It appears as though the people of Colorado are getting progressively more agitated at what is perceived to be an intransigent industry bent on maximizing profit regardless of the cost to the public. It is indisputable that the gas industry as well as many others has long used "privatize the profits, socialize the costs" as strategies to best hew to their shareholder's fiduciary requirements.
Well, when it comes to public lands, particularly in a state such as ours, this simply must end.
I think most people are accepting of some resource development and acquisition. We all heat our homes and cook and drive using petroleum products. This is self-evident. For too long however, the reality has been that industry has largely had its way with the interests of the public, and the resentment this has engendered is now seething at the surface. It needn't be this way. I believe that what people want is really very simple:
1) 100 percent transparency from resource extractors on all of their processes from start to finish for all activities on public lands. This must include full and complete disclosure of all materials used in the fracking process. Period. If they want access to public lands and public resources, this is a non-negotiable cost of doing business. Period.No exceptions.
2) Posting of substantial, meaningful bonds prior to permitting of any such activity anywhere in the state with regular reappraisal of the adequacy of said bonding as well as a regular review of industry compliance with regulation (this will require at least a five-fold increase in the number of well inspectors — face it, they're severely understaffed).
3) Swift and severe penalties for any pollution of any kind as a result of extractive activities on public lands with a permanent moratorium on any further permitting to any offending company. This should assist in incentivizing companies to adequately plan for and execute their processes while hiring and well-training their personnel to perform their jobs correctly (I have firsthand accounts of how things really are on drill rigs — it's not pretty). In short, this is a "Fail once and you're done, zero tolerance for polluting approach." Period. No exceptions. It absolutely can be done. Yes, it will decrease the bottom line. So be it. This is another cost of doing business and should be factored in. I suspect most people would be very willing to absorb that cost if they knew it meant safer on site and materials delivery processes.
4) Better capture of royalties to the state from any extractive process with a meaningful percentage going to mitigate any LOCAL damage done to communities, roads and other infrastructure. These needs must be assessed on a biannual basis with checks cut in a timely manner to those counties and municipalities affected by these activities.
5) Common sense approaches to drilling near schools, homes, water supplies and other critical infrastructure. A mere 350 feet is frankly senseless and irresponsible, demonstrative of a callous indifference as well as unnecessary kowtowing to the alleged power of these industries. At the end of the day, their threats to take the rigs elsewhere are hollow. They can only drill where the gas is and they need us at least as much as we need them. I think most people would accept a 1,500-foot setback and if this means some areas can't be drilled, well, then so be it.
6) Common sense approaches to permanent moratoria on drilling in obviously special places. This too should be self-evident, but sadly it is not, given our culture's propensity for being forever drunk with money and profit taking. Food production regions, especially organic ones, watersheds, areas with active aquifers, beautiful landscapes, critical wildlife habitat or corridors — all these and more like them should never be drilled. We do not need to punch holes everywhere to be energy self-sufficient.
7) A palpable perception that Governor Hickenlooper is siding with the people rather than with industry. Among other things he has not handled well, it's just wrong to threaten a municipality for trying to protect its citizens. That's just wrong.
This issue needs clear thinking and reasonable thinkers, with the priority being given to maintenance of livable and sustainable communities. Once these companies take their profits, the rest of us are often left with a toxic legacy that goes on for decades, hardly a model of longevity.
The COGCC needs to be told in no uncertain terms to protect the public and its interests with at least as high, if not higher zeal than those of the industry that it fronts, and which for far too long has had its way with us. Well, we're done. If you have any doubt about that, just read the news. From Longmont to Fort Collins to Gardner to Paonia, Boulder and Durango and beyond it is obvious that people are pissed off at having their basic rights ignored and trampled.
The governor has a great opportunity to get this done properly and to set an example for the rest of the country. Put the people's needs first, Governor. Industry will always take care of itself. They have the high-dollar lawyers and the higher-dollar lobbyists to do their bidding and ensure that their will is most often met. The public has few such resources, and one of them is government. Governor, put us first and you can't go wrong.
Sure, we need resources, but we need to be able to live here. Human life and healthy ecosystems are simply incompatible with the industrialization brought by drilling. Our state has been honeycombed with drill pads and roads and we will suffer the consequences for generations. OK, let's get the gas, but let's be significantly wiser about how. Industry needs to be forced into recognizing that they can obtain their resource of interest and with a minimum of impediment, if and only if they pay real attention to the needs of the people and of the environment. If they remain unwilling to do so, all of us are in for a long and rancorous ride. Haven't we enough to deal with in these turbulent times ?
Mitchell Gershten MD