Opinion: Diana Bray: We must end fracking in Colorado Boulder Daily Camera 7/12/19


By DAILY CAMERA GUEST OPINION | | Boulder Daily Camera

July 12, 2019 at 5:10 pm

By Diana Bray

In the second presidential debate, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper boasted three times about his role regulating methane emissions in our state. But his contention that Colorado is a leader in reducing emissions is deceptive.

Since the shale boom hit Colorado in the early 2000s, we have experienced an uptick in methane and volatile organic compound, or VOC, emissions. Drilling operations in Weld County, with more than 23,000 active wells and thousands more permitted, are responsible for much of this increase. The oil and gas industry uses local, state and federal public lands to drill.

Our state Legislature took a big step by enacting Senate Bill 181, a bill that seeks to regulate the gas and oil industry and must prioritize health and safety, but now we need to stay engaged in rulemaking, put pressure on elected officials, file lawsuits against violators, elect people who put health and safety first, turn our focus to the federal level to demand accountability and, yes, end fracking in Colorado. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has continued to issue drilling permits after passage of 181, even though the rulemaking required by the bill is not complete.

I spoke to Colorado native Ken Bonetti, who told me that oil and gas emissions has made Boulder unlivable for his wife, Donna, and that they are planning to move out of state, because pollution has made her respiratory illness debilitating. In Broomfield and Adams County, some residents living near the construction of a new 84-well mega-pad have been reporting migraines, bloody noses and respiratory problems since the onset of drilling last month. In Greeley, Patricia Nelson, a parent living near Bella Romero Academy, says that her child and others are being exposed to airborne toxins while playing on the school playground.

Pollution from oil and gas extraction has a different chemical signature than that of vehicles, and oil and gas emissions are responsible for at least half of the ozone pollution affecting northern Front Range communities. Measurements taken by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and University of Colorado Boulder scientists indicate that ozone levels found at Boulder Reservoir are among the most severe in the state. In a recent presentation to the state’s Regional Air Quality Council, CU scientist Detlev Helmig showed how ozone is highest in the Front Range when the wind is coming from Weld County. These emissions will rise even further if permits for 140 wells are approved and drilling ramps up in Boulder County.

The EPA has found several Front Range counties to be in “non-attainment” for failing to meet ozone standards for the last 10 years. Ozone-related health effects are escalating both locally and globally, with health organizations predicting that hundreds of people in Colorado alone will die prematurely from exposure to particulates and ozone pollution attributed to oil and gas emissions.

And yet, the oil and gas industry has utilized a state loophole that does not require the industry to obtain certain air pollution permits before drilling. The CU Boulder study determined that the VOCs released into the atmosphere by oil and gas facilities in Weld County are equivalent to the exhaust of millions of cars.

While state and local governments are granted significant authority over oil and gas activity, neither Democrats nor Republicans have demonstrated the political will to take urgent action to address the climate crisis. The federal government should enforce Environmental Protection Agency regulations. It should also stop drilling on public lands. The federal government could provide funding to incentivize clean energy production and facilitate a just transition off fossil fuels that would create millions of new jobs, as proposed by the Green New Deal.

Bill McKibben, the American environmentalist and writer, states that the human race failed to take moderate steps when we could. That window of opportunity is now nearly closed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that we have 12 years to take serious, defining action to avoid catastrophic climate collapse.

We must all mobilize now as if our lives depend on it, because they do. The opportunity for Colorado residents to become leaders in demanding cleaner air for Colorado and a transition to a clean energy economy stands before us. That is the opportunity that empowers me every day. That is what I think about when I look out the window each morning, wondering if today will be one of those breathtaking Colorado blue-sky days.

Diana Bray is a psychologist, mother and climate advocate. She is running for U.S. Senate in Colorado.

Diana Bray