Archive for the ‘Economy/Finance’ Category

Congressman seeks to increase distance between fracking and schools

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. and the fourth part here.

BOULDER, COLO. — There are a lot of opinions on how far hydraulic fracturing should be from schools. One resident near a drilling operation a few hundred yards from Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie said he was probably the only one on his block who didn’t mind the noise or environmental and health risks Encana Corp.’s project brought with it. Still, in a perfect world, he said he’d prefer it were a mile away.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Image courtesy of Rep. Jared Polis)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would like to increase the setback nationwide to 1,000 feet. He is introducing an amendment today that would do just that for primary and secondary schools located near U.S. oil and gas resources. If passed, the amendment would be attached to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, or H.R. 4480, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R.-Colo. H.R. 4480 is strongly opposed by sportsmen and environmental groups as it would mandate increased federal agency leasing of oil and gas resources and weaken the country’s clean air protections.

“An increased setback would better protect school-aged children from the negative impacts of air pollution from drilling sites. Studies indicate that there are increased levels of carcinogenic fumes, such as benzene, near fracking sites,” Polis’ spokesman Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent.

Protecting children and other people from risks that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, operations pose to communities is receiving more attention than ever in Colorado and elsewhere as more rigs creep ever closer.

The oil and gas companies paint their detractors as alarmists. The health concerns are blown out of proportion, they argue. Whenever possible, companies say they try to drill even farther out than the law requires and, in the case of Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, during summer break.

But the noise, traffic and questions of public safety are too much for some parents. If they aren’t pulling their children out of the affected schools and moving out of their communities, they are rallying together and taking to the streets with protest signs, trying to reclaim their neighborhoods.

Getting results or even answers isn’t easy.

Growing natural gas development in urban Texas where schools, health facilities, homes and elderly communities are increasingly at risk led to a Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods report (pdf) last year titled “Recommendations For Drilling Near Schools.”

“In its genesis, this project was envisioned to be a comprehensive review of available data with concomitant recommendations. Once into the project, however, it became patently clear that there is an appalling lack of information available on which to base sound responsible decisions,” the report concluded. “It was deeply disturbing how little information is available to elected officials or State regulating entities that is independent of the operators. Proper due diligence is nearly impossible. This was both startling and alarming. Further, there appears to be a complete relegation of responsibility by both the City and State which allows industry to conduct operations at their own discretion with very little oversight or verification by governmental entities or accountability to the public.”

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods further found “the city has no comprehensive plan or map of drilling or pipeline placement for the entire city; has not conducted independent on-going monitoring for emissions; and has no will to assume authority for such.” Nor is there a mechanism in place for routine emissions checks at existing wells or processing facilities, according to the group’s report.

Fracking isn’t just putting pressure on schools. It is also competing for their water supplies.

Protestors in Erie, Colo., tell Encana to get its "Hands Off Our Community" and "Our Children Are Not Your Experiment." (Photo by Troy Hooper)The amount of water used each year in Colorado — between 22,100 and 39,500 acre feet — is enough to meet the annual needs of up to 296,100 residents or more than the population of Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Buffalo, N.Y., according to a Western Resource Advocates report released today.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and is concerned about fracking near schools and residences.

There are 89 public schools in Colorado within a 1,000-foot radius of federal subsurface estates.

“Schools should be safe havens for learning and growing, not places for worrying about whether the wind is blowing industrial poisons into the classroom,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “We applaud Rep. Polis’ leadership to protect school kids and families from cancer-causing chemicals emitted during oil and gas drilling and fracking.”

In California, a for-profit college battles for tax dollars

Posted on: June 13th, 2012 by Sarah Pavlus 2 Comments

The University of Phoenix campus in Washington, D.C. The American Independent.

The nation’s largest for-profit college is aggressively lobbying against a proposal in California that would disqualify it and other proprietary schools from a key state financial aid program. (more…)

Residents of Longmont, Colo., seek fracking ban

Posted on: June 6th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in an ongoing Colorado Independent series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here and the second part here.

LONGMONT, COLO. — As she kept a watchful eye on her playful toddler, Lindsay Gahn pulled out a state-issued map of town where subdivisions susceptible to oil and gas drilling were colored in red.

“When I saw this, my heart just stopped,” she said, pointing to the ubiquitous red blobs on the map.

Lindsay Gahn

Under Colorado law, there could be drilling next to half of the schools in Longmont. In Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties, 32 public schools are within 2,000 feet of a drilling site, and 26 of those schools are within 1,000 feet, according to a recent Western Resource Advocates analysis.

“Colorado law only mandates a 350-foot setback from schools and residential areas for oil and gas wells, a much shorter distance than required for businesses such as medical marijuana dispensaries or liquor stores,” the Boulder nonprofit’s analysis said. “In fact, it is illegal in Colorado to idle a vehicle for more than 5 minutes within 1,000 feet of a school — but you can drill for oil and gas, spewing potentially toxic chemicals into the air, as long as you aren’t closer than 350 feet.”

Residents in Longmont, which lies in Boulder County, and other communities across the state are wrestling with protecting themselves from the impacts of the nation’s booming oil and gas industry. Ever since hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” and horizontal drilling made once-hard-to-reach deposits of oil and gas both accessible and profitable in 2007, oil derricks and natural gas well pads have been creeping closer to more homes, schools and regions where drilling never occurred before.

“There is a proposal to drill a well immediately next to a middle and elementary school on the eastern side of town,” said Food & Water Watch regional director Sam Schabacker. “This is a very real deep concern for the citizens of Longmont in that there could be drill rigs next to half of their schools.”

Longmont City Council attempted to pass its own regulations that would have prohibited drilling in residential areas but it backed off last month after Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to the city with an implied threat of a lawsuit should the council proceed with its regulations.

“Longmont is Exhibit A for how the state of Colorado has failed its citizens,” Shabacker said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and industry groups say the state should regulate oil and gas drilling. Colorado has the strongest  fracking disclosure laws in the nation, they insist, but astute residents lament that state officials aren’t enforcing their own rules.

“If the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gets its way, it won’t be long before Longmont will look like Erie,” said one local teacher who asked not to be identified. Drilling near schools is becoming commonplace in Erie, where residents are trying to shut down a new Encana project.

There is currently a drilling ban in Longmont but it expires June 16.

Worried about their future, residents are fighting back.

Last week, an issue committee titled Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont filed a notice of intent with the city clerk to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to ban fracking in the city limits, period. If it were to get passed, Longmont would become the first city in Colorado to ban fracking.

This gas well, which is 360 feet north of Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont, led to the contamination of area ground water. (Photo via

“The state and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association are bullying Longmont to take away their local control and the city council is not standing strong to protect the health, safety and welfare of Longmont residents, so this petition is our only recourse,” Peter Champe with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont said in a release that noted 6,000 valid signatures are needed. “People who live, work and raise their families in Longmont should have a say on whether or not they want their air, water, soil and roadways threatened by the risky process of fracking and the subsequent well production. If no action is taken, existing regulations would allow hundreds of wells to be drilled in Longmont.”

COGA officials have not returned messages seeking comment for this series.

A rallying point for residents here has been Lakewood-based TOP Operating’s Rider 1 gas well positioned 360 feet north of Trail Ridge Middle School. For at least three years, the ground water around the well was contaminated with carcinogens such as benzene, which was measured at almost 100 times the state limit, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Debates about where to drill and how far back operations should be from homes and schools have flooded the state capitol but legislation that would have better protected the public was shot down.

That’s discouraging to many of the parents and teachers in Longmont.

“This isn’t a political issue,” Gahn said. “I’m worried about the health and safety of my kids.”

Coloradans protest fracking near schools

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Olivia Cusimano, 6, leads a protest against hydraulic fracturing in Erie on Saturday. (Photo by Troy Hooper)

ERIE, COLO. — With black whiskers painted across her cheeks, 6-year-old Olivia Cusimano roared into the plastic megaphone as if hers were the voice of the blue knotted-up balloon tiger she clutched beneath her left arm. (more…)

In Colorado, fracking near schools

Posted on: June 4th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

ERIE, COLO. — Flaggers in bright yellow vests stopped traffic on the parkway in Erie, Colo., Wednesday as a convoy of semi-trailer trucks rumbled toward Red Hawk Elementary hauling sound barriers to muffle a gas extraction project that is vexing many residents in this once peaceful family neighborhood. (more…)

How the private detention industry courted Crete

Posted on: May 16th, 2012 by Siddhartha Mahanta 5 Comments

Image: ©

UPDATE: On Monday, June 11, Crete officials voted unanimously to end the town’s negotiations with the Corrections Corporation of America.

The fight over a proposed privately run federal immigration detention center in Illinois is raising thorny questions about the benefits and drawbacks of these facilities. (more…)

Private water industry defends ALEC membership

Posted on: May 3rd, 2012 by Sarah Pavlus 8 Comments

Image: ©

An influential trade association representing companies that provide water services to one in four Americans says it will continue its membership with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that has worked with the energy industry to create loophole-filled water protections and opposes federal oversight of fracking. (more…)

Aspen chamber divorces U.S. Chamber of Commerce over climate change dispute

Posted on: April 27th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Climate activists spell out the words "Save Snow" on Aspen Mountain in 2009 (image via

Aspen’s chamber of commerce isn’t the first to sever ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over political differences. The chamber in Homer, Alaska, made national headlines when it canceled its membership.