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NE Sierra Club, Bold Nebraska Complaint Alleges Oil & Gas Commission Violated Open Meeting Laws

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James Osborn of Ainsworth, NE testifies at March 24 NOGCC fracking hearing (Watch the video)

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Contact:
Ken Winston, 402-212-3737, kwinston@inebraska.com

Nebraska Sierra Club, Bold Nebraska Complaint Alleges
Oil & Gas Commission Violated Open Meetings Laws
Groups call for expedited investigation by Attorney General Peterson

Lincoln, NE — The Nebraska Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska on Tuesday filed a complaint (embedded below) with state Attorney General Doug Peterson alleging the Nebraska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (NOGCC) violated the state’s open meeting laws at a March 24 hearing on a permit for a proposed fracking wastewater well.

The violations include the Commission’s statements on the record at the hearing that public comments from citizens during the morning session would not be included in the official record, or considered by the Commission while making its decision on the proposed permit.

This includes testimony delivered that morning by Sen. Ken Haar, a letter submitted by Sen. John Stinner, and the moving testimony of James Osborn of Ainsworth, NE — the citizen whose “Would you drink it?” fracked water demonstration during his testimony at the hearing has been viewed 1.7 million times on YouTube.

Nebraska Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska delivered the attached letter to AG Peterson today, and will also testify to the NOGCC’s open meeting law violations at Wednesday’s (April 8) hearing in the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee (1:00 p.m., Room 1525). The groups call on AG Peterson to launch an expedited investigation, as the NOGCC is required by statute to deliver its decision on the proposed well permit within 30 days of the March 24 hearing.

“We are asking the Attorney General to protect the public’s rights in this process. The Oil & Gas Commission attempted to limit the public’s right to be heard, failed to follow both their own rules and state law, and engaged in arbitrary and capricious conduct in the way they conducted the March 24th hearing,” said Ken Winston, Nebraska Sierra Club policy advocate. “After review of the evidence, the Attorney General should void any attempted action by the NOGCC related to this hearing. The NOGCC’s conduct surrounding the hearing also strengthens our call for the Legislature to step in and to establish clear and definitive rules to protect the rights of the public and our precious natural resources from the threats of fracking waste disposal.”

Nebraska Sierra Club and Bold Nebraska allege the following violations of the Nebraska Open Meetings Act by NOGCC:

  • NOGCC failed to publicly post a sufficiently descriptive agenda for the hearing at least 24 hours in advance
  • Told the public and media before the hearing that testimony would be limited to only citizens residing within 1/2-mile of the proposed well, instead of all concerned citizens.
  • Failed to make arrangements to hold the meeting in a facility large enough to accommodate the anticipated crowd
  • Required attendees to leave the hearing room after testifying, preventing them from hearing other citizens’ comments and witnessing NOGCC proceedings
  • Required hearing attendees to fill out a form that identified themselves as a condition of admission into the hearing
  • Stated at the hearing that none of the public testimony from citizens who reside outside 1/2-mile of the proposed well would be included in the official record of the hearing, or considered in the Commission’s decision on the well permit.
    • (*This includes testimony from Senator Ken Haar, and a letter submitted from Sen. John Stinner)
  • Stated they intend to make a decision on the well permit without reconvening and voting on the matter in a public meeting
  • Failed to provide a transcript, recording, or otherwise document the hearing for the public record
    • (A purported audio recording of the hearing posted to the NOGCC website is an inaudible, corrupted file. See: http://www.nogcc.ne.gov/NOGCCHearings.aspx “March 24, 2015: Audio Stream – Hearing Case No. UIC 14-4)

After hearing from landowners near the proposed fracking wastewater well with their concerns for local water sources and strains on county roads, Bold Nebraska and Nebraska Sierra Club launched a petition urging the Nebraska Oil & Gas Commission to reject the permit for the proposed fracking wastewater well, which so far has gathered over 8,100 signatures.

The petition also targets the Nebraska Legislature, calling for a halt to the practice: “The Nebraska Legislature should halt the dumping of fracking wastewater in our state until we have adequate standards to protect our land and water — Nebraska’s lifeblood, and key to our productive future.”

Bold Nebraska presented the petition at a March 11 hearing of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee that was focused on the proposed fracking wastewater well, and also to the Oil & Gas Commission at the March 24 hearing in Sidney.

View the petition online: http://act.boldnebraska.org/sign/fracking

# # #

After nearly 50 local landowners and concerned citizens testified against the proposed fracking wastewater well in the morning, a separate, on-the-record and quasi-judicial hearing was held in the afternoon. This “official” afternoon session was restricted to only T-rex and its attorney, and landowners who live within a half-mile of the well and their attorney.

Not long after this “official” hearing began, the landowners’ attorney referenced testimony delivered that morning by a member of the public.

The attorney for T-rex interrupts to lodge an objection (transcript below):

LANDOWNERS: “There’s been some concern expressed — I should ask, were you present this morning…?”

T-REX: “I request that we not refer to this morning’s proceedings [public comments]. That’s not going to be part of the record.”

COMMISSIONER: “That isn’t part of the record.”

LANDOWNERS: “Are you aware, then, whether you were there this morning or not, that there is some concern that some of this water is going to be coming from Colorado?”

T-REX: “Same objection, referring to this morning’s proceedings [public comments].

COMMISSIONER: “I think we have to grant that objection.”

WATCH: NOGCC strikes public comments

NOGCC Open Meetings Law Violations

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