Retired Aramco employees speak out on Initiative No. 78

An oil and gas company built a wall around their operations to keep noise down for the neighborhood in the Liberty Ranch development in Mead, May 14, 2014. [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

This is a site you will never see in Saudi Arabia. According to retired Saudi Aramco employee Benita Phillips, “the Saudis do not drill or frack inside communities and residential areas. ”  [RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file photo]

Background

Initiative No. 78, one of 3 initiatives currently gathering signatures for the November ballot, has been under attack recently.

Initiative No. 78, “Mandatory Setbacks from Oil and Gas Development,” establishes a buffer zone of 2,500 feet (less than ½ mile) around homes, hospitals and schools, as well as sensitive areas like playgrounds and drinking water sources, from new oil and gas development. Unlike the current setback of 500 feet from homes, 2500 feet is based upon objective measures such as health studies that show increased health risks within ½ mile of “fracked” wells and the perimeters of real-life explosion, evacuation, and burn zones.

On June 12, The Daily Sentinel published an article about a COGCC analysis that determined that Initiative No. 78 would put 95 percent of the total surface area off-limits for drilling in the top five oil and gas producing counties.

Initiative’s setbacks 
would cap 
drilling

COGCC analysis report on 2500′ mandatory setbacks

Of course the industry folks all sputtered in agreement.

Don Simpson, a vice president at Ursa Resources, which has 2 applications before the COGCC to drill up to 53 wells on 2 pads inside the Battlement Mesa PUD in Garfield County, said “the measure would pretty much shut down drilling in the county, and eliminate most drilling statewide.” He said the COGCC analysis “takes literally what the measure’s proponents are asking for and shows how ridiculous it is.”

Colorado Petroleum Council executive director Tracee Bentley said in a news release:

“The COGCC maps prove this setback proposal is short-sighted and reckless. Robust regulations exist in the state for oil and natural gas development and to ensure environmental protection. Proposals like this seek to disregard the well-thought-out stakeholder process that Colorado is known for.”

It could also be said that proposals like Initiative No. 78 prove that the process used by the COGCC to create regulations is an epic fail.

COGA President and CEO Dan Haley said that the COGCC analysis “clearly shows that activists aren’t trying to protect neighborhoods or homeowners, but are simply pushing an extreme agenda to end an industry that 5 million Coloradans rely on every day.”

He said Coloradans’ constitutionally protected mineral rights “would be shredded by this initiative,” prompting “thousands of lawsuits against the state of Colorado for billions of dollars.”

COGCC Director Matt Lepore said,

“The way the ballot initiative has been written, it would appear to be very, very challenging to find a new location for an oil and gas facility (if it passes). (Backers) are proposing to amend the state constitution in a way that offers no flexibility, no variance, no exception, one-size-fits-all for an industry that is anything but homogenous.”

The same could be said for the COGCC analysis. It “offers no flexibility, no variance, no exception.” In other words, it is not solution-oriented. The report contains no mention of alternatives to drilling within the buffer zone, such as horizontal drilling technology that makes it possible to access minerals located beneath protected areas from greater distances. That’s because, as the industry complains, horizontal drilling would increase the costs of drilling in Colorado.

Yes. Just as every single resident and businessperson knows only too well, we all pay high costs to live and run our businesses in this state.

Then on June 14, on the heels of the COGCC report, The Daily Sentinel, in keeping with their usual pro-industry spin, condemned Initiative No. 78 as an “extreme overreaction that won’t solve anything.”

Initiative No. 78
 is bad for Colorado

If Initiative 78 passes this fall, it would end most oil and gas drilling statewide.

That’s not an overstated reaction from the oil and gas industry. It’s the conclusion of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state regulatory agency, which simply applied the parameters of the proposed constitutional amendment to a map of Colorado. The results are eye-popping, if not ridiculous.

Rather than asking voters to support an outright ban on drilling and fracking, the measure’s proponents crafted a more insidious, less harmful-sounding proposal that achieves the same outcome.

The proposed measure would require a 2,500-foot mandatory setback between oil and gas development wells and related facilities and any occupied structures or “areas of special concern.”

On their own — minus any understanding of the impact on jobs, the economy or state revenues — increased setbacks sound like a good thing …

… Some advocates say Initiative 78 is a response to a failure by the COGCC, lawmakers and the industry to do more to address public concerns.

Even if that’s true, the measure is an extreme overreaction that won’t solve anything. The measure would conflict with Colorado’s constitutionally protected mineral rights, setting the stage for a legal battle that could be very costly for taxpayers. The legal question would center on how far the state can go in usurping property rights. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that cities could not ban fracking in their city limits …

… Extremism isn’t the Colorado way. Backers of the measure want voters to believe it’s a health issue. But they refuse to acknowledge that the financial health of the state and every resident also hangs in the balance.

With the publication of that editorial Mesa County residents Benita and Tom Phillips had heard enough.

Before they retired, Benita and Tom worked for Saudi Aramco for 21 years. Tom is a chemical engineer with more than 40 years experience with oil and gas development. Benita worked as a registered nurse in the clinics of Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, where they lived and raised two daughters. Their youngest daughter Sara Phillips is a Cum Laude graduate of the Vermont School of Law specializing in environmental and women’s issues.

What follows is an opinion piece by Benita Phillips that first appeared on Facebook, and with permission edited and re-posted here. Tom Phillips and Sara Phillips also contributed to this piece. Sara is currently an Associate Fellow at Centre for International Sustainable Development Law in Bangkok, Thailand.

**********

“Extremism” is a relative word

By Benita Phillips
with Tom Phillips and Sara Phillips

From my perspective as a Registered Nurse, I have worked in and been associated with the oil and gas business in Saudi Arabia for decades, I understand the toll this extractive business takes on its neighbors. If you believe in science, as all good oil and gas chemical, mechanical, civil, electrical, atmospheric, etc., engineers should, the editorial statement of June 14, shows a shallow unilateral understanding of the whole oil and gas extraction process.

Saudi Arabia has never practiced drilling and fracking as this nation does. For one thing the Saudis do not drill or frack inside communities and residential areas. After all, they have socialized medicine in the form of a single payer health care system, so it is not in their best interests to allow the extreme denigration of their public health environment.

The COGCC has a mandate to effectively and efficiently allow removal of resources which is based on law written in the mid-1800’s, and that followed law based in law written under a king. Surface owners are totally written off like serfs. The corporations are arrogant with their past, present and future power. The laws have been interpreted always in their favor.

Now “extremism” is being defined as anti-corporation. You are with us or against us. If that is my only choice, then call me an extremist registered nurse that believes that life of humans and God’s creatures are of paramount priority, not unethical antique law aimed at acquisition of wealth for the few.

Oil and gas profiteering is, from my perspective “extremism.”

In her research paper, “Natural Gas Development-Extracting Externalities: Towards Precaution-Based Decision-Making,” Sara Phillips wrote:

“Knowing intuitively, as we do, that the preservation of life on Earth requires a clean and healthy environment, it is clearly impossible to support the notion that energy, above all else, is so valuable that it is worth risking the fundamental resources that sustain us. In this scenario, there is no room for a cost-benefit analysis between industry, environment, and human health. Nor is it appropriate to balance (in monetary terms) human life, ecosystems, and the natural world against energy consumption and economic growth. Yet in North America, we consistently see that extractive sector development is favored over precaution and the protection of human health and the environment: a cart before the horse scenario. In our steadfast quest for energy acquisition, we have continually neglected the principles of precaution and responsible development. We have opted instead to pursue rapid and widespread resource extraction, mitigating environmental and health hazards as they arise.”

According to Tom Phillips, “Shale formations are complex and not easily understood, even by the companies charged with extracting the oil and gas. During hard times, oil and gas companies skimp on data collection in order to save money. This lack of complete data combined with the quest for maximum short term profits by multiple companies operating in the same field will result, without question, in sub-optimal resource recovery and damaged fields.

“Compare this with the skillful management of the world’s largest oil field, Ghawar Field, by the world largest oil company, Saudi Aramco. This field has been producing for over 60 years and still puts out 5 million barrels per day. Why? Because it is operated by a single governmental entity with a long-term objective of maximizing overall recovery. This kind of efficiency will not happen in the U.S. because there is no long-term objective and there is no overall management plan. Consequently, our shale oil and gas reserves will not last as long as we think.”

Messes created by oil and gas extraction, are not totally observable. We were slapped in the face with this knowledge when a massive leak by the Southern California Gas Company, at the Aliso Canyon blowout, caused more than 11,000 people to leave their homes for months, at tremendous cost to the taxpayers. These people are called “environmental refugees,” as are the people in Fort McMurray, Alberta, who were forced to flee from wildfires in the tar sands region.

Oil and gas development, as practiced in this country, has allowed operators free range of access. And they have been allowed to walk away from the environmental degradation they reaped, leaving it to the taxpayers to clean up their mess. Ergo the Superfund was established 35 years ago, that has cost the taxpayers billions without payback from defunct bankrupt extractive companies.

Air quality and water quality area being compromised which has been revealed in study after study. The denigration of our air and water has a profound and lasting effect on the development of fetuses and children. It poses serious health risks for compromised groups like Veterans, the elderly, auto-immune deficient people, and animals.

Anyone that has worked in the business knows a 2500-foot setback from any occupied building is a minor nuisance and impedes drilling not one whit. To claim otherwise is a lie or to be more PC at the very least a misdirection to gin-up public fears about “jobs.” Like the old technology of combustion engines and cigarettes, oil and gas re-hashes the same arguments they have used for 170 years.

Energy jobs coming in this new century have nothing to do with extractive industries and they are afraid of the change. People’s private surface property rights should not be threatened by laws based on 1860’s industrial development policies. Oil and gas jobs are historically unstable and totally dependent on international whims.

Our natural gas prices are low to consumers only because our natural gas is used domestically. If the U.S. enters the international market, we will experience a boom of extractive jobs offset by huge increases in natural gas domestic pricing. These resources belong to the People, not to the extractive companies to profit their CEOs and stock holders. Taxpayers, will once again, take the brunt of the costs to further enrich this industry’s wealthy.

Let’s not forget that Exxon Mobil’s CEO Rex Tillerson is a big fan of fracking. But 2 years ago he fought the construction of a water tower to be used for fracking projects near his Texas ranch because he knew it would have a negative impact on his property value.

The United States had been, until 2001, a leader in change to promote the future. If we are to be “great” again, we must face our fear of the future and embrace change. Mesa County could lead the state and nation in alternative energy development and attract businesses that base their mission, products and profits on the well-established “precautionary principle” where harm is analyzed in advance and scaled back using science-based knowledge.

We know extractive industries care nothing about the health of the People or safe extraction. That is why the public has been forced to demand more regulations on this industry and why a 2500-foot setback is reasonable and prudent.

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2 Comments on “Retired Aramco employees speak out on Initiative No. 78”

  1. Wim de Vriend Says:

    In this country you can’t get rid of your student debt by declaring bankruptcy, but oil drillers can avoid cleaning up their own messes that way:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/oil-bust-leaves-states-massive-cleanup-39969993

  2. Bob Arrington Says:

    The COGCC used a computer simulation based on a GPS address method of creating a point of occupation at each address and assuming the number of unoccupied such addresses to be negligible. Now if I wanted to have the outcome they did, I would put an address pt. in the center of every section. Sections being mostly 1 sq. mile, that would leave the corners after taking out a 5000 foot circle from each section.
    2.78784e+7 – 1.96350e+7 = 0.824434e+7 that 29.6% of each section that would be available. Since it is 4 corners 29.6/ 4 = 7.4% of a section, so each corner has .074 x 640acres or about 47.36 acres or ~ 47 acres. Now an urban area would not have even 47 acres in a section available. Now Colorado is about 7% urban area (think of the numbers put out about bans would only take out of exploitation or look at http://proximityone.com/urbanpopulation.htm#co and go down to box with states and click CO) Now, I will take and triple that to 21% or over 1/5 of the state. That would leave 79% of the sections with 4 corners of 47 acres to drill from.
    To visualize, draw a square to scale such that it is 1 mile by 1 mile. Draw a circle of 2500′ radius and it leaves big areas in the corners connected by strips that are 140′ wide at the narrowest point. The narrowest point to a corner to narrowest point on the right angle side is 47acres or 188+ acres total/section. A pad only takes up about 2-3 acres. That pad can drill a section using directional drilling at 3015′ reach and horizontal drilling going out a 1-1/2 mile could drill 4+ sections
    So basically, there are about 4 locations/section, 79% of the sections available outside urban development with 1 to 4 locations on each section. Now on BLM and wilderness area, many sections have no occupied buildings whatsoever and that is a lot of the state.
    What the COGCC did was basically load a “worst” case scenario without taking areas available in a strategic use. With pads using 40 acres or over 10 times average, they would have about still have an average of 4 locations/section to take a section using directional or 4 sections horizontal as minimums. The 7.4%/section is close to their 5% number, but the difference is showing how it is applied as opposed just being dismissal with 95% can’t be drilled to saying it only takes less than 7.4% of the area of the state to drill out 79% of the state in directional drilling and up to 4+ times over with horizontal. Remember, they actually have been working much of the “urban” area already which would probably equal the 14% extra I gave by taking it to 21% urban.

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