Anne Landman's blog

Untangling Colorado's Flood of Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives

Colorado voters who try to figure out all the proposed statewide ballot initiatives to regulate drilling and fracking are in for a real challenge. So far, 11 ballot initiatives have been proposed on the subject for the November vote, with many of them extremely similar to each other. 
 
It's tempting to think the oil and gas industry filed some of them as bait-and-switch measures to confuse voters and to try to pass a watered-down measure, but that doesn't seem to be the case.
 
So far all the initiatives appear to have been brought by people who truly want to change Colorado's existing regulatory regimen, which favors corporate dominance over the desires of residents.   
 
Here's a rundown on what we know so far about Colorado's slew of proposed anti-fracking ballot measures.

Ohio Geologists Link Earthquakes to Fracking, State Introduces Seismic Monitoring

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it will start requiring oil and gas companies to install networks of sensitive seismic monitors on their wells to detect small earthquakes that could be caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” 

The special requirement will kick in if companies request permits to drill horizontal wells within three miles of known fault lines, or where earthquakes greater than a 2.0 magnitude have already been recorded. If the monitors detect any tremors in excess of 1.0 magnitude, drilling must cease while experts investigate the cause of the seismic activity. 

The new rules are the department's response to recent earthquakes in Ohio's Poland Township in Mahoning County — which Rick Simmers, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource's oil and gas division, says have a “probable connection” to hydraulic fracturing activity in the area.

The March earthquakes mark the first time state geologists in Ohio have definitively linked earthquakes to gas drilling. They believe that fracking for gas in the Utica Shale beneath the Appalachian mountains caused five earthquakes in the area by increasing pressure on a previously unknown fault. 

Ohio has also imposed an indefinite moratorium on new drilling in the area of the earthquakes, but will allow extraction to continue at five other existing wells at the site.

Colorado Health Department Investigating Spike in Fetal Abnormalities in Heavily-Drilled Garfield County

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has called in an epidemiologist to investigate a recent spike in fetal abnormalities in Garfield County on Colorado's western slope. Stacey Gavrell, Director of Community Relations for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said area prenatal care providers reported the increase in fetal abnormalities to the hospital, which then notified CDPHE. So far neither the hospital nor the state have released information about the numbers of cases reported, over what span of time, or the amount of the increase. 
 
Gavrell said it is too early to speculate on the causes of the spike in abnormalities. 
 
The report comes shortly after the February, 2014 publication in Environmental Health Perspectives of a study that found an association between the density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of expectant mothers' homes and the prevalence of fetal anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects in their infants.
 
The study examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time in rural Colorado, and specifically controlled for confounding factors that also emit air pollution, including traffic or other heavy industries. The abnormalities in infants in the study are associated with exposure to air pollutants like those emitted from natural gas wells, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen dioxide. 
 
A map of current drilling activity in the Garfield County area shows the number and concentration of active wells along the busy I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, one of the areas of interest in CDPHE's investigation.  

Former Ohio Excavator Pleads Guilty to Dumping Contaminated Fracking Water

No dumping
The former owner of a Youngstown, Ohio, excavating company pled guilty to illegally dumping thousands of gallons of contaminated fracking wastewater into a storm drain that led to the Mahoning River. 
 
Benedict Lupo, 63, will be sentenced on June 16 for violating the Clean Water Act. His sentence could range from probation to up to three years in federal prison. The federal prosecutor in the case intends to seek the maximum sentence.
 
Lupo's employee, Michael Guesman, confessed that Lupo instructed him to dump contaminated fracking brine, only after dark and when no one else was around, into a storm water drain near the business in December 2012. Guesman admitted following Lupo's instructions and dumping the drilling mud and brine from 20,000-gallon storage tanks down the storm drain on 24 different occasions. Analysis showed the wastewater was contaminated with hazardous pollutants including benzene and toluene.  
 

Colorado Legislators Seek to Punish Cities that Ban Fracking

Two Colorado legislators announced they are introducing a ballot initiative aimed at punishing cities and towns that vote to ban fracking within their borders.

Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, both Republicans, announced they will attempt to get an initiative on the ballot to block local jurisdictions from getting severance tax revenues or grants from Departments of Local Affairs as long as they have fracking bans or moratoria in place.

The state collects severance taxes on income derived from the extraction of non-renewable natural resources, like oil and gas, coal and metallic minerals. Severance taxes also help pay for programs administered by Departments of Local Affairs.

The legislators estimated it will cost about $150,000 to get the initiative on the November, 2014 ballot. According to the Colorado Secretary of State, they  would need to gather approximately 86,000 valid signatures.

The lawmakers did not say why they chose a ballot initiative instead of just introducing legislation to achieve this goal, but it could be because they know chances are slim it would pass in Colorado's Democratically-controlled legislature.

New Business Coalition Forms in Colorado to Fight Anti-Fracking Movement

A new pro-fracking business coalition called “Vital for Colorado” (VfC) has sprung up to fight the growing grassroots anti-fracking movement in Colorado. VfC's board chairman and registered agent is Peter T. Moore, a senior partner at the Denver law firm of Polsinelli, P.C., which serves the oil and gas industry. Calls and emails to Peter T. Moore and VfC seeking information on the group's major funders and legal registration information went unanswered. 
 
Most of VfC's supporters (pdf) are chambers of commerce in more rural areas of the state, cattle and dairy farmers, trade groups like the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, prominent construction and real estate companies, and oil and gas drilling companies like Encana and Suncor Energy, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, and not in Colorado. 
 
Why has VfC gone to the hinterlands to drum up support? Because VfC's best chance to gain support appears to be away from the front range, where so far five front range cities have passed ordinances banning fracking within their limits, a fact that has apparently made a big impression on Colorado businesses.
 
In typical front group fashion, VfC's website doesn't list a phone number and it only permits email contact through a web form, but the site does give a street address for the group: 4950 S. Yosemite St., F2 #236. Coincidentally this is the same address as the former office of the issue group “No on Measure 2A,” whose registered agent was also Peter T. Moore.
 

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