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Don’t Frack So Close to Me: Colorado to Vote on Drilling Distances From Homes and Schools
By Tara Opsal and Stephanie Malin
Coloradans will vote on a ballot initiative in November that requires new oil and gas projects to be set back at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings. If approved, the measure—known as both Initiative 97 and Proposition 112—would mark a major change from their state's current limits: 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
As sociologists who have researched oil and gas drilling in the communities that host it for the past seven years, we think this measure would provide local governments and Coloradans more say over where drilling occurs and enhance the rights of those who live near these sites.
Partly because fracking and related industrial processes often occurs close to homes, schools and other occupied buildings, the debate over Proposition 112 is contentious.
Opponents, especially those funded by industry groups, argue that stricter rules will mean less state tax revenue, job losses and weakened private property rights. Proponents express concerns about air pollution, earthquakes, water well contamination and explosions to explain why they want the public to have more sway.
But many state governments have tried to stymie the attempts of communities to gain this power. For example, Colorado's Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that local communities have no right to regulate where drilling occurs.
And industry-funded groups and the Colorado Farm Bureau, which represents farmers, ranchers and other agricultural interests, are countering this electoral effort to restrict drilling with their own measure. Known as Amendment 74, it would force any city or county government that limits drilling to compensate property owners if new setback rules were to lower property values or reduce revenue from fracking leases.
Regulations and Leasing
Members of the public and local governments have successfully challenged limits on local control over fracking in court before. For example, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court affirmed the power of communities to regulate the oil and gas industry locally when it ruled in 2016 that parts of a law known as Act 13 were unconstitutional.
In that instance, the court ruled against a provision that barred doctors from sharing information about possible toxic exposure if they were given access to industry information about the chemicals used in fracking. It also blocked the enforcement of a measure that allowed the use of eminent domain to site natural gas storage facilities.
But as far as we can tell, Colorado's ballot initiative marks the first time voters can potentially control the set-back distances of oil and gas facilities from rivers, homes, schools and other buildings in their communities.
Regulating oil and gas leases on private land is hard partly because they are privately negotiated contracts between companies and landowners. To learn more about what happens during these negotiations, we interviewed more than 100 Coloradans and Pennsylvanians about their experiences negotiating these drilling leases.
In our recently published study, we found that these people feel inconvenienced at best. Most told us they felt exploited and mistreated due to the leasing experience despite having made money off of leasing their land or mineral rights.
Some scholars who look at how drilling affects local communities argue that this process empowers private property owners because they play a direct role in deciding the terms of these negotiations. And some of these folks can even get rich from fracking lease earnings.
Certainly, landowners—including some of the people we interviewed—have earned income from these contracts, though the amounts can vary from a few dollars to thousands of dollars per acre. But the overwhelming majority of the Pennsylvanians and Coloradans who met with us in their kitchen tables, backyards and farms described feeling disempowered when they signed fracking leases.
"I knew zip about gas production," explained a man who operates a small-scale dairy farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and we are calling "Anderson" to honor our promise of confidentiality. "We had no time, we either made a decision to do it or not do it."
During private negotiations, landmen—the company representatives who try to convince people to sell or lease their land and mineral rights—discouraged neighbors from teaming up to get a better deal or even talking with one another about the terms they're considering, interviewees told us.
In some situations, when residents negotiated for better-than-average lease terms, landmen made them sign nondisclosure agreements that legally forbade sharing information.
Same Land, Different Owners
Occasionally in Pennsylvania and almost always in Colorado, these fracked properties belong to two or more parties. One owns the surface and someone else possesses the rights to whatever minerals lie beneath it.
And, in Colorado, surface landowners are legally required to provide mineral owners access to their resources.
Many people we interviewed owned land but not the rights to the minerals below it. With limited power to stave off drilling in their backyards or on their farms, the surface rights owners we interviewed said they felt like "sitting ducks" and "unprotected." They told us that they saw attempting to keep an oil and gas company off their land as "futile."
"John," a farmer who lives south of Denver, tried to fight the placement of a pipeline that split his farm into two less usable pieces. When he tried to fight the pipeline placement, he told us, he overheard industry representatives speculating that they simply needed to outspend his opposition.
When the people we interviewed owned the mineral rights tied to their property but did not want to lease them, an energy company could pursue them through a state statute allowing a practice known as "forced pooling" in both Pennsylvania and Colorado.
It makes leasing mineral rights mandatory, leaving landowners with no way to say no when a company wants to frack their property.
We also heard about the personal costs participants experienced after they signed leases. Ranchers explained they lost productive pastureland. Other residents believed they became ill because of air pollution. And many farmers described lasting damage to idyllic homesteads.
Even when these factors violated their leases or laws governing oil and gas practices, nearly all lease signers we interviewed told us they had a hard time getting oil and gas operators with whom they'd signed leases to address any violations of those contracts.
To "Connor," a homesteader in southern Colorado, the negotiation process felt "like having a second job." At times," he told us, "it was absolutely overwhelming. I think we did absolutely everything we could as private citizens to try and mitigate the impacts and in the end, it was futile."
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.