Politics

Colorado congressman feels like a ‘refugee’ after drilling rig appears near his 40-acre weekend getaway

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Millionaire Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis said the appearance of a drilling rig on the property next to his secluded, 40-acre weekend getaway has turned his family into “refugees from our own property” and made him the “poster boy for reining in out-of-control fracking.”

In several articles in the Boulder Daily Camera — including a guest commentary by Polis himself that ran on Sunday — the Democratic lawmaker is clearly upset that the drilling rig is infringing on his enjoyment of what he called a “quiet, private place with pristine acreage.”

The land, he wrote, has a pond with turtles and frogs and has been home to a “majestic crane” that nests near the water.

But he wrote that his “dream became a nightmare” when the neighbors allowed drilling across the street from Polis’s getaway.

“I no longer even want to take our son up there to our country home, which has become an industrial zone,” he wrote. “Who knows what kinds of chemicals are in all those drums we can see from the window of our home or the smoke in the air.”

Even the majestic crane, he wrote, was scared off by the noise and “I don’t think she’s coming back.”

But the seventh wealthiest member of Congress wrote that he will “pursue every avenue available to me to stop this from ruining my home.”

In fact, Polis filed a lawsuit last week to stop the drilling, claiming it has caused “mental suffering, annoyance and the loss of use and enjoyment” of his property. But he quickly withdrew the suit a few days later so that he and his lawyers could gather more information.

At least one observer thinks the lawsuit was just a PR stunt.

“This lawsuit was active just long enough for the congressman to grab some headlines and generate some publicity for his anti-industry political views,” Courtney Loper, a field director for Energy In Depth, told the Daily Camera. Energy In Depth is the education and public outreach arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

“In fact,” Loper said, “it looks an awful lot like the congressman started suing people and pitching stories to the media before he even filed a complaint with the state of Colorado.”

In fact, an inspection based on that complaint done by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the regulatory agency that oversees oil and gas operations in the state, found no evidence of violations (although it was too windy to do a noise evaluation).

Sundance Energy Inc., which owns the drilling rig, called Polis’s lawsuit “unfounded” in a statement to the Camera, adding that it had voluntarily constructed a noise barrier and would be willing to discuss Polis’s concerns.

“We hope these good faith efforts can set a more positive, constructive tone for any future issues that may arise,” the company said.

But Polis is clearly intent on using his personal experience to strengthen laws overseeing the oil and gas industry. He promoted his Sunday op-ed on his Facebook page with the post: “I’ve been fracked! What has already happened to thousands of Colorado families is now impacting mine. Join the solution and be part of passing common-sense laws about industrial mining in residential areas.”

Several measures that would have tightened the screws on oil and gas developers died in the Democratic-controlled state legislature earlier this year, but Democrats have vowed to resurrect them in January.

Those threats are among the reason several counties dependent on oil and gas development have threatened to secede and form their own state. Ironically, if that ever came to be, Polis’s weekend getaway would then be located in the country’s 51st state and no longer subject to Colorado’s oil and gas regulations.

Barring that long shot, Polis said he feels called upon to crusade for stronger regulation.

“I feel like the universe has selected me to be a poster boy for reining in out-of-control fracking,” Polis told the Daily Camera, “If I have more of a soap box now. … I will continue to fight for Colorado families.”

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Tags : fracking
Greg Campbell