The Gazette’s editorial, Council Shows Incompetence, Again (in print March 14, 2013) demands a detailed response. It is my pleasure to take it apart and discredit an editorial that is wrong not just on opinion, but on facts. The foundation of the writer’s view is represented in this statement:
“A good supply of oil and gas taken from beneath our feet would create good jobs while generating wealth and tax revenues for much of what makes life so good in the Pikes Peak region.”
Actually, no. A good job is not one that pollutes the air, contaminates the water and poisons our kids. Other than a few short-sighted growth profiteers, most of us think the only reason Colorado Springs needs to generate good jobs is to give our unemployed or underemployed a chance to work. We don’t have a lot of unemployed roughnecks. And most of us in the Springs aspire to have a job that’s more satisfying than waiting on oilfield workers at truck stop cafes and strip clubs.
As for generating wealth and tax revenues: The Gazette always goes for the easy money. The editorial page rarely supports efforts to get this community thoughtfully pursuing 21st century prosperity strategies that don’t come from replaying the 1950s over and over. An oil boom in the Pikes Peak region may well sell more newspapers, as transient workers search the classifieds for places to stay or used pickup trucks. Display ad revenue might pick up, too. But how will the rest of us fare on wealth and tax revenue?
If you do full, rather than sloppy or biased accounting, there are serious doubts about whether boomtowns come out ahead. The externalized costs of oil exploration are enormous. We all pay in deteriorating air quality and the health costs associated with that. Many of us will pay by sitting in traffic behind mile-long convoys of trucks, burning gas, killing time and inhaling fumes. Anyone depending on well water pays if contamination occurs. We all pay when shady operators dump used fracking fluid into Fountain Creek. We all pay to repair all the road damage. These costs are so staggering, several counties in North Dakota got together to tell the truth. The North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties has painted a picture quite contrary to the “wondrous riches” stories the industry wants us to believe about the North Dakota oil boom.
Surely editorial page editor Wayne Laugeson is joking when he writes that turning our city into what I call an energy sacrifice zone will “make life so good in the Pikes Peak region.” But we’ve learned over the years that Laugeson’s idea of the good life is lots of money in his pocket. He still doesn’t get what it is that makes life good here. There’s an adage about living in the Pikes Peak region: We take part of our paycheck in scenery. If we measured our quality of life by how much money is in our pockets, we wouldn’t choose Colorado Springs as home. We live here because of the clean air and water and the healthy outdoor lifestyle. Becoming an oil boomtown destroys all that. Most of us prefer finding another way to pay for “roads, bridges and schools.” What Wayne suggests is much like telling your 22-year-old daughter to become a prostitute so she can buy a car and a house and live the good life.
Laugeson lambasts this council for fiddling over the oil and gas regulations for so long. When you’re considering whether to permit a health-threatening industry into town, some serious study and deliberation is warranted. The oil and gas task force process was mishandled. The committee (unwittingly, I hope) allowed the industry to do a railroad job. It took awhile for the community to figure that out and demand more a more balanced study with ample non-industry sources of information. But every step of the way someone was interfering, keeping the committee and then keeping city staff from moving beyond regulations written by and for the industry. We needed regulations written by and for the people.
Wayne is correct about there being some incompetence on council. But of course he applauds the councilors who supported giving the oil industry the keys to the city: Angela (Drill, Baby) Dougan, Tim (Tantrum) Leigh, Merv Bennett and Bernie Herpin. I’ll just say Leigh and Dougan have not demonstrated competence. They’ve thrown fits, insulted citizens and offended other city councilors on numerous occasions. Bernie Herpin’s behavior has been disappointing at times. And Herpin and Bennett have stated that the oil and gas regulations have nothing to do with fracking. Disingenuous at best. Meanwhile, those who actually are competent, Scott Hente, Jan Martin, Brandy Williams and Val Snider, tried their best to get answers from city staff and push for better regulation.
The city staffer in charge of this has been Kyle Campbell, who never should have been appointed interim city planning director due to his tenure in the development and homebuilding industry. I don’t know why Campbell did such a dismal job. He may have been following orders from the mayor, whose campaign benefitted from oil money. Or he may have allowed himself to be led by the nose by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, thinking they were the authority. We’ve learned during this process that COGCC actually stands for Colorado Oil and Gas Chamber of Commerce. But maybe Kyle didn’t figure that out.
Wayne has been trying for some time to slap a label on the broad array of upstanding citizens who have asked our council to protect our city. He calls them “radical.” Since when is a mother protecting the health and safety of her children radical? When did it become radical for a business owner to want his or her community to remain an attractive place to live and work? I know Laugeson thinks college professors are radicals, but many of us disagree. Calling these everyday citizens radicals doesn’t make it so. I think the radical idea here is to think we can become an oil boomtown and have our city be a better place to live. That’s a radical idea, delusional, actually.
Wayne also believes he can get away with this absolutely false statement:
“All experience and scientific evidence tells us that fracking, a method in which chemicals are used to extract oil from far below the water table, is safe. Even radical anti-energy activists have trouble finding legitimate public safety or environmental catastrophes to exploit in their efforts to demonize modern oil production.”
Is he kidding? The citizens standing up for clean air and water in our town have provided council with data on hundreds of cases of contamination and dozens of studies showing the chemicals used are known carcinogens, neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors. They’ve provided studies and data revealing the industry cannot guarantee even 95% of the wells won’t leak upon completion or that 50% of the wells won’t leak within 20 years. Again, Wayne, just saying that it’s safe doesn’t make it so. Here's a good summary of what we now know.
Now Wayne wants readers to cast votes based on this issue. Since it is such an important issue – our health and safety, the quality of our air and water, and our quality of life – I suggest we do. But rather than Laugeson’s picks, let’s be sure not to elect anyone foolish enough to chase the pot of gold at the end of the dirty, dangerous, health-threatening, polluting oil boomtown rainbow. Joe Barrera in district one, Brandy Williams and Bob Kinsey in district 3, and Jill Gaebler in district 5, have indicated they won’t be swayed by Gazette rhetoric and oil industry propaganda.
Let’s be honest. Even if it were safe (and we know it is not), very few people really think a city is a good place to prospect for oil or gas. No amount of regulation will make it reasonable to have drilling rigs at the end of your cul de sac and semi-trucks lining your streets, diesel engines running 24 hours a day, and toxic chemicals pumped into the ground and emitted into the air.
When you bought your home, drilling for oil was not a permitted use in your neighborhood. If an oil company purchased the mineral rights beneath your house, that company knew drilling was prohibited there. It was pure speculation they might be able to get a city council to change the law or a governor to take us to court. Your right to clean air and water, and safety, cannot be taken away from you by someone else’s property right. If a judge one day does decide to take it away, you should fight.
Founder of SaveTheSprings
Board Member, Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights