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Polis takes personal fracking fight public

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BERTHOUD, Colo. -- Congressman Jared Polis has long pushed for stricter regulations on the oil and gas industry amidst a Colorado drilling boom that's seen several communities, concerned about their health, attempt to ban hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", outright.

The Boulder Democrat, one of the richest men in Congress, has also made somewhere between $1-5 million from investments in the industry.

As such, he personifies the thousands of conflicted Colorado landowners who live near fracking operations and live with both persistent concerns about their health and the monthly drip of royalty payments from oil and gas revenues from the deposits beneath their properties.

But Polis is only highlighting half of his story -- the half that involves his own surprise and frustration at seeing a massive drilling rig pop up, basically, on his own doorstep.

"Literally, overnight a 100-foot tower goes up right at the foot of our driveway," said Polis, who this week released a four-minute video that shows him driving up to his property on Weld County Road 5 near Berthoud and seeing the derrick shooting out of the ground across from his mailbox for the first time.

"Homeowners in Colorado have very few rights," Polis said Thursday from Washington. "You can be fracked with really no recourse, no notice in this case."

Polis filed a complaint in Denver District Court on July 22 seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the drilling. But he withdrew that complaint last Friday.

Polis filed a separate complaint with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which sent an inspector to the Weld County operation last Wednesday and Thursday.

Apparently, the well was in violation of a state setback rule, but Sundance Energy, the Denver company operating the well, has been able to adjust the dimensions of the derrick to comply with state regulations.

It's still spewing black fumes and making plenty of noise right across the street from Polis's house, which he's owned for 12 years.

"It's a done deal. It's done. It's over," Polis says in his YouTube video. "This part of our Colorado dream is over."

Mark Schell, a farmer from just down the road in Mead, says the well across from Polis's property is but one of hundreds of rigs in the area; he's learned long ago what Polis just found out first-hand.

"I've owned farms out here for 15 years. I've had oil spills, pollution, you just name it," Schell said. "There's nothing really you can do about it. The surface owner is subservient to the mineral estate."

To Schell, it's not the fracking itself, the pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals shot deep into the ground to loosen mineral deposits for extraction, that's worrisome -- it's the activity above the surface.

"With the pollution, the noise from the separators and the truck traffic -- hose are things that impacted me more than the fracking," Schell said.

Polis is hoping that state lawmakers will be able to pass stronger rules and regulations on Colorado's booming oil and gas industry, one of the few Democratic agenda items that stalled earlier this year at the Capitol.

"I've just heard too many stories, too many stories of families uprooted, of health problems, of disrupting communities and now, sadly, I have my own story to share as well," he said. "Since my life is in the public anyway, I want to show that this can happen to anybody; and, hopefully, draw some attention to this issue and encourage lawmakers to act."

At least one Republican counterpart, Yuma Congressman Cory Gardner, is taking issue with Polis's decision to politicize this personal experience.

Gardner told FOX31 Denver that Polis is essentially demonizing an issue that employs thousands of Coloradans and enriches landowners who choose to lease their property rights for oil and gas drilling.

“These people aren't millionaires. They're not 'big oil'," Gardner said. "They are not bogeymen as some would have us believe.

No, they are our neighbors. Our friends. Our families. They are trying to build their own Colorado Dream. They are America's working class; they are under attack.”

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