Despite the self-interested pleas and organized letter-writing campaigns of Colorado’s oil and gas industry, Adams County Commissioners voted to enact reasonable restrictions and regulations on fracking and fracking-related activities.
Kudos to them for their courage in the face of special-interest pressure, and congratulations to Adams County residents and the rest of us in neighboring counties, who at some point may see lower levels of toxic threats to our health, safety, and welfare.
I was among those stakeholders who was asked by a fossil-fuel operator to take part in one of the organized letter-writing campaigns. But after considering the now overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence attesting to the significant health, safety, and welfare risks to people, pets, wildlife, and the environment presented by fracking and its related activities, I wholeheartedly supported the proposed regulations, even though they may negatively affect my investment returns.
Foremost among the risks from fracking-related activities are those to expectant mothers and young children. These include increased rates of infant mortality, perinatal mortality, low-weight and premature births, and early childhood cancers, such as leukemia. Statistical evidence of this last has been found in research by Dr. Lisa McKenzie of the Colorado School of Public Health, at distances up to 10 miles from high-density fracking operations.
We also know that on the more general end of experienced harms are conditions such as nosebleeds, asthma attacks, headaches, dizziness, stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. These last are tied to the intrusively excessive noise and light pollution coming from fracking activity, arguing persuasively in favor of the enacted noise regulations.
Furthermore, the particulate pollution from incessant tanker truck traffic, along with the noxious odors frequently experienced by community residents, contribute to the increased hospitalizations found in research studies of fracked counties.
I could go on about the scientific research and all the known health consequences experienced by those living within 2000 feet of fracking activity, but I wanted to turn to one set of the industry’s basic talking points — namely, those that make the claim that even scientifically-justified regulations are a “taking,” meaning an uncompensated deprivation of property rights.
In short, no, they’re not.
“Even the most zealous advocates of property rights agree that government has the power to prevent activity on private property from creating a nuisance to its neighbors. Regulations that restrict uses of property in order to prevent nuisances are thus immune from takings liability,” wrote former state Sen. Mike Foote, University of Denver law professor Kevin Lynch, and Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson, deputy director of the League of Oil and Gas Impacted Coloradans.
In written testimony submitted to Larimer County Commissioners in June, they asserted that “[t]he combination of industrial-scale fracking activity in close proximity to residential neighborhoods is a classic example of a nuisance, and the Colorado law of nuisance would readily apply to this context.”
The industry also did not like the hard-and-fast nature of setbacks regulations. This relates to the flawed, but still prevalent rules of the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission that impose some setbacks and restrictions, but then allow for waivers, exemptions and exceptions granted solely at the discretion of the Director — who rarely, if ever, declines to grant such. Having actual regulations in practice, and not just in theory, is something the industry has never had to deal with, to the historical and continuing detriment of Colorado families.
Thank you, Adams Commissioners, for striving to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Adams County and Colorado citizens. While the science argues for larger minimum setbacks, 2,000 fee is a realistic effort. We applaud and support you for these efforts.
Harv Teitelbaum, of Evergreen, is a board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado. He is not a physician.