Aug. 08–Longmont City Council was assured by the city staff Tuesday night that future fracking to free up oil and gas deposits deep underneath Union Reservoir — and the subsequent drilling and extraction of those minerals — pose minimal risks to the quality of the water it stores.
During a study-session review of the staff’s research, however, several council members indicated they wish they had more of a guarantee that oil and gas companies drilling from surface sites far away from the reservoir and its shorelines could be held financially responsible for rapid and complete response to spills, leaks or other problems.
Before the staff presented its report, however, a handful of residents stated their opposition to allowing hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling under the reservoir east of Longmont, even though the city is currently in a binding agreement the council approved last spring to keep wells and related equipment off the actual surface of city-owned lands near the reservoir.
Angie Roberts, an Amethyst Drive resident, asked about horizontal drilling underneath Union Reservoir: “How is that different from tunneling into a bank vault from a building across the street?”
Ed Granados, a Humboldt Circle resident, warned of the “threat fracking poses to pregnant women and children” who recreate at the reservoir.
Granados questioned whether the city has done any air quality studies near the reservoir and asked what Longmont’s plans are for dealing with methane emissions from oil and gas operations near there.
Jeff Thompson, a Sumner Street resident, charged that “the City Council decided years ago to join the oil and gas industry and go for the money it can make by producing more oil and gas from city-owned lands.”
Thompson said, “Drilling for oil and gas under Union Reservoir is unlawful unless it can be shown that it would not harm the public health, safety and welfare, and the public welfare includes a stable climate and a thriving natural environment.”
Ethan Green, a Button Rock Drive resident, identified himself as a volunteer for Colorado Rising, the organization that on Monday turned in petition signatures to place an initiative on November’s ballot asking voters to require that new oil and gas wells be at least 2,500 feet away from homes and schools.
Green urged the council to endorse that measure and to start planning for what Longmont will do if it becomes a voter-approved state law.
No members of the general public spoke in support of a competing issue that also may be headed for November’s ballot, one that would require local governments to compensate private property owners when government actions reduce a property’s value, such as by restricting oil and gas companies’ activities that otherwise would mean revenue for the owners of the rights to lease or sell mineral rights.
Longmont will allow directional and horizontal drilling underneath Union Reservoir as part of an agreement the City Council approved on May 22 with Top Operating and Cub Creek Energy that ended future oil and gas drilling from the surfaces of any properties inside the city limits or any city-owned property outside Longmont.
Before officially approving that agreement, city officials heard concerns from a number of residents about the impacts of drilling at or near Union Reservoir during the May 8 meeting at which the council gave its initial approval to the agreement and at a May 15 public forum.
On Tuesday night, Councilwoman Joan Peck, who cast the only dissent in the 6-1 May 22 final vote to approve the agreement, objected that she continued to oppose drilling underneath the reservoir until Longmont has the ability — and if necessary, the money — to clean up any surface or groundwater contamination that might result.
The city staff’s research, which included a survey of the owners of more than 100 other northern Colorado reservoirs, nearly all of which had wells under or near them, showed that risk to the reservoir’s water quality was minimal. But that did not appease Peck.
“I want to know exactly what we’re getting into with Union Reservoir,” she said.
Councilwoman Marcia Martin questioned how rapidly a company would be required to plug and abandon a well found to be contaminating the water.
At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Polly Christensen told people in the audience that if they “don’t like what’s going on with fracking,” they should vote differently when it comes to electing state legislators or affirming the retentions of judges making decisions about oil and gas laws and regulations.
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