(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
There is no other way to put it other than to come out and say that I've been fracked, like thousands of other Colorado families. My in-laws seeking refuge on our couch in our Boulder apartment, our plans in disarray.
For twelve years I've had a family farm just east of Berthoud in unincorporated Weld County. Some of you reading this have probably been to the Halloween party my partner, Marlon, throws there annually and, others might have gotten some of my "Polis Farms" honey we give out around the holidays from my five beehives there. I've grown a little corn, a little alfalfa, but mostly just enjoyed the occasional weekend by our little pond hanging out with the rabbits and turtles.
Our two-year old son runs joyfully through the fields and learned one of his first words there – "turtle." My Berthoud home in unincorporated Weld County has been part of our family's Colorado dream.
For the last four years my partner Marlon's father, Perry, and his sister, Nicole, have been living there full time.
But just this last weekend, our dream became a nightmare when Perry noticed a few trucks and construction occurring on the neighbor's property across the street. They raise horses, so we thought maybe they were building a new stable. We were shocked when a couple days later this went up overnight (literally OVERNIGHT):
That's our garage and guesthouse in the foreground. The huge fracking tower is just across from our driveway. I can't imagine a worse placement.
The fracking is right across the street from our driveway, which is right behind this building. Here's a Google map screenshot with approximate arrows I drew in.
There is a frenzy of activity on the adjacent property, day and night, with dozens of workers, loud noises, and strange smells. The formal "hydraulic fracturing" hasn't even started yet. The pumping of fluids underground occurs later after the active drilling phase, which is occurring now. The active drilling phase could take weeks or months.
It seems particularly loud in the wee hours of the morning, and Perry and Nicole were unable to sleep there, even with the air conditioner on and the windows closed, We didn’t feel it was safe for my in-laws to stay at the farm, so we invited them to seek refuge on our couch in our Boulder apartment. But not everyone is so lucky.
We received no notice, and didn't know that anything was occurring until they started the drilling and Perry and Nicole heard it.
This can happen to anyone. It has happened to thousands of Colorado families and now it has happened to one of your members of Congress and his family.
For years, I have fought for sensible fracking laws- I have written op-eds, introduced legislation to close oil and gas loopholes in the Clean Air Act, and I have even testified before the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission. I did all that because I knew the horrible effects it was having on the quality of life of so many of my constituents. The unknown effects off fracking have been a grave concern to me – that we don’t know the impact this intense industrial process is having on people’s health, water, and property values. Rigs don't need to operate so close to residential areas and schools. And I have fought every step of the way to increase the distance from people's homes and protect the health of Colorado families. But now it is personal for me, like it has been all along for too many Colorado families.
If something like this can happen overnight, without any warning, to any of us, there is clearly something wrong with the law. I am going to pursue every avenue available to me to stop this from ruining my home and our family's lives, but under current Colorado law, our options are limited and so the drilling continues.
I no longer want to take our son to the farm, which has become an industrial zone. Who knows what kinds of chemicals are in all those drums we can see from the window of our home or the smoke in the air.
So much for the quiet country. And as for the health impacts, who knows? In addition to emissions we can't see, look at what was spewing forth this morning:
I don't like to talk about personal stuff much. Some politicians do, but it's never been my style. I try to stay objective and focused on policy, rolling up my sleeves and working for pragmatic solutions to move our country forward. Talking about personal stuff doesn't come easy for me.
But there are also moments when our own lives as public officials can help raise awareness about important issues. It’s for that reason that I have decided to discus this situation in the public openly and hopefully help to foster discussion about ways we in Colorado can have more sensible laws around fracking. For many Coloradoans, fracking in their backyards has ruined their Colorado dream. Leaving so many parents feeling helpless in protecting their children from the consequences of living in an industrial site that they did not choose to living next to.
Our family will be ok of course. Thankfully I have done well enough that we can afford to move our family and take a loss on our property, even as part of my Colorado dream is lost forever. Many Coloradan's don't have these options. I vow to be their voice and to continue to fight, with just that much more fire in my belly to bring about relief and a sustainable solution.
This is our state. These are our families. This is my family. This could be your family. Let's enact sensible fracking legislation.
What would a sensible, practical approach entail? Plenty of time to discuss policy, the purpose of this post is to share my personal story, but in broad strokes:
1) The oil and gas commission should not have a majority of representatives from the oil and gas industry. Homeowners, farmers, and health advocates should be the majority of the commission. These economic and social interests are the backbone of our state, the oil and gas industry should not be the tail that wags the dog. Oil and gas should be at the table – getting one or two of the nine seats as well so that the industry also has representation, but they should not be the majority.
2) Local control should be respected. Different counties and municipalities are already regulating fracking in manners consistent with their local economy and goals. Weld County looks at these issues very differently than Boulder County. Weld County can make their decision, and I can make mine not to buy land again in Weld County. Collectively the people making decisions not to live or work in Weld County will hurt their economy in the long-run, but they do have the right to dig their own grave (hopefully not a literal one, but we do need more information on health concerns).
3) The rights of homeowners (surface owners) and their neighbors should be respected. Property rights should mean something, and if someone wants to drill on your land or in your neighborhood in a way that affects you, they should have to consult with you and negotiate your permission. I think that this is common sense to most Coloradoans, but it is not currently the law.
4) Additional distance should be required between where people live or work and where fracking takes place. In our case it's across the street from our driveway and guesthouse. Offsets of 1,000 or 2,000 feet or more from buildings have been proposed or enacted by a number of municipalities and we should consider what the minimum offset should be statewide as the current requirements are clearly insufficient.
What other ideas do you have about how best to strike the balance between the extraction industry and our health and quality of life?
It's too late for my family. Let's take action before it's too late for yours.
Representative, 2nd Congressional District of Colorado