‘Political Theater’: Emergency Oil & Gas Ordinance Proposed In Erie
A proposed ordinance in a Denver suburb calling for a temporary moratorium under emergency circumstances goes before the Erie Board of Trustees tonight in Erie, Colo., with one of the trustees expressing concern over the last-minute addition to the council’s agenda he says was faster than usual and could be nothing more than “political theater.”
“At the end of the day it’s not going to do much. And I do wonder if this is some type of political theater because the reality is, I’ve been a trustee since 2013 and I’ve realized that again, I just know our limits,” Trustee Dan Woog told Western Wire. “We updated our code, I believe in 2015, I don’t know if there’s talk about doing that again, and frankly that’s something I’m going to ask again tonight.”
Woog said that the board may have overrepresented what the board itself can do in terms of oil and gas action.
“I don’t know why we’re doing this. And if it’s to update the code I’m going to question that because I truly believe that we have neighboring communities that have done a lot with their codes and tried to do things. But the reality is, nothing has completely appeased some of the people that absolutely hate fracking,” Wood said.
“I don’t know if they don’t understand or if it’s political theater, but it seems like it’s one or the other,” Woog said.
The proposed Erie ordinance declares an “emergency” and calls for a temporary moratorium.
“An ordinance of the Town of Erie, Colorado imposing a temporary moratorium on the acceptance, processing, and approval of any applications under the Unified Development Code [UDC] related to oil and gas exploration, extraction, and related operations,” the proposed ordinance states.
The ordinance would also direct an investigation of the regulatory practices of neighboring and other municipal governments, and open for consideration “appropriate revision” of the town’s UDC. The final clause calls for “declaring an emergency.” A second, nearly identical ordinance without the emergency declaration, is also on the agenda.
“Placing a moratorium on any industry, including oil and natural gas signifies the town of Erie is closed for business. A moratorium does not support collaboration and engagement that has brought numerous successes in other municipalities. This is a blatant attempt to skip this step and lets us know they are not working in good faith,” Tracee Bentley, Executive Director of Colorado Petroleum Council, told Western Wire.
A Town Divided
The town’s municipal elections in early 2018 sparked a raft of accusations, including a criminal investigation, election-related vandalism, and calls for transparency of public officials.
The investigation into collusion ultimately brought no criminal charges, but the atmosphere of distrust overshadowed cast a pall on the town’s election.
A March post from then-candidate for Erie Mayor Jennifer Carroll pledged responsiveness.
“Being open, transparent, engaged and in an educational mindset is the best way to keep residents informed and encourage a productive dialogue with elected leadership,” Carroll wrote.
One of Erie’s newest Town Board Members, newly elected Trustee Christiaan van Woudenberg, ran this spring as an activist, raising concerns about bias and objectivity when it comes to regulating and administering the municipality’s business community, especially oil and gas development.
Van Woudenberg’s campaign included urging Erie residents to file complaints with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), according to Complete Colorado.
The complaints were intended to target Extraction Oil and Gas and their Coyote Trails site.
Bill Jerke, Executive Director of Fostering Unity and Energizing Leadership (FUEL) told Complete Colorado that correlating health problems and drilling operations is unproven and that levels of emissions measured may fall within background levels as you approach the state’s 500-foot setback.
“Are there higher concentrations of benzine right next to a drilling site? Probably,” he said. “But that’s why there are setbacks,” Jerke said in May. FUEL, a consortium of Weld County civic and business members, promotes education of natural resource development in the county.
A March report from Energy In Depth, a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, examined a 2017 CDPHE study that reviewed “12 relevant epidemiological studies covering 27 different health effects in communities near oil and gas operations and found ‘no substantial or moderate evidence for any health effects.’”
The study by Colorado’s top doctors and public health officials “analyzed more than 10,000 air samples in the areas of the state where ‘substantial’ oil and natural gas operations occurred found that levels of emissions were ‘safe,’ even for sensitive populations.”
“Based on currently available air monitoring data, the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living [near] (sic) oil and gas operations,” CDPHE wrote, saying, “[a]t this time, results from exposure and health effect studies do not indicate the need for immediate public health action.”
In recent years CDPHE launched an Oil and Gas Health Information Response (OGHIR) program, led by toxicologists and air quality monitoring staff, to report and track self-reported health concerns issued by Colorado residents.
At least two of those OGHIR investigations centered on Erie. The first, of Waste Connections Oil and Gas in Erie, dated July 31, 2017, found “the measured levels of all VOCs were well below health guideline levels which suggests a very low risk of harmful health effects.”
“All air concentrations of individual and combined VOCs were below long-term non-cancer health guideline values,” OGHIR authors wrote, adding that “[a]ll other benzene air concentrations were 10–100 times lower than the short and long-term health guideline values.”
A separate OGHIR investigation from November 3, 2017 examining the Pratt oil and gas site, also in Erie, found much the same in the way of emissions. “The measured levels of all VOCs were well below federal or state health guideline values, which suggest a low risk of harmful health effects,” OGHIR wrote.
A Weld County study conducted by OGHIR near Erie determined the “evaluation indicated that all air concentrations of individual and combined VOCs were below non-cancer health-based reference values.”
“Cancer risks estimates for benzene, ethylbenzene, and the two VOCs combined were less than one in one hundred thousand, which is generally considered to be within the acceptable risk range,” the report stated. “In conclusion, using currently available measurement technology and risk assessment methods, OGHIR is unable to document conditions that suggest an ongoing health hazard at this time.”