Thanks to some clueless celebrities, we now know the real agenda of “ban fracking” activists in Colorado, and what it will cost our state.
At the ballot box in November, a handful of cities in Northern Colorado voted to impose symbolic and legally dubious bans on oil and gas development. The campaigns to ban hydraulic fracturing – an essential technology for more than 90 percent of oil and gas wells – were orchestrated by national activist groups like Food & Water Watch and Water Defense, which have lobbied for years for statewide bans on oil and gas development in Colorado and other parts of the country, and even a national ban on domestic energy production.
But throughout the campaign, the “ban fracking” activists concealed their desire to shut down Colorado’s oil and gas industry – and eventually the nation’s – and denied they were being trained and funded by fringe activist groups out of Washington, D.C. and New York City. Even after the votes were counted in cities with “ban fracking” ballot initiatives, Food & Water Watch’s Mountain West Region Director Sam Schabacker refused to come clean about his group’s ambitions. Rather than admit he was now campaigning for a statewide ban on oil and gas development – and open himself to questions about the economic impacts – Schabacker chose instead to mislead the news media and the public by claiming the activists are considering “all options,” including those short of a ban. Meanwhile, a group created by Food & Water Watch and other out-of-state organizations to run the local ballot initiatives – Frack Free Colorado – deleted whole sections of its website just a few days after the election to conceal the involvement of New York-based Water Defense and two organizers from the Big Apple in what were supposed to be “grassroots” campaigns across the northern Front Range.
The activists must have a very low opinion of Colorado’s voters, elected officials and political reporters, because only a few weeks after the election, they released a cringe-inducing “ban fracking” video from a group of C-list celebrities. The video called for – you guessed it – a ban on hydraulic fracturing across Colorado. The video was also sponsored by Frack Free Colorado, Food & Water Watch and a group called Americans Against Fracking, a project of national activist organizations such as MoveOn.org, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network. For anyone paying attention to the debate over hydraulic fracturing in Colorado, just one 30-second spot confirmed who the “ban fracking” activists really are (i.e. big green groups from outside the state) and what they really want (i.e. the effective elimination of oil and gas development in Colorado).
But about the same time as the celebrity video was released, senior public officials started warning of the terrible economic impacts of the “ban fracking” agenda. In separate interviews with National Journal, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) warned “severe economic impacts” would follow a statewide ban, and Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike King even called it a “draconian” idea. “A statewide ban would be devastating for the state’s economy,” King continued. “If we were to lose the oil and gas jobs that we have, it would be just catastrophic for our economy.” Local officials, such as Silt Mayor Dave Moore, also stepped forward to highlight the central role of oil and gas development in funding education. “Did you know 85 percent of the [tax] revenues in this county come from oil and gas?” Moore told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. “Where would our libraries and our schools be without that revenue?”
The activists simply cannot justify the disastrous economic consequences of their fringe political agenda, which is why they worked so hard during the local “ban fracking” campaigns in northern Colorado to conceal their true intentions from voters, elected officials and the press. But there was another question the activists hoped no one would ask before or after election day: Why are national environmental groups getting into local politics in the first place?
The answer is the national groups are “going local” because their campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing has failed at federal level and is failing at the state level. They are launching local ballot initiatives and other kinds of campaigning out of desperation, because even environmentalists in the Obama administration and in blue states – most notably California – have rejected the “ban fracking” agenda as too extreme. This losing streak has become so bad that the Washington Post reported “the writing is on the wall” for the activists who want to ban hydraulic fracturing, and domestic oil and gas production along with it.
For example, Food & Water Watch claims a ban is necessary because the group believes hydraulic fracturing is “inherently unsafe [and] can’t be made safer through government oversight or regulations.” But this technology, used more than 1.2 million times since the 1940s, has been regulated and closely studied for decades. Experts from outside the industry have repeatedly concluded hydraulic fracturing is fundamentally safe, and according to a 2009 report from state and federal officials, oil and gas development is “regulated under a complex set of federal, state, and local laws that address every aspect of exploration and operation.”
Because of this scientific and regulatory consensus, even the Obama administration – which is a critic of the oil and gas industry and has repeatedly tried to raise taxes and impose new regulations on domestic energy production – rejects calls for a ban. In fact, Obama acknowledged the environmental and economic benefits from increased domestic energy production in a major speech on climate change in June. He said increased oil and natural gas production, made possible by hydraulic fracturing in deep shale formations, has “grown our economy,” “created new jobs” and “also helped drive our carbon pollution to its lowest level in nearly 20 years.” Obama called both renewables and natural gas “clean energy,” and called for increased natural gas production because it provides “safe, cheap power” and can “also help reduce our carbon emissions.”
The president’s comments reflect the views of top energy and environmental regulators within his administration. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell – a former board member of the National Parks Conservation Association and petroleum engineer – said in May “fracking has been done safely for decades” and that the campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing “ignores the reality that it has been done for decades … and will be done for decades to come.” Jewell’s predecessor, Colorado’s own Ken Salazar, stated in September: “I would say to everybody that hydraulic fracking is safe.” Around the same time, Obama’s former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, said: “This is something you can do in a safe way.”
Even Obama’s EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said during a speech in Boulder that responsible natural gas development “is an important part of our work to curb climate change and support a robust clean energy market at home.” More recently, McCarthy told the Boston Globe: “There’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish.”
Faced with rejection at the national level, anti-industry activists ramped up their campaigning in states this year, with a heavy focus on blue states where Democrats control most, if not all, branches of government. But even in these states, the “ban fracking” activists were told to take a hike.
In Illinois, anti-fracking groups lobbied aggressively for a ban on hydraulic fracturing, and against a bill establishing strict new rules on shale gas development. The bill establishing new rules easily passed a heavily Democratic legislature in June – the House voted 108-9 and the Senate voted 52-3 in favor – and it was signed enthusiastically by Gov. Pat Quinn (D).
In September, California lawmakers passed a hydraulic fracturing regulations bill 54-20 in the Assembly and 29-8 in the Senate. By comparison, an earlier bill for a statewide moratorium on fracking only received 24 votes in the 80-member Assembly. The hydraulic fracturing regulation bill was supported by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who has been endorsed countless times by environmental groups throughout his more than 40-year career in politics. State officials in California even consulted with a team of experts from Colorado State University, led by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D). And in Nevada, the state’s Democratic legislature all-but-unanimously endorsed a plan in June to revamp hydraulic fracturing regulations. It was signed by the state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval.
The activists are desperate to hide these failures, and many others, because they show the same extreme agenda has been considered and rejected over and over again by environmental regulators and public officials across the country. That’s because the “ban fracking” campaign is based on a fringe political ideology and not the facts.