Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Dani Hemmat

Gunbarrel shows up to fight fracking


December 27, 2018

Dani Hemmat

Volunteer Michael Denslow looks on as David Loy of the Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center asks about changing state oil and gas regulations.

Over 160 people attended the Wednesday, Dec. 19 meeting to learn more about how to oppose oil and gas developers who have set their sights on Heatherwood. Attendees overflowed the parking lot and filled up the sanctuary at Niwot United Methodist Church for two hours of speakers, presentations and a Q & A period.

The town hall, organized by the Frack-Free Heatherwood leadership team of Victoria Bard, Lon Goldstein, Amanda Janusz, Gabrielle Katz, Adam Pastula, Leesah and Gavin Patt, and Ryan Wiese, was an organized response to the spate of offers to lease mineral rights that many Heatherwood homeowners received in late November from Rocky Mountain Hydrocarbon, on behalf of Denver-based Extraction Oil and Gas.

Extraction Oil and Gas has been using the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, method in the Wattenburg Field since 2009. The area, which has been subjected to vertical drilling since the 1970s, includes the eastern part of Boulder County, as well as all of Broomfield County and a large portion of Weld County. Since the Boulder County moratorium on fracking applications ended in 2017, there has been an uptick in interest in developing the eastern portion of the county that is not covered by the City of Boulder’s emergency two-year moratorium on fracking applications.

The letter was met with initial alarm, rapidly followed by a community online discussion to research options and educate everyone involved before any one letter-recipient agreed to lease their mineral rights. The volunteer organizers quickly assembled experts to speak at the town hall, designed yard signs and flyers and canvassed the neighborhood to promote awareness of both the meeting and the possible dangers of signing over mineral rights leases without due diligence.

The meeting was chaired by Bard, president of the Gunbarrel Toastmasters Club, who kept the speakers on schedule and facilitated the Q & A. Speakers included attorneys, activists, elected officials and county officials.

Kim Sanchez, chief planner for Boulder County, expressed the county’s concerns about oil and gas development on county land. Sanchez showed a map of drilling development in Colorado, pointing out the close proximity of current operations to county-owned open space, public spaces and the Boulder County line.

“The state hasn’t done what we need it to [regarding regulations and reform], so now we need to take it on at the county level,” said Sanchez. She explained that traditional zoning [e.g. business and industrial] doesn’t cover oil and gas zoning, adding that the legality of mineral leases creates a conflict between what the state can regulate and what can be regulated by local government.

“We are talking with the incoming Polis administration and [gubernatorial] transition team,” Sanchez said, “in the hopes that we can help reform these outdated statutes and processes.” Her office is trying to work for more restrictive permitting at the state level, “that reflects community concerns.”

Senior Assistant County Attorney Kate Burke gave a brief explanation of the process Extraction Oil and Gas, which already controls significant mineral rights east of Gunbarrel, must go through before drilling. After sending out the initial letters to request mineral rights, the next step is to go to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to request three separate permits for each proposed site. After that, the company has to comply with the county’s regulations, which are “as robust as the current laws allow,” Burke said.

Attorney Matt Sura praised Boulder County’s efforts at trying to reform “a broken system” of oil and gas in Colorado, but added that, “the COGCC has never denied a permit application.”

Sura noted that any letter-recipient likely owns their mineral rights, and that while forced pooling--wherein oil and gas companies have the right under Colorado state law to get access to underground minerals owned by others if just a few surrounding owners agree to lease their rights--is likely two to three years down the road, he recommended that citizens always take advantage of the 30-day comment period required by two of the forms that each drilling site must obtain.

He concluded by expressing hope that the incoming Polis administration will work to reform the state laws, adding, ”So what should you do with that lease offer letter you got? Recycle it! This is Boulder.”

Attorney Dan Leftwich, owner of MindDrive Legal Services and co-counsel for the plaintiff in the Martinez vs. COGCC lawsuit, explained that forced pooling doesn’t apply to the fracking process.

“I will challenge forced pooling, because not only is it an old law that doesn’t apply to this new method of extraction, but it is also a freedom of speech issue. Forced pooling is forcing you to associate with that oil company. They force pool you and then they penalize you by holding liability [for the drilling operation] over your head,” he said. “We cannot solve this crisis without treating it like a crisis,” Leftwich added, offering his services to challenge the coercion that oil and gas companies are legally allowed to use under current state law.

Tricia Olson of Colorado Rising spoke about the reality of allowing fracking in local neighborhoods.

“I normally don’t do the presentations for Colorado Rising,” she said, ”but I live here in Heatherwood, and if those wells go in, we will be heavily impacted. What does that mean? They clear the land, build roads, put in well casings, and lots of cement. It is a dusty, noisy, industrial site that will be near us and goes at all hours of the day. Each frack job requires 20,000 gallons of water and then once the gas and oil come up, so do lots of carcinogenic chemicals like benzene, toxic salts and heavy metals.”

She then compared Heatherwood’s possible future to that of Erie, where there have already been over 1200 public health complaints such as asthma, nose bleeds, chronic headaches and other undiagnosed illnesses since fracking operations began there.

Olson added that Colorado Rising will host a meeting with attorney Leftwich for those residents interested in challenging Colorado laws for reform.

Merrily Mazza, Lafayette city council member and founder of East Boulder County United, said, “I’m not going to sugarcoat anything about what we need to do to stop this. No matter how hard you try to stop these well pads, the city and state governments are working within a system that ensures that corporations win. Our elected local officials cannot really protect us [because of the state laws that favor oil and gas development].”

“Talk to your state representative and ask them to change the laws” she said. “Because under the current state law, it is illegal for city and county commissioners to live up to their oath of office.”

Heatherwood resident Peg Just expressed hope about the town hall’s results.

“Dan Leftwich is key,” she said, “He has given us great information, and with his background (of legally defending the environment), we can be confident with what he’s told us. Now the question (to ourselves) is: what do we do with that information now?”

For more information, visit http://www.bouldercounty.org/property-and-land/land-use/planning/oil-gas-development/, http://www.minddrivelegal.com, http://www.corising.org, http://www.eastbocounited.org.


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