Many Adams County residents support a 10-month moratorium on fracking. Oil and gas industry representatives say a temporary ban would hurt the local economy.
Anti-fracking activists say the Adams County Board of Commissioners is shutting them out of the last public discussion on a temporary moratorium on fracking in high density urban areas.
Despite dozens of pleas from community members hoping to attend, the Adams County Board of Commissioners refuses to hold a critical fracking study session during evening hours.
Residents have rallied around the proposed 10-month moratorium, which would put off the construction of a large wellsite — up to 20 wells, some just 500 feet from homes — in the Adams County neighborhood of Wadley Farms.
Last Tuesday, a public hearing on the issue was so well attended that both an auditorium and overflow room were packed. Dozens of stakeholders from both sides stayed until the early morning, enduring the 8-hour meeting to make their voices heard.
But the follow up session may not see such a turnout.
“We all work, we all pay our taxes, and we are struggling to find someone to even attend,” said Maria Orms of North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy. The community organization seeks safer standards for oil and gas development in the north Denver area, a target for increased fracking near homes and schools.
Orms reports that more than 30 people told her they contacted the Board requesting a more convenient time.
“I don’t know when they have ever had this much interest from the public on an issue or received so many inquiries into a study session,” she said. “I am appalled that they would not schedule this in the evening.”
Orms’ frustration echoes a general feeling among anti-fracking activists that industry groups are silencing community voices.
Indeed, representatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission dominated the early part of last week’s hearing. Volunteers from Energy Nation handed out “Colorado Energy Works” stickers and pamphlets addressed to members of the oil and gas workforce. Clusters of people wearing telltale red Halliburton jumpsuits dotted the audience, prompting some to speculate the workers were receiving overtime pay.
“I can only assume that they were paid, that they’re on the job,” said Thornton resident Edward Asher, who testified at the hearing on behalf of the Colorado Community Rights Network.
Those opposed to the moratorium have stressed the economic importance of oil and gas development to Adams County and the state.
Anne Carto, COGA’s community outreach coordinator, pointed out that Adams County is home to 1,589 oil and gas workers who earned a combined $115 million in wages in 2014.
“These residents and their families are a critical component of the county’s economy,” she said at last Tuesday’s hearing. Several oil and gas employees testified about their confidence in the safety of their work.
Proponents of the moratorium voiced concerns about the health, safety and environmental risks of fracking.
“When there is clear evidence that fracking air emissions put nearby residents at increased risk of cancer and other health ailments, why should any resident be subjected to fracking within sight or breath of businesses, schools or homes?” Micah Parkin, executive director of environmental group 350 Colorado, asked during her testimony.
“We urge our leaders to consider the legacy you want to leave behind, put our families’ health and safety first, and keep fracking at bay by placing a county-wide moratorium on oil and gas development,” said Parkin.
Zabrina Arnovitz, who works with the Colorado People’s Alliance, said she kept count of every speaker throughout the hearing. Her count: 27 people in favor of the moratorium, 13 against. That doesn’t include speeches made on behalf of organizations.
Arnovitz says a moratorium is the only reasonable solution. The Board also grappled with two other choices —make county-industry drilling agreements more environmentally stringent, or essentially stick to the status quo — but neither goes far enough. “You can’t regulate fracking so that it’s safe,” she said. “The public doesn’t want this.”
The five county commissioners agreed to postpone a vote until they could gather more information. But Commissioner Eva Henry says she can’t get agreement for an evening meeting.
“I…supported having our next oil and gas study session in the evening so concerned citizens can come and listen to the discussion. However, I do not have the support of the majority of the Board to move the study session,” she said in a statement.
Thus far, none of the commissioners have voiced support for the moratorium. Henry and Commissioner Charles Tedesco initiated a motion to make county-industry drilling agreements stricter, which failed. Still, Henry concedes: “No matter if you are pro Fracking or anti Fracking, industrial uses do not belong in our neighborhoods.”
Edward Asher agrees. He’s been concerned about the health and safety impacts of oil and gas drilling for some time, but things are different now that he owns a home in Thornton.
Said Asher: “When it’s actually in your backyard, that’s when it starts to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.”
The public study session is currently scheduled for 2 p.m. this Tuesday, February 2, in the 5th floor study session room at the Adams County Government Center. The Commissioner’s Office can be reached at (720) 523-6100.
Photo credit: Kelsey Ray