New grassroots coalition calls for seat on Governor’s Task Force

March 12, 2012

Colorado

Denver, CO – Grassroots citizen groups fighting to protect their communities from destructive energy development have formed a new coalition to push for cleaning up Colorado’s air and water, government, and energy sources.  The Coalition for a Clean Colorado — or C3 — is also calling for representation on Governor Hickenloopers’ new oil and gas regulation Task Force that convened last week.

“We’re a diverse alliance, but what unites us all is a belief that clean air and water, government that is responsive to the concerns of people and communities, and a swift transition to local, clean energy resources and away from dirty, life-threatening fossil fuels, is essential for healthy communities and a livable future”, said Ceal Smith, founder of the Renewable Communities Alliance.

“Community interests often get lumped with conservation and the environment.  But these interests don’t fully represent citizen concerns that encompass public health and community and energy democracy issues. The need for a Coalition that represents the grassroots was urgent,” added Smith.

Dozens of communities around the state are reeling from the rush to exploit shale gas and Niobrara oil formations through unconventional drilling techniques including hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”.

““People in urban and suburban communities including Erie, Longmont, Boulder, Greeley, Commerce City and Colorado Springs, are organizing as oil and gas companies move in aggressively to drill in people’s front yards, next to public schools, and inside public parks,” said Jennifer Palazzolo, co-founder of the mom-driven Erie Rising.

Rural communities are facing massive BLM oil and gas leases on lands surrounding their communities, farms, ranches and open spaces in Huerfano County, Park County, Routt County and the North Fork Valley communities in Delta County.   Arapahoe and Elbert County are facing large-scale state land leases.  Government leases often create split-estate situations where private landowners are shocked to discover they don’t own the mineral rights beneath their homes.

The ability to regulate oil and gas development locally is a core issue for the emerging Coalition.  “Impacted communities share a deep concern that their health, welfare, safety and environment are not protected under the current system of regulations,” Smith said. “Colorado is a very diverse state and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulation could result in big gaps in oversight,”  she added.

The Town of Erie recently enacted a temporary moratorium on gas drilling after new data on air quality from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed elevated levels of harmful chemicals associated with oil and gas development in the northern Front Range. Moratoriums are also moving forward in Longmont, Boulder and other areas as local governments grapple with new drilling initiatives.

Responding to industry fears of local rebellion, Governor Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order creating a Task Force on oil and gas rules and regulation.  Many community groups are worried the Task Force will weaken, or completely usurp local powers to regulate oil and gas related development and operations.

The Governor appointed the several oil and gas representatives and the Director of Colorado’s Conservation League to the 12-member Task Force.   According to Palazzolo, “The people and communities whose health and safety, quality of life and property are directly impacted by oil and gas operations have no representation on the Task Force whatsoever. We have requested that C3 be given a seat, but will the Governor listen to the people?”

Despite claims by the Governor, a former petroleum geologist, that “very few” incidents of well contamination have resulted from oil and gas operations”,  Davis and Wockner show that the COGCC’s own records document more than 1,000 incidents of surface and groundwater contamination since 2009, in Weld County alone.

“It’s no surprise that people have lost faith in industry-friendly elected officials and regulatory agencies. They are too concerned with killing the messenger instead of addressing legitimate concerns about impacts and broad industry exemptions to the Clean Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Protection Act and other rules and regulations that is suppose to protect us,” said Smith.

Replacing costly centralized dirty energy with efficientaffordable and democratic local clean energy is also a Coalition priority. According to coalition member Shane Davis, “Natural gas is a bridge-fuel to nowhere. It only leads to increased dependency on just another dirty fossil fuel. What we need is healthy energy: Energy that is perpetually sustainable.  If we want increased national security, dissolved dependency on foreign oil and gas, and a clean environment, then we need to start using our intellect and lead the world into sustainable energy independence.”

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