Monday, July 14, 2014

Answering A Columnist's Dumb Fracking Questions

Grapbhic showing contamination of soil from fracking chemicals.
Photo: How fracking is destroying Colorado.

Take one inspired and agitated relatively wealthy progressive legislator, whose vacation domicile has been despoiled by fracking wells, and what do you get? Well, one activated member of the political elites now out to work on behalf of the PEOPLE - as opposed to shilling for oil and gas corporations!  Such is the case of Colorado congressman Jared Polis - who now has the state's energy predators running scared as well as scores of state lawmakers in their pockets.

Polis, because of his proposals to regulate fracking locally, has actually been branded a "terrorist" (by Steve Durham, a lobbyist for the Colorado Association of Home Builders) and also an "extortionist" by the fossil fuel industry's media lackeys including Denver Post Libertarian columnist Vincent Carroll ('Jared Polis' Big Adventure', Sunday, July 13).

Now, as signatures for Polis' initiatives play out here in Colorado, money, power and politics are clashing in a way that some commentators assert "hasn't been seen in 40 years."  But the issue is huge and make no mistake could well have repercussions for your own burg or state as the fracking wars play out nationally.

In Colorado, citizen anger erupted after the Denver Post published an analysis of how many oil spills have occurred in our state, many threatening our precious water stores.  Worse, the Post investigation found that state fracking has polluted the soil as well as water.  According to the Post (May 4, p. 1A.):

There’s about one gallon of toxic liquid penetrating soil every eight minutes.”

In addition, the Post notes: “drillers churn up 135 to 500 tons of dirt with every new well, some of it soaked with hydrocarbons and laced with potentially toxic minerals and salts.”

Given this, is it any wonder adults – kids living near frack sites often have severe health complaints, ranging from horrific rashes to bleeding orifices to breathing problems? According to Eugene Kelly, chief of soil and crop science at Colorado State University – quoted in the piece:

The overall impact of the oil and gas boom is like a death sentence for soil. It could be the next limiting component when we talk about feeding the planet and having a sustainable lifestyle- - because all the good stuff is gone and the soil is being degraded.”
And the most astounding and equally disturbing finding:
“State data also show that 12.3 percent of the past 1,000 spills (since June 24, 2012) already had contaminated groundwater before companies began cleanups.”

Beyond the contamination of soil and groundwater, the Post's data analysis showed that drilling of new wells unearthed an estimated 652,000 tons a year of sludge-like drill cuttings. These are supposed to be taken to special landfills but more often than not  spread them instead on “leased fields”.

How did Polis enter the ring? Well, after his own 'Ox' was gored on visiting his vacation home in Weld County and seeing a frack operation despoiling the landscape. He then became mobilized to use his wealth on citizens' behalf to expedite ballot measures for local control of fracking operations in every locality that wants to see them reined in. The Oil and Gas bunch went nuts, and so did our guv  - John Hickenlooper-  who is also a pal (he once drank fracked water to show there is nothing wrong with it - a one time stunt I doubt he will repeat.)

In order to try to thwart Polis' efforts, Hick (our Neolib Guv) cooperated with lobbyists and Colo. Home Builders Association to seek a "compromise" measure. But, as Carroll notes, the effort to try and square the circle "split both the energy industry and home builders" - hence the remark about Polis being a "terrorist" - which shows the extent to which the bogus "war on terror" has created collateral damage on our language.

Carroll in his piece is riled because Polis' initiatives reveal:

"a spectacle in which a wealthy, powerful individual pledges to fund ballot measures feared by nearly the entire business community."

Well,, uh, fuck the business community, nuh?  I say that because to me citizens' health and their environmental quality trumps business - but hey that's just me. I prefer to be able to drink water free of xylene, toluene, benzene and 633 other carcinogens, and breathe air free of all the contaminants -  plus methane - the Denver Post exposed in its 2-part series.

But let's get back to reality and Carroll's claims. In terms of wealth, Polis' is decidedly on the low end - roughly in the mid- double digit millions. In no way does his wealth even remotely compare to that of the billionaire  Koch brothers, or the Oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens. Let's get that straight from the get go. And at least Polis, having had his ox gored (seeing wells drilled across the street from his property), is willing to put those millions to practical legislative use for citizens  - so give him credit. But this is also what has the business community and especially the frackers, shitting bricks. See, in their worst nightmares they can visualize this scenario playing out not only here in Colorado, but elsewhere in the country. The thought they won't be able to poison our soil, water and air for big profits has them staying up all night long.

Now, as to Carroll's insipid questions, posted at the tail end of his Jared jeremiad, he writes:

"If oil and gas production constitutes an outrage on property adjacent to the Polis' retreat, where exactly should it be allowed?"

That's easy! Only where citizens by their vote in passing the relevant referendum, deem it allowable!

Indeed, the precedent already exists!  As per an AP report published July 1 (Denver Post (p. 15A),

"New York's top court handed a victory to opponents of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas by affirming the right of municipalities to ban the practice within their borders."

This State Court of Appeals "affirmed a mid-level decision by an appeals court that said state oil and gas law doesn't trump the authority of local governments to control land use through zoning."

Which has been the case in this country for many years. Thus, a neighbor in a residentially zoned neighborhood cannot just suddenly decide to start a hog farm, or now - in Colorado - a marijuana grow operation. Local zoning ordinances prohibit it! The same clearly applies to the practice of fracking,  irrespective of its claimed economic benefits.  It doesn't matter! Whatever those benefits are they don't trump citizens' rights to proscribe the operations via zoning. Indeed, the whole practice of zoning was established to be able to exclude those intrusive, disruptive or inappropriate activities (including porno dives and pawn shops) that didn't fit in with a neighborhood's profile. I mean, Jeebus, why would any right-thinking citizen want pawn shops or sex toy emporiums right next to schools or their homes ? So why would you want a frack well right in your neighborhood?

Carroll next asks:

"Should it be allowed only where the horizon is empty in all directions? "

Again, the placement in terms of disrupting views is not as critical as the environmental and health impacts which that proximity foretells. The impact on soil, air and WATER!

Carroll's parting shot is to denigrate the distance of Polis' guest house from the now abandoned frack well (800'),  as well as its quality ("looks like a large shed")

But it doesn't matter what the distance is, since as we know frackers can insert their drills from a distance, intruding far beneath any home and wreak havoc. Also, it doesn't matter what the guest house looks like. So long as a living, breathing human can visit and stay there - and be subject to all the frack toxins - Polis has an argument.

Alas, Vincent Carroll doesn't.

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