Frequently Asked Questions

What inspired the Bill of Rights?

The Bull Mountain Master Development Plan was approved in 2017, and other projects like the North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan are under consideration by the BLM and Forest Service. More often than not, the federal agencies that manage our public lands side with industry. We have appealed to our county commissioners, Representatives and Senators again and again to little avail. A Bill of Rights is the first step in defining and asserting our rights. Indeed, it is part of a larger grassroots movement comprising over 200 communities in the United States, including Lafayette, CO, Mora County, NM, and Grant Township, PA.

The goal is to restore democracy by elevating individual rights, community rights and rights of Nature over corporate commerce rights.

Why just Paonia? What about Hotchkiss and Crawford?

The Bills of Rights is a proposed ordinance. As such, it must be unique to the municipality, in this case, Paonia. Even if Paonia Town Board enacts it as law, it would not become law outside town limits or in other communities. However, similar Bills of Rights could be crafted by other communities to resist unwanted and incompatible corporate or industrial activity like chemical trespass (pesticides, GMO contamination), chicken barns and feedlots, or gravel pits.

Paonia is the closest proximity to oil and gas development and was chosen as a starting point for the local community rights movement.

But won't fracking boost the economy and create jobs?

We all want jobs and prosperity to pay the mortgage, but most the jobs generated will be trucking jobs, not long-term sustainable jobs for locals. For projects like the NFMMDP (North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan) where most the wells are in Gunnison County but utilize Delta County's roads, infrastructure, and watershed, the profits will be passed on, while we bear the costs.

Economic development and the GDP are not good metrics of prosperity, because they do not account for so many other critical variables like health, well-being, quality of life; clean air, water, soil; scenery and dark skies.

A strong, viable economy can exist here without oil and gas development. Why return to boom-bust industries that have burned us in the past? Shouldn't we opt for greater economic diversity and therefore resiliency?

The findings of Headwaters Economics study call into question the understandable, but mistaken assumption that long-term oil and gas development is a clear economic advantage for host communities. Continued exposure to above average levels of oil and gas activity lowers per capita income growth, such that initial income gains erode and may eventually become negative. Growth in the oil and gas sector is associated with diminished performance in other metrics of local well-being, such as crime rates, health, and education.

Since 2005, oil and gas companies have produced 239 billion gallons of wastewater, damaged at least 679,000 acres of public land, and exposed the public to toxic chemicals — regulators have confirmed at least 260 instances of private well contamination in Pennsylvania alone. It all adds up to a hefty tab that the fracking industry has left for communities and taxpayers to pick up. - Environment America Report

On Dec. 12, 2017 the Colorado Budget Committee hearing announced that COGCC (CO Oil & Gas Conservation Commission) may not be enough money to fund well inspectors, staff and dozens of other programs in the state’s Department of Natural Resources (including CO Parks & Wildlife) as soon as February 2018. DNR, and by extension the COGCC, is funded in part by a severance tax — a tax on the extraction of natural resources. But because of millions of dollars of refunds to oil and gas producers, the state is actually giving the industry more money than it is collecting from it. In fact, it’s on the hook to pay the industry as much as $72.5 million in the next 18 months. It has already refunded oil and gas producers $6.5 million more than it collected this fiscal year, which started in July. And the state refunded oil and gas operators $126.5 million last fiscal year, which is $7 million more than it collected from the industry. 

We're not against the people who need a job and work on the wellpad. We're against the corporations who lobbied for and the state and federal agencies that permitted the wellpad in the first place.

But isn't it the consumer who can effect change?

As long as we have lobbyism, we do not have democracy. As long as industry can influence policy in distant capitols, the consumer is at a disadvantage. Privately-held corporations are served at the expense of taxpaying citizens.

The fossil fuel industries (oil, gas, coal) spent $350.5 million in the 113th Congress (2013-2014). The federal government granted these industries $41.8 billion in production and exploration subsidies—subsidies paid by taxpayers! That equates to an 11,900% return on investment for industry while the rest of can barely get 5% interest on our savings accounts. 

Federal support of renewable energy falls short of the aid the federal government has given to oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy when they were new.”

For example, industry and government have favored non-renewable fossil fuel and are slow to steer toward better alternatives, which has slowed development and limited access to these alternatives, even though reports project that renewable energy will be consistently cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020

Many consumers would prefer to buy electricity from solar or wind sources and even pay more, but we have little choice of what's coming through the wire. If our electricity cooperative opts for alternative sources, the industry parent will resist and penalize. Consumers with greater resources—money and/or time—can install alternative infrastructure, but the average consumer does not have such means and therefore no choice. They certainly don’t have millions to lobby Congress as industry does. While the consumer’s most powerful vote is with his/her dollar, the game is rigged, and the victim is blamed.

Our vote and participation in the democratic process is also disregarded by US government agencies. Take the 53,000 comments the BLM received in favor of the “North Fork Alternative” for draft Resource Management Plan. The BLM unilaterally created a new “Alternative E” that was not in the draft presented for public comment (likely a violation of NEPA—the National Environmental Policy Act) and opens up 95% of BLM lands and mineral estates to drilling and decreases setbacks, among other things. Here the majority did not rule. Taxpaying citizens were ignored, and they and their children will suffer the externalities. 

So our formal comments and votes at the polls are disregarded. We can vote with our dollar, but only if we have millions of them. The Bill of Rights for Paonia challenges corporate personhood and says it should not have more power or influence than living, breathing, tax-paying beings and the public lands and resources upon which we rely.

Fracking helps us be energy independent from foreign sources.

Then why Jordan Cove? Why do we send our boys to the Middle East to defend oil interests when we're going to sell our own resources to China and Japan? And at what cost to our landscape and communities?

A Canadian corporation, Pembina, wants to build the Jordan Cove Energy Project to export fracked liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Canada and the Rockies through Southern Oregon to Coos Bay and then to Asia. Pembina claims that the Mancos Shale in the Piceance Basin of Colorado "is a key natural gas province that can be sourced by the Project through the Ruby pipeline for delivery to Oregon." Not surprisingly, Gunnison Energy, an active driller in the North Fork watershed, has been active in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proceedings and advocating for Jordan Cove, just as it has in our own Delta County Oil & Gas Working Group. 

The Jordan Cove project will create a 95'-150' wide clearcut across Oregon's private and public land, including Native American lands, cultural resources, and burial grounds. Only 12% of Oregon landowners consent to an easement or sale of their land for the pipeline. Yet Pembina will use eminent domain to co-opt the other 88%. The project will pollute 400 waterways and salmon habitat and threaten another 31 endangered species (including seven species of whale off the Oregon coast). Any accidents or disasters in this naturally earthquake-tsunami hazard area would subject 16,000 residents to harm. Why is the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission placing the interests of a Canadian corporation over its own citizens?

Word is that there are only two preliminary agreements—no solid contracts—from potential Asian buyers of this gas. Meanwhile China is developing its shale. Russia is building a pipeline through Korea. Why would Asia import gas at a high price when it could frack its own? A foreign corporation can split, and the burdensome infrastructure and externalities will be left to communities and taxpayers. 

Look at all the organizations that oppose Jordan Cove: Rogue Climate ActionNo LNG ExportsCitizens Against LNG, Stop Jordan Cove, The Sierra Club, Waterkeeper Alliance, and countless others.    

But if we export the gas and oil won't we at least make a lot of money? Bethany McLean, in her book “Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World,” cautions that this industry doesn’t make money. The involved companies lose billions of dollars and are really dependent on Wall Street’s willingness to fund them as well as the low interest rates courtesy of the Federal Reserve. 
 
Another source of capital for the fracking industry in Colorado, as published in Boulder Weekly, is the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) that created Crestone Peak Resources after the last minute reduced price purchase of all of the oil and gas assets in the Denver-Julesburg (D-J) Basin owned by Encana, the U.S. subsidiary of a Canadian energy company with the same name. According to documents filed with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), Crestone became one of the largest companies in Colorado focusing on drilling in residential areas of the state’s most populous region. 
 
As Bethany McLean points out, the idea of energy independence of any country is very nuanced because the price of a barrel of oil is a global price. It’s set by events around the world and isn't controlled by one country. In a world where over 40 percent of the Standard & Poors 500’s revenues come from outside the U.S., the American economy is dependent on the global economy.
 
Isn't fracking safe? A spill or leak is unlikely.

There are hundreds of spills of every single year. Oil and gas spills across Colorado increased in 2017 after two years of decline, with companies reporting nearly a dozen mishaps per week — including numerous leaks along pipelines and at least six cases in which hydrocarbons flowed directly into waterways. A review of the latest state data also shows 22 incidents under investigation in which gas apparently contaminated domestic water wells. You can search them yourself on COGCC's website (Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission).

Does this Bill of Rights break the law?

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

You change the law by breaking the law.

“Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control…Local governments are, so to phrase it, the mere tenants at will of the legislature.” - Dillon's Rule

State preemption as a doctrine thus flows naturally from Dillon’s Rule. As the parent, state legislatures can define and re-define – at will – what legislative authority municipalities possess. They can narrow, abolish, remove, and punish renegade municipal governments that act outside of their state-defined authority.

Our municipal governments are thus serfs living on property owned by someone else. Within our own municipalities, we are accorded an even lesser status, and are often left holding the bag when our centralized state governments decide to give away the store.

Preemption has been around for so long that it boasts the appearance of being an inevitable part of a democratic system. By its very nature, however, it is one of the most anti-democratic tools of them all. No wonder it’s the corporate establishment’s weapon of choice.

By contrast, the Cooley Doctrine, or the doctrine of home rule, expresses the theory of an inherent right to local self-determination. “Local government is a matter of absolute right; and the state cannot take it away.”

People in the Community Rights movement assert that the preemption doctrine is unconstitutional because it violates the constitutional right of the residents of those municipalities to local community self-government. They see the movement as a necessary bulwark against preemptive power run amuck; and a necessary limiter to state legislators who always seem to come down on the side of large corporations against the municipalities that those legislators ostensibly represent. Rights-based organizing confronts this lobbyism establishment.

Won't the Town of Paonia get sued if it were to pass this Bill of Rights? 

Probably so. CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) has offered pro bono defense to the Town of Paonia if it is sued by SG Interests or Gunnison Energy (or any other entity that violates the Bill of Rights).

A corporation can sue on the basis that the Town of Paonia is using its government and legal system to violate corporate personhood rights and their right to do business. Corporate privileges are fine, as long as they don’t violate the inalienable rights of living beings. When they do, we no longer recognize their corporate personhood rights. Real people trump commercial entities.

A lawsuit will reveal the corporation's true colors, attacking a community's physical and economic health to protect its profits. Lower courts often avoid constitutional issues and defer to statutes (state preemption).

State oil and gas laws provide a good example. Almost all state legislatures have declared that oil and gas extraction is an area reserved exclusively for state regulation. Most of those state oil and gas laws thus provide that no city or other municipality shall adopt any law regulating oil and gas extraction. Oil and gas companies affected by those local laws can then enforce state preemptive laws against the municipality in court. The inevitable outcome is the nullification of the municipal law.

If determined, the Town can push it to higher courts, as over 200 other communities in the United States are, as part of a greater civil rights movement to restore democracy. Any legal fees spent should be viewed as an investment in community rights!

But it won't stop the fracking?

While fracking is outside Town limits, the language in the Bill of Rights prohibits extractive activity in the headwaters of the Town. The Town does not have jurisdiction over the headwaters, but in declaring its right to a clean water source, the Bill of Rights allows the citizens to enforce and protect this right with non-violent direct action (DA) or civil disobedience.

Other Concerns About Fracking

Water Scarcity

2018 was a very tough year for farmers and ranchers on Colorado’s Western Slope. Irrigation ditches were turned off early due to low water availability caused by an extremely dry winter. Crop germination and growth rates decreased significantly due to the summer’s extended high temperatures combined with lack of water, thus impacting yields. Ranchers have had to sell off their livestock because of lack of forage and high feed prices. Overall economic impacts to farmers and ranchers have yet to be determined, but the outlook is not good.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says in 2018 the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which feeds into the Colorado River, was at 39 percent capacity. Other Colorado River reservoirs such as Lake Powell are facing similar shortages. Lake Powell sits 48 percent full, and Lake Mead is 38 percent full.  Scientists from the Colorado River Research Group say that the crisis is real: The Colorado River basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest 19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.

The scientists, who say their group presents an "independent, scientific voice for the future of the Colorado River," detailed how much Lake Powell has gone down in less than two decades. By the end of this year, Powell's levels are projected to have dropped 94 feet below where the reservoir stood in 2000, when it was nearly full.

The Colorado River delta in Mexico has become a dusty stretch of desert. Historically, the interaction of the river’s flow and the ocean’s tide created a dynamic environment, supporting freshwater, brackish, and saltwater species. Within the delta region, the river split into multiple braided channels and formed complex estuary and terrestrial ecosystems. Use of water upstream and the accompanying reduction of fresh water flow has resulted in loss of most of the wetlands of the area, as well as drastic changes to the aquatic ecosystems.

In the past few decades prolonged drought has become so commonplace in Colorado that researchers for the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado think we need a new word for drought. Why? Because drought indicates a temporary situation, and yet trends and projections both show that for the foreseeable future, our climate is going to become more arid. What word do we use to replace drought? Aridification. This word describes the process of becoming more arid, which is exactly what climate change is doing across the West. Aridification has long-term consequences, and the goal is to change our mindset – and therefore our actions – so that we appropriately deal with the hotter and drier future that is here now. This is the new normal.

While agriculture uses the majority of available water in the state – some estimates say 85% - this water is eventually returned to the water cycle and feeds the Colorado River and her basin. Water used in fracking – including extraction, production, transport, refinement, delivery, and disposal of waste products – is so polluted that it cannot be returned to the water cycle. This water is lost to the water cycle forever.

A typical well site can require anywhere from 2 to 10 million gallons of water per frack, according to the COGCC, based on industry self-reporting. Additionally, if a well can be fracked up to 14 times, that is potentially 140 million gallons of water permanently removed from the water cycle. And that is just from just a single well. There currently are over 55,000 wells in Colorado.

The results of a U.S. Geological Survey study published by the American Geophysical Union, found that oil and natural gas fracking, on average, uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well and putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought.

A new study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the water use for hydraulic fracturing and wastewater production in major shale gas and oil production regions has increased; from 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased up to 770%, while flowback and produced water volumes generated within the first year of production increased up to 1440%.

The study found that if gas and oil prices rise and production increases to the levels of the early 2010s, when fracking first took off, water use and wastewater production could multiply 50-fold for gas drilling and 20-fold for oil extraction by 2030. Even if future drilling rates stay at 2016 levels, the study predicts “a large increase of the total water use for both unconventional oil and shale gas basins,” with a surge in wastewater creation to match.

How can the Colorado River basin and the Colorado River delta be repaired if billions of gallons of toxic fracking water are being permanently removed from the water cycle?

Whose water is sacrificed when a commitment of water resources to drilling is made? In Weld County, which hosts over half the wells in the entire state of Colorado, it is estimated that new wells will drink up between one-third and two-thirds of the county's water. If this is our future, then be prepared for significant competition over limited water resources.

References:

Crisis water levels at Lakes Powell and Mead: https://www.coloradoriverresearchgroup.org/uploads/4/2/3/6/42362959/crrg_the_case_of_lake_powell.pdf

Drought, Aridification, and the New Normal: https://www.coloradoriverresearchgroup.org/uploads/4/2/3/6/42362959/crrg_aridity_report.pdf

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: https://cogcc.state.co.us/#/home

Estimating National Water Use Associated with Unconventional Oil and Gas Development: https://www.usgs.gov/centers/dakota-water/science/estimating-national-water-use-associated-unconventional-oil-and-gas?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

American Geophysical Union: https://sites.agu.org/

Trends in Hydraulic Fracturing Distributions and Treatment Fluids, Additives, Proppants, and Water Volumes Applied to Wells Drilled in the United States from 1947 through 2010

https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2014/5131/pdf/sir2014-5131.pdf#

Water use for hydraulic fracturing increased from 2011-2016: https://www.scribd.com/document/386207682/Science-Advances-Intensification-of-the-Water-Footprint-of-Hydraulic-Fracturing?campaign=SkimbitLtd&ad_group=38395X1559467X363371b86a86e0ab117487c55bb9185e&keyword=660149026&source=hp_affiliate&medium=affiliate

Duke University Study: https://nicholas.duke.edu/about/news/water-use-fracking-has-risen-770-percent-2011

Impacts of shale oil and gas extraction on water resources, particularly on irrigated crop production: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/2018EF000809

Water Quality

The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted fracking operations from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
A Duke University study published in May 2011 found that methane levels in dozens of drinking-water wells within a kilometer (3,280 feet) of new fracking sites were 17 times higher than in wells farther away.

Property Values

Studies have shown that property values decrease when oil and gas development, in particular fracking projects, are undertaken nearby. Specifically, the perceived risk of groundwater contamination from nearby wells has been shown to cause a 26.6% decrease in property values, with proximity to fracking operations in general causing a net 16% decrease in property values. The average sale price of residential properties in the North Fork is consistently higher than the rest of Delta County. - Economic Impact of Natural Gas Development in Delta County

A 2010 study in Texas concluded that houses valued at more than $250,000 and within 1,000 feet of a well site saw values decrease by 3 to 14 percent. A more recent study found that Pennsylvania homes depending on private groundwater lost an average of $33,214 in value when a well was drilled within nine-tenths of a mile. - Environment America Report

Wildlife and Hunting

Noise pollution, traffic and fences disrupt wildlife. Mule deer population declined 40-56% in Wyoming in 17 years of fracking.

Infrastructure and Emergency Responders

NFMMDP (North Fork Mancos Master Development Plan) proposes 35 new wells, each estimated to have 1,702 vehicle trips, for a total of nearly 60,000 round trips just for the drilling of the wells. While Delta County will feel the impact from each and every one of these round trips, it will only see revenue from three of the wells. 

Industry transport will generate more traffic, pollution, wear and tear on our roads, and emergency responder services, which will be passed on to the local communities and taxpayers.

Delta County Hazard Mitigation Plan is only for natural disasters, not man-made disasters. Does not unconventional gas extraction in one of the most seismically active regions of the state in our sensitive headwaters not merit a careful study and disaster plan?

Worker Health/Safety

NIOSH recently conducted field studies that identified overexposure to airborne silica as a worker health hazard. Researchers collected 116 full-shift air samples at fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. Of the samples, 79 percent had silica exposures greater than NIOSH’s recommended level of 0.05 milligrams per cubic meter.

The agency also delved into other possible risks during flowback operations – when process fluids are collected on the surface after fracking – and found that workers gauging tanks could be exposed to higher-than-recommended levels of benzene, a known carcinogen. Fifteen of 17 samples exceeded NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit.

Potential occupational exposures to silica include a wide variety of occupations and industries, including oil and gas extraction, bituminous coal and lignite mining, and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas development.

A new study published in Environmental Health reveals air pollution data on major, in some cases previously underestimated, health risks from toxic contamination at gas production sites related to fracking. Air samples gathered around “unconventional oil and gas” sites by community-based environmental research teams contained unsafe levels of several volatile compounds that “exceeded federal guidelines under several operational circumstances,” and that “Benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen sulfide were the most common compounds to exceed acute and other health-based risk levels.” This suggests fracking may bring risk of cancer, birth defects and long-term respiratory and cellular damage to local towns and farms.

Health/Safety of Families and Communities

New analysis from the Clean Air Task Force shows that by 2025 America’s children will experience 750,000 asthma attacks each summer that will be directly attributable to the oil and gas industry. Colorado is among the states most impacted.

A Colorado School of Public Health analysis found 30 percent more congenital heart defects in babies born to mothers in parts of that state with lots of gas wells than in babies born to mothers with no wells within ten miles of their homes.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the average public health cost amounts to more than $270,000 per day during the summer, while in Arkansas, the nearly 6,000 tons of NOx and VOCs emitted in 2008 would impose an annual public health cost of roughly $9.8 million. - Environment America Report

 

Air Pollution

A number of other air contaminants are released through the various drilling procedures, including construction and operation of the well site, transport of the materials and equipment, and disposal of the waste. Some of the pollutants released by drilling include: benzene, toluene, xylene and ethyl benzene (BTEX), particulate matter and dust, ground level ozone, or smog, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and metals contained in diesel fuel combustion—with exposure to these pollutants known to cause short-term illness, cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects or even death.

The Associated press recently reported that Wyoming's air quality near rural drilling sites is worse than Los Angeles'–with Wyoming ozone levels recorded at 124 parts per billion compared to the worst air day of the year for Los Angeles, at 114 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency's maximum healthy limit is 75 parts per billion.