By Sara Jerving on November 08, 2012

Despite over half a million dollars spent by the fossil fuel industry in Longmont, Colorado, residents voted Tuesday to make the city the first to ban hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" in the state. The city of 87,000, nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, voted 59 to 41 to ban the controversial method of extracting shale oil and gas, as well as to ban the storage of the toxin-laden wastewater in the city limits.

Fracking involves pumping large quantities of fresh water, coupled with chemicals and sand, into shale formations to crack the rock and extract the fossil fuels. Studies have revealed that fracking fluids contain a host of toxic substances, including known carcinogens and volatile organic compounds. Fracking has the documented potential to contaminate drinking water sources, foul air and land, as well as spoiling millions of gallons of fresh water as part of the drilling process that must then be disposed.

City Resists Fracking, Industry Fights Back With Over Half a Million

The story of Longmont's struggle with the fossil fuel industry began in 2011 when plans to drill a well in a part of town near a middle school, reservoir, and residential area raised concern. A recent University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health study showed that living within a half mile of fracking sites exposes residents to pollutants like trimethylbenzenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes at five times above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Hazard Index. That, plus other concerns like water contamination, led Longmont residents to voice opposition. In response, the city commenced a period of public input and scientific testing, followed by the crafting of an operators agreement to regulate drilling operations in the city. This agreement included provisions such as a requirement that drill sites be 750 feet away from any structures, that wells be set away from water sources, and that companies develop a plan for water testing with the city which would go beyond the state's standards.

A few days after the City Council adopted the new set of rules, some 100 volunteers from Longmont turned in over 8,200 signatures to put a ballot question in November's election calling for a charter amendment that would ban fracking in the city.

In the meantime, Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper, a former geologist with Buckhorn Petroleum, decided to sue the city on July 30th to overturn the operators agreement. The state objected to eight aspects of the regulations. In response to the ongoing lawsuit, a letter with 6,000 signatures, including 82 city, county and town officials, as well as mayors, city council members, county commissioner, and public trustees, was delivered to the governor in September asking him to withdraw the lawsuit and expressed "surprise and disappointment" at the State's decision to spend tax dollars on a case against one of its own communities working to protect public health and the environment. The governor and his lieutenant governor received $76,441 from the oil and gas industry during his 2010 campaign.

The fossil fuel industry responded to the effort to ban fracking in Longmont with full force. The small city saw over $500,000 spent by outside groups funneled through affiliated groups "Longmont Taxpayers for Common Sense" and "Main Street Longmont," registered as "issue committees" under Colorado's campaign finance laws, in opposition to the measure. The committees disclose their donors. The city was blanketed with glossy mailers, the airwaves flooded with doomsday messages on the alleged price of not drilling, and the newspapers sported full page ads calling on residents to turn down the initiative. Some of the big spenders included the American Petroleum Institute, Encana, American Natural Gas Alliance, and Halliburton. The ads threatened that if a ban was passed, the city would need to pay off mineral rights owners for the missing revenue. According to Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch, this claim was without basis.

Richard Evans is the registered agent for "Main Street Longmont." Evans works for Reiter & Associates, a Denver-based political consulting firm. The firm is headed by Rick Reiter, who has been involved in several successful ballot campaigns in the past, including defeating an effort to increase severance taxes assessed to oil and gas money. The group recruited seven of the city's former Longmont mayors, all Republicans, as the public faced the push against the charter amendment.

Residents Worry About Hidden Costs of Fracking

The residents, in response, organized a group called "Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont," also an issue committee which received $28,600 in contributions and discloses its donors. They held educational forums and talked with their neighbors. Residents wrote op-eds in the local news outlets. Tim Schabacker, for instance, who has worked for the shale gas industry for 35 years, wrote that he is "dead set against" fracking in Longmont.

"The arguments by proponents about the economic benefits of fracking are misleading," he wrote. "The immediate economic benefits of drilling overlook the hidden costs borne by the community not only in terms of the general degradation of residents' health and quiet enjoyment of their environment, but also the negative impact of declining real estate values."

City Hopes to Set Example, Governor Plans to Sue -- Again

The fossil fuel industry's big spending did not drown out the concerns of the residents about their health and the local environment. While the state of Colorado is being heavily exploited by the fracking industry, community organizers hope that the example set by Longmont will serve as a road map for other communities facing pressure from the fossil fuel industry.

"We have shown that Big Oil money does not always win and that our constitutionally guaranteed right to health, safety, and protection of property is not for sale. We proved that ordinary citizens with very little money but a lot of determination, intelligence, passion and boot leather can prevail," Michael Bellmont, a member of Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont said.

In September, the governor threatened a second lawsuit against the city if the ban passed.

Comments

I AM SO DELIGHTED YOU TREE HUGGING HIPPIES ENJOY YOUR WARM HOUSES IN THE WINTER THE FUEL IN YOUR CARS THE RUBBER TIRES ON YOUR BICYCLES AND ALL THE OTHER GREAT THINGS THAT OIL AND GAS DRILLING PROVIDE FOR YOU. YOU WANNA LIVE THE LIFE OF LUXURY BUT SHUN THE THINGS THAT GIVE YOU THESE LUXURIES. WITHOUT THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY YOU WOULD BE BACK IN THE STONE AGE. NO LIGHTS, NO HEAT, NO FUEL, NOTHING BUT A CANDLE AND AN OUTHOUSE

Candle & outhouse? Sounds safer than benzene coursing through my water pipes

If this article is correct: A City of 78k inhabitants garnered a total of 100 votes on this issue and voted (59 to 41) to ban the Fracking of gas wells? I'm from Wayne County Pennsylvania where there is a moratorium set on Fracking (Marcellus Shale formation)by the Delaware River Basin Authority which includes 4 States (Pa, NJ, NY and DE in addition to the Army Corps of engineers. I won't go into any gory details on Fracking although I've done a heck'uve alot of research on the issue. The article states that the Governor is set to sue the City (again) over the issue. Not for nothing; but 100 votes should decide such an issue? Please explain if someone cares to. Thanks! Ironicaly; I ran across this link from a post on FB by an English fellow who resides in Hong Cong, China. Go figure!

Thank you for your comment. The figures 59 to 41 represent percentage points not total votes.

Best,
Sara

There are about 45,000 voters in Longmont. 59% of which said yes to a ban on fracking. That is over 25,000 residents in the community against fracking with the city limits, not counting the thousands of child who can't vote yet.

To the previous comment. Does it have to be so black and white. How about some middle ground here. Right, because we said no to fracking in Longmont, electricity, cars and everything else that oil and gas gives us will instantly become extinct, forcing us back to before running water. Haven't we found many ways to break away from the O&G chains that hold us back - bio-fuels, sustainable energies, recycled materials to reduce our need of oil, more efficient cars/furnaces/building, etc.

We have enough O&G gas to last a 100 years, but not if we dig it all up, use or export it. How about we take what we need and leave the rest there for future generations to decide when they need it. Yes, this will force us to think outside of the oil tank for ways to do without someday. Because there will come a day when there is none left to extract. Not in any of our lifetimes, but not too far off either.

The historical perspective you have provided regarding petrochemical use is just wonderful, thank you so much for reminding us of where we have been and where we now need to start making a break from the status quo.

Most of us reading these pages, without needing to be yelled at, understand that past practice has become unsustainable and changing past practices is the key factor to our very survival as a species. We also understand that newer technologies to continue flawed energy production practices destroy significantly more than the short term benefits they might seem to provide. Sad that you seem to miss that point.

Many of the rest of us will attempt to act to save our own skins and those of our children. If you are satisfied with simply yelling or ignoring or denigrating those who recognize the changes needed to be made, it's a free country, but, I would beg to differ as to what the real joke is.

http://www.freerangelongmont.com/2012/11/04/silent-spring/ - Fracking may well be the Silent Spring of our generation.

The Oil and Natural Gas produced from fracking are SOLD AS COMMODITIES. They do NOT stay in the community that is polluted from the fracking. Fracking has NOTHING to do with energy independence ! Wheat, corn , soybeans...all
Commodities sold to the highest bidder. Who makes money when commodities sell? The seller does. The oil and gas company that polluted your water and air and probably destroyed your aquifers sells the oil or gas because they own it. DO NOT BE FOOLED.
Sand hills in WI, MN, IA and Illinois are being strip mined (destroyed) to feed the fracking monster. Google "sand mining Wisconsin." Look up documentary film maker, Jim Tittle on You Tube "The Price of Sand."
Fracking documentary, GASLAND is amazing. Watch it !

at the next nc mining and energy meeting Dec. 19th : Bill Ritter, Director, Center for the New Energy Economy and Former Governor for the State of Colorado
He is TOTAL PRO FRACK !