Setbacks, water quality monitoring needs to err on the side of caution
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Even though Colorado touts clean air and water and healthy lifestyles based on outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, the reality is is far different.
Somehow, government and energy industry spin-meisters have perpetuated a myth of a “clean” natural gas energy boom, but thanks to our almost insatiable thirst for fossil fuels, large parts of the state have been turned into industrial zones. Drill pads, power generators, pumping stations and roads fragmenting forests, sagebrush fields and even residential areas.
Methane leakage from drilling operations is contributing to global warming. Other noxious gases contribute to regional haze and smog, causing serious health problems. At this point, there’s really no telling what’s going on with our groundwater, but every time I hear government and the energy industry say, “don’t worry,” my concern grows, especially as more and more areas are opened to drilling.
It’s almost inconceivable that we’re even having a discussion about drilling in residential areas. Basic common sense suggests that oil and gas development is an industrial process and needs to be limited to specified industrial areas. We don’t let cement factories set up shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood, right?
In the midst of all this, the state is proposing some very modest changes to rules meant to protect the environment and public health. Understandably, community activists and environmental advocates are asking for a tiny bit more protection, yet somehow —incredibly — they have been painted as the radicals, simply for believing that those rules need to err on the side of caution when it comes to the public and possible long-term impacts to the environment.
To me, it’s almost surreal that a state government would bend over so far to accommodate the interests of industry over the well-being of the population at large. It feels like the government has abandoned the people, so it’s not surprising that some communities have tried to empower themselves to seek protection from industry excesses.
If the state doesn’t adopt rules that adequately safeguard public health and the environment, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a statewide ballot initiative to ban fracking emerge from the aftermath. In a way, this week’s hearings on water quality monitoring and setbacks are one of the state’s final chances to show citizens whose side they’re on.
Up to know, state regulators have been able to hide behind property rights arguments and deflect criticism by saying that Colorado has some some of the strongest oil and gas rules in the country, but that argument won’t fly with the people who have seen their quality of life deteriorate and watched helplessly as drilling pollutes the air and water and displaces wildlife.
It’s time for the state to take a strong stand on behalf of its citizens in this process. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.