulder. The City is well within its rights to declare a moratorium. The state that created a vacuum with its inability or unwillingness to enforce its own regulations has allowed resource development to proceed with little apparent thought given to anything but extraction of the resource as quickly as possible. Therefore, it is incumbent on local government to fill that void.
The industry will posit that putting a moratorium on development is a takings. The City should not take this implied threat of lawsuit seriously however, but should rather look to two recent court decisions in New York, where the courts held that the efficient development of oil and gas resources does not require that oil and gas drilling must occur in each and every location where the resources are present – regardless of existing land uses.
Moreover, under a moratorium, mineral rights owners will simply have to delay their remuneration until such time as the practice of fracking is proven to be as benign to public health, safety, and welfare as the industry and our governor claim it to be. If, as current studies indicate, fracking and oil and gas drilling are proven not to be benign, there then is ample reason to fully deny development of the resource with municipal boundaries. With the current administration continuing to promote the oil and gas industry, rather than watching out for the public health, safety, and welfare of your citizens, there is clear reason for the City of Boulder to take a leadership position on this issue.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this request to enact a moratorium on drilling and fracking within the City of Boulder.