Broomfield City Council last night struck down a proposed six-month moratorium on fracking by a vote of 6-3, ending a lengthy and contentious public comment process that has lasted nearly two months.
Council members praised operator Extraction Oil & Gas for its apparent willingness to negotiate with the city on its plans to drill 139 wells on four different sites, a project that has sparked fervent public backlash for months. The council noted that it would be possible to quickly reinstate a moratorium with an emergency motion should Extraction fail to keep its promises to install adequate health and safety protections. Those safeguards include the use of pipelines instead of storage tanks to build a “closed loop” facility it says will reduce harmful emissions.
Extraction has agreed to delay part of its application process until May, effectively self-imposing a short-term pause on drilling. The majority of the more than 500 community members who once again packed the auditorium and overflow lobby seemed to support postponing a moratorium vote until then, but wanted to keep a moratorium “in the toolbox” for reconsideration at that time. Council members instead chose to postpone the vote indefinitely.
“If I could ban fracking in suburban areas, I would do that,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Law-Evans said. “But a short-term ban isn’t and never was going to be a long term solution. We can’t think of a short-term moratorium as some kind of superhero story.”
Law-Evans ultimately voted to indefinitely postpone the moratorium, acknowledging that fracking is inevitable in Broomfield and preferring to work with Extraction to get the best deal possible. She noted that the City Council could reinstate a temporary moratorium within one or two meetings “if we think Extraction has not kept up with the comprehensive process in good faith.”
She partially attributed her decision to the negative public feedback she has received from anti-fracking advocates, expressing a desire not to have to hold another marathon meeting in three months. Other council members expressed similar sentiments.
As in prior meetings City Council meetings about fracking, the public comment period lasted hours, despite community attempts to expedite the process. Judy Kelly, co-chair of neighborhood organization Anthem Ranch Oil and Gas Education Group, delivered a petition with more than 800 signatures, calling upon the council to postpone the moratorium vote until May.
Broomfield resident Camille Cave quoted Buffalo Springfield — “There’s battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” — and accused the crowd of bullying the oil and gas operator. “Please stop this moratorium threat tonight and let Extraction get to work,” she said.
Seven-year-old Cayden James, using a stepstool to reach the microphone, made a plea for clean air and water. “I just made new friends and I just joined the Broomfield soccer club and I don’t want to have to move again,” he said.
In their comments, council members described the countless hours of meetings, public input sessions and sleepless nights they have spent on this process. Some expressed a feeling of powerlessness, wanting to protect the community against adverse health impacts but knowing that fracking is inevitable.
Council member Kevin Kreeger, a self-described fan of “small, non-intrusive government,” spoke out against forced pooling, or the act of requiring an entire neighborhood to lease its mineral rights if at least one homeowner desires to. “Governments allowing corporations to take people’s property against their will is not a small, non-intrusive government,” he said.
Kreeger voted against indefinite postponement, hoping to both give Extraction time to make good on its promises and to allow the council to retain power if the company should fail to do so. He noted that the operator has yet to install its promised pipelines in the Greeley neighborhood of Triple Creek, which now has more than 20 wells. “Extraction, I feel, has put me and others like me in a very difficult situation,” he said.
Broomfield is just one of several communities currently reckoning with its lack of power to control the oil and gas industry. Boulder recently renewed its own fracking moratorium despite a threatened lawsuit from Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who made good on that threat two weeks ago. Lafayette has proposed a “climate bill of rights,” which will guarantee the right to a clean environment in the city’s municipal code and legalize civil disobedience in defense of this right.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last May that state law preempts local control over fracking, shutting down two long-term moratoriums in Longmont and Fort Collins. Most cities interpreted the decision to mean that shorter term bans are still legal. But Coffman’s decision to sue Boulder over its moratorium has led some Broomfield Council members to remain wary of inviting legal action over a short-term solution.
Council member Stan Jezierski, who also voted against indefinite postponement, was defiant. “A temporary moratorium of six months is likely not illegal. If they want to pursue a lawsuit with us on that matter, I say bring it on.”
Extraction, which has attended community meetings and spoke at a massively attended public forum last week at Broomfield’s 1stBank Center, was pleased with the results. In a statement, spokesman Brian Cain wrote, “We applaud Council’s decision tonight to eliminate the moratorium vote from consideration indefinitely and we believe this outcome is in the best interest of all Broomfield residents.” He called the project “truly a remarkable design and one of the best-planned facilities anywhere in the nation to our knowledge.” At the meeting, some residents criticized Extraction’s plans for costly landscaping and noise reduction technologies as distractions from the essential problem: health and safety.
Speaking to Extraction representative Eric Jacobsen, Law-Evans noted that the operator had “come a long way” in its proposal by agreeing to technologies like pipelines and committing to health and safety.
“Mr. Jacobsen, we’re going to hold you to that,” she said. “There’s a whole community that heard you say that.” Jacobsen nodded.
Asked whether he was confident that City Council would indeed use an emergency motion to revisit the moratorium should Extraction fail to uphold its promises, Council member Jezierski said, “I hope so. But I wouldn’t use the word ‘confident.’”
Photo credit: Ted Wood, The Story Group