Fracking foes push for public health impact study

Politics
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DENVER — Dozens of people showed up at the Capitol to weigh in on a bill that would simply require a study to determine the impact oil and gas operations are having on the health of people who live near well sites.

House Bill 1297 would examine data from Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties through 2017 at a cost to the state of $570,000.

A similar bill was defeated last year.

The study would be conducted by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, which testified Thursday but didn’t take a public position in support or opposition of the bill, with input from a “scientific oversight committee” consisting of nine voting members, including the chief medical officer for the state health department as well as four members appointed by legislative leadership and four others appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

A number of anti-fracking activists, most of whom support an all-out ban on fracking, attended Thursday’s hearing before the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee and testified in support of the proposal.

“In Weld County, we already have over 20,000 active oil and gas wells,” said Wendy Highby, a co-founder of the group Weld Air and Water who lives in Greeley. “We have over 400 wells in Greeley and the industry has plans to squeeze another 1,200 into our city. We know we are the Guinea pigs in this experiment. Hopefully, the Governor will support this study and stop residential drilling until we know more about its impacts to our health.”

Hickenlooper, who just engineered the passage of historic new air quality rules for the oil and gas industry that will make Colorado the first state to regulate methane and greatly reduce chemical emissions, has firmly opposed efforts to fully ban oil and gas development.

His administration has even sued one of the cities, Longmont, where citizens have approved measures seeking to ban fracking outright.

A group called Local Control Colorado is now gathering signatures for a number of statewide ballot initiatives that aim to protect a municipality’s right to ban oil and gas operations within city limits.

GOP lawmakers propose initiative to restrict severance taxes

On Thursday afternoon, two Republican lawmakers announced their own campaign for a responding ballot measure that would deny state severance tax revenues that come from the oil and gas industry to any city or county that bans development.

“This issue is one of common sense and fairness — if a community decides to ignore all the science and all the facts and ban responsible energy development, those communities shouldn’t be able to line up at the trough and benefit from responsible oil and gas development occurring in other parts of the State,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, one of the lawmakers behind the initiative.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the Boulders and Ft. Collins of the world to benefit from oil and gas taxes so long as they have an oil and gas ban in place.”

With oil and gas development booming in the state, severance tax revenues are surging and expected to spike to $208 million in the current fiscal year.

A lot of that money is given to communities by the Department of Local Affairs through a process where cities and counties make grant requests for a range of programs and projects.

“The name of our issue committee sums it up – Energy Bans Hurt Communities,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who’s also behind the initiative push. “While only a small handful of liberal communities have taken the draconian, anti-science step of banning hydraulic fracturing and energy development, the policy is an important one – if you adopt Sierra Club type energy bans that hurt our communities and our schools, don’t expect energy revenues to pick up your tab.

“Boulder and Ft. Collins can and should pay for those services themselves.”

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