Anti-fracking ballot issue worse than doing nothing

(A version of this article ran in the July 5th, 2012 Longmont Times-Call)

The anti-fracking petition currently being circulated, and the ballot issue it proposes, is a big waste of time and eventually will be a waste of city and taxpayer money.

According to “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont” (OHOFOL – or as I like to pronounce it “AWFUL”), their petition is to ban fracking within the city limits of Longmont.  If you are in favor of such a concept, it sounds innocent enough on its face.  But, as always, there’s more to the story.

The City of Longmont has a map showing basically where drilling could occur by denoting where there are areas that are buffered by 350 feet, OHOFOL uses this map to justify their concern for drilling in Longmont.  One glance at this map makes it pretty obvious that these possible drilling areas are on the periphery of Longmont or are outside the city limits.

The small “islands” within the city limits are mostly parks – as if any oil driller will make the PR disaster of setting up multi-pad sites on a city park.  So, this petition and ballot issue in all reality does nothing.  Actually what it does is worse than nothing.  It will cost the city – and the taxpayers who fund the city – countless tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on a pointless feel-good endeavor.

Why?  First of all there is cost associated with putting this on the ballot.  When I asked our fine City Clerk the question of how much it would cost, she said it was not a simple question to answer (many variables, including if it fails to make the November election and if a special election is required for this one issue) but said somewhere between $15,000 and $50,000.  Should the cost alone be a reason to deny a citizen-led initiative?  Not entirely, but that’s only a fraction of the costs.

Secondly, if passed by voters, lawsuits are sure to follow.  Big lawsuits, not just from oil operators but probably from the State of Colorado as well.  As much as I’m up for a good fight, this is one – even if Longmont won – that would drain a couple hundred thousand dollars from the city that could be better spent on just about anything else.  But this would probably lose in court and we’d have spent all that money for nothing.

Longmont is on the western edge of the oil and gas that operators are after.  It only gets better (for operators) as you move east.  For every well not in the periphery of Longmont or within city limits – which is small to begin with – there will be at least that many just beyond city limits in Weld County.  This ban will not protect those in unincorporated Weld County with Longmont in their address, yet OHOFOL and Longmont ROAR are playing a cruel game with their emotions having them believe this will benefit them.  It won’t.  If anything it will cause more drilling in their area to occur.

When bringing up these inconvenient truths to these people, the response was an emotional “but we have to do something, what would you have us do?”  To that I say sometimes doing something, like this, is worse than doing nothing.  And with this issue, about 5,000 people are demanding that the other 85,000 people in the city play this pointless game, and fund it, too!  The collateral damage will be those who will see an increase in drilling near their homes, the drained city coffers, the homeless and other programs that will take a hit, and Longmont overall being none the better for this escapade.

Citizens should drive public discourse and city policy, but not misguided and obviously agenda-driven policy with the help of outside political influence and funding.  This isn’t as “grassroots” as you’d be led to believe.  Save your taxpayer money and don’t sign this petition, or if you have already, ask to have your name removed.  If it makes the ballot, vote YES only if you are willing to accept the collateral damage it brings – with none of the promised benefit whatsoever.

Chris Rodriguez
Longmont, Colorado