David Persons
For The Tribune

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August 25, 2013
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Fracking stances split across northern Colorado

It appears Interstate 25 has become the line in the sand for supporters of hydraulic fracturing and its detractors.

A quick check of Front Range communities and county governments in northern Colorado found that six communities east of I-25 (Greeley, Windsor, Severance, Timnath, Johnstown and Milliken) either openly support hydraulic fracturing or have not declared opposition to it.

A similar check of communities west of I-25 reveals that seven communities (Boulder, Longmont, Fort Collins, Loveland, Wellington, Louisville and Lafayette) are either strongly or marginally opposed to it.

The only community west of I-25 with no opposition to fracking is Berthoud.

So, why is I-25 such an invisible barrier to hydraulic fracturing?

Windsor Mayor John Vazquez says it’s not really a geographical barrier as much as it is a working knowledge of the facts involving the oil and gas industry and the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is often referred to.

Fracking is the technology where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are injected into deep rock and shale formations under high pressure to free up trapped pockets of oil and natural gas. Most of these deep shale formations exist east of I-25.

Vazquez believes if the residents west of I-25 who have very few wells in their communities — or none at all — were as educated about the oil and gas industry as residents who live east of I-25, their perspective might be quite different.

“It’s so silly for people not impacted by the industry to get on their high horse and say ‘let’s ban it (fracking) come hell or high water,’ ” Vazquez said. “For them to make such a bold statement … well it’s not much of a statement.”

Vazquez said while he and the rest of his town board are concerned by air quality issues and groundwater issues like most residents, he’s comforted in knowing that extensive research has been done and that the industry is responding to those concerns.

And, he’s comforted in knowing that information has been imparted to Windsor residents and that they understand it.

“How does a layman sift through the propaganda and find the facts?” Vazquez asked rhetorically. “We help them because we know we have a very smart community. If you put the information at their fingertips, they’ll study it. And reasonable people will come to reasonable conclusions.”

Vazquez, a civil engineer by trade, truly understands the issues and concerns. He also knows the difference between facts and myths involving fracking.

“You have to proceed cautiously and with a little clarity,” he said of his role in the community as it pertains to the oil and gas industry. “My opinions on this are based in science. I’m an engineer and I operate on facts.”

The clarity to which Vazquez referred can be found on the town of Windsor website. The site includes a map of all wells within the town limits, who operates them, when they were drilled and their current statuses.

“We needed to have information readily available to the community, and the industry helped us with our web page and the GIS,” Vazquez said. “Any resident can push a button and find out who drilled any of the wells and all of the information about that well. It goes a long way to alleviating any anxiety they might have.”

Here’s a look at what’s going on in other communities along the Front Range in northern Colorado in regards to oil and gas drilling and fracking:

Fort Collins

The Fort Collins City Council banned hydraulic fracturing within city limits in March. The council reversed itself in May and overturned the ban after Prospect Energy, the only oil and gas company operating in Fort Collins, threatened a lawsuit.

Citizens For a Healthy Fort Collins, an anti-fracking group, answered with a citizens initiative that proposes a five-year moratorium on fracking within city limits. The group presented the initiative to the city council for adoption and the council accepted the initiative Aug. 20. It has now been referred to the Nov. 5 ballot to let voters decide the issue.

Loveland

Protect Our Loveland, an anti-fracking group, has presented the city council with a citizens initiative that proposes a ban on in-town hydraulic fracturing for two years. Loveland City Council must either accept the measure by Sept. 6 or refer it to the Nov. 5 ballot. The two-year ban would allow time to study the effects of fracking on property values and health, say Protect Our Loveland representatives.

Berthoud

Berthoud’s Town Board has adopted some code language pertinent to the oil and gas industry. Basically, it states the town will comply with state regulations on these matters, said Berthoud Town Administrator Mike Hart. The town board, to date, has not been approached in regular session with any discussions about future moratoriums on fracking, Hart added.

Johnstown

Johnstown has no opposition to hydraulic fracturing. The town continues to approve oil and gas well development, typically with conditions related to separation from residential screening and fencing, and access to town streets, said Johnstown Town Planner John Franklin.

Citizens have expressed concerns with drilling operations and asked about groundwater during oil/gas special review public hearings, but no specific requests for a moratorium on fracking have been made, Franklin added.

Milliken

Town officials say they have no opposition to fracking and say that it’s not an issue for them.

Longmont

Voters approved a ban on all fracking within city limits in November 2012. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) reacted by filing a lawsuit last December against the city’s ban. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the regulatory arm of the state, also joined the lawsuit against Longmont. The state of Colorado made it three against one when it joined the lawsuit against Longmont in July 2013. Action is still pending.

Lafayette

The Lafayette City Council voted Aug. 20 to put a 3-year ban on fracking within the city limits. It also referred a citizens’ initiative by East Boulder County United, an anti-fracking group, to the Nov. 5 ballot. The initiative, if passed by voters, would ban all oil and gas extraction operations within the city limits.

Louisville

While there are no pending applications for oil or gas drilling operations in the city, Louisville makes it difficult for oil and gas firms to operate there.

“Oil and gas drilling and operations are prohibited in Louisville unless the city council first approves a permit for such activities after considering the matter during a special review which would involve public hearings with the city’s planning commission and city council,” said Louisville City Manager Malcolm Fleming. “To secure such a permit, the applicant must first demonstrate compliance with 14 review criteria, including setback (not less than 350 feet from any occupied building), noise regulation, visual impact, aesthetics and other special requirements.”

The regulations also include provisions terminating the right to operate a well site or production if the use is discontinued for six months or more, Fleming said.

Boulder

The Boulder City Council passed a one-year moratorium on fracking in city limits and on Boulder-owned open spaces June 4. The council then approved on third reading on Aug. 20 a measure that would add five years to the existing moratorium to make it six years in total. That measure must now be approved by voters Nov. 5.

Windsor

Windsor’s Town Board has no formal opposition to fracking. Windsor Town Manager Kelly Arnold said the board is “pleased” with the state regulations that are in place and the standard amendments the town has added in compliance with state regulations. According to information on the town of Windsor website in July, there were 182 wells in the area, 30 pending approval and eight under review with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. From Jan. 1, 2011, to June 30, 2013, the town of Windsor received more than $1.6 million in revenue generated through the oil and gas industry — property tax, severance tax and oil and gas leases.

Greeley

The Greeley City Council has taken no official position on fracking, while allowing it to occur. Greeley has between 200 and 300 wells operating within the city limits.

“Fracking is one of those things managed by the state of Colorado,” Greeley Assistant City Manager Becky Safarik said. “We simply follow state regulations and guidelines.”

Wellington

The Wellington Town Board adopted a position against hydraulic fracturing about eight months ago, says Wellington Mayor Travis Vieira. However, the town has not received any drilling permit applications and that the town’s position could change depending on the situation and people affected.

“The citizens’ property rights come into play first and foremost,” Vieira said. “However, we would like to have the energy folks come here with jobs. It’s a fine line balancing jobs and property rights at the same time.”

Timnath

The town has no formal opposition to fracking. However, the subject has not come up in town meetings.

Severance

Severance Mayor John Holdren said the town has no opposition to fracking but also has had no real discussion about it. “We’re just not too concerned,” he said.

The town has approved 13 oil and gas well applications within town limits this year and 17 in the town’s growth management area.

Larimer County

The Larimer County Commissioners have not taken a position on fracking, nor does the county’s planning department require any additional oil and gas development permitting beyond what the state requires, said Rob Helmick, senior planner for Larimer County’s Community Development Division.

Boulder County

The Boulder County Commissioners voted June 18 to extend a 16-month moratorium on accepting oil and gas applications by another 18 months. The moratorium covers the unincorporated areas of Boulder County.

Weld County

With more than 20,000 wells, Weld County is easily the No. 1 county in Colorado for oil and gas development. Although the county has not taken a formal position on fracking, it readily embraces the industry.

“They have talked about the benefits of oil and gas development and the science behind fracking,” added Weld County Information Specialist Jennifer Finch.


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My Windsor Now Updated Aug 25, 2013 10:57PM Published Oct 7, 2013 12:25PM Copyright 2013 My Windsor Now. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.