Boulder County, known for its scenic vistas, abundant open space, as well as its efforts to fight climate change, is threatened by 140 oil and gas wells on public open space land and a proposed fracking site that would be the largest in the state. Most Boulder County residents would find allowing the proposed fracking project to proceed to be fundamentally inconsistent with the County’s many efforts to fight climate change, including the declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 and the ongoing lawsuit against Exxon and Suncor for climate change-related damages.
Seventy percent of Boulder County residents voted in favor of Proposition 112 in 2018, which would have imposed 2,500-foot setbacks from fracking operations to homes, schools, water sources and other sensitive locations, making the vast majority of the county off-limits to fracking. Likewise, in a recent poll, 70% of Boulder County voters said they support a countywide fracking ban. Organizations representing 130,000 Boulder County residents, as well as 1,700 individuals, have signed a petition calling for a ban on fracking in Boulder County. However, thus far, the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners has not acted.
Both the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic necessitate urgent action. Allowing fracking to proceed in Boulder County would hamper our efforts to confront these critical challenges. According to Harvard research, higher pollution levels lead to worse COVID-19 outcomes, including death. Boulder County already suffers F-grade air quality, according to the American Lung Association, with at least 40% of the pollution coming from fracking. Research from NASA and NIST reveals that oil and gas production leads to the emission of high levels of methane, which has 80 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Research from Cornell, NASA and Harvard has shown that the frightening spike in global methane over the last decade is from fracking in North America. Methane emissions worldwide reached a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available internationally.
Climate change is already contributing to natural disasters in Colorado, manifesting in more severe wildfire seasons and more disruptive floods and droughts, and these effects will only intensify in the future. The carbon and methane emissions that would be associated with the proposed wells, in addition to the impacts on the County’s air and water quality, would overwhelm the County’s noble efforts to reduce emissions.
Research performed by Dr. Detlev Helmig, funded in part by Boulder County, has demonstrated that Boulder County’s air quality is already adversely affected by oil and gas operations in Weld County and that oil and gas operations are a significant contributor to dangerous levels of carcinogenic benzene exposure and ozone. These excessive ozone levels already affect the health of Front Range residents, leading to higher rates of asthma, shortness of breath and other respiratory conditions, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and early death. In the midst of the current respiratory health crisis, and the ongoing climate crisis, we must take every action we can to prevent further deterioration of our air quality and its consequences for public health.
Enacting a ban on fracking is now fully within the County’s expanded authority under SB 19-181, which eliminated state preemption in regulation of oil and gas activities. SB 19-181 grants counties and municipalities land-use and zoning authority over fracking operations and the authority to safeguard public health and safety. The Boulder County Commissioners can and should enact a ban on fracking to protect the health of its residents and prevent the associated emissions of greenhouse gases and air toxics. Boulder County residents demand a ban on fracking. The current circumstances demand nothing less.
Parkin and Bhatt serve on the steering committee for the Boulder County Fracking Ban Coalition, which includes over 50 local organizations and businesses representing over 130,000 Boulder County residents. Parkin serves on the Leadership Council of 350 Boulder County and is a founder and executive director of 350 Colorado. Bhatt serves on the Executive Committee of the Indian Peaks Group of the Sierra Club.
This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.