The Campaign Goes On: ‘Ban Fracking’ Groups Target New Colorado Task Force

artists against fracking

Anti-energy activist Anthony Ingraffea (second left) taking part in an August 2012 press conference that launched Artists Against Fracking, a group founded by Yoko Ono (second right). Also pictured: actor-activist Mark Ruffalo (left), Ono’s son Sean Lennon (center) and anti-energy filmmaker Josh Fox (right). Photo: Zimbio

Anti-energy activists – including Anthony Ingraffea, the New York-based star of the Gasland movies – are continuing their “ban fracking” campaign in Colorado by seeking roles on a new oil and natural gas task force.

The “blue ribbon” task force was created under an agreement between millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis and Gov. John Hickenlooper.  Before the deal was reached, Polis was threatening to bankroll two anti-energy measures for the statewide ballot in November. The measures sought to legalize local energy bans and quadruple the minimum distance between houses and oil and gas wells from 500 to 2,000 feet. But a broad bipartisan coalition, including Gov. Hickenlooper, called out these measures as thinly veiled energy bans “that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado.”

The Polis ballot measures, which were withdrawn earlier this month, mirrored the new strategy of national “ban fracking” groups in Colorado. Since late 2013, anti-energy activists have downplayed their real agenda – which calls for statewide and national oil and gas bans – and rebranded themselves as “local control” advocates. The “ban fracking” activists have even claimed in media interviews: “This isn’t about banning fracking, it is about giving communities the ability to put some controls on development.”

Now the activists – who have no interest in energy regulations, only energy bans – are applying the same dishonest strategy to influence the new task force. Documents released by Gov. Hickenlooper’s office to the news media under the Colorado Open Records Act show “ban fracking” campaigners are lobbying for seats on the task force without disclosing their “ban fracking” activism.

Don’t mention Yoko Ono

Chief among them is Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University professor who has been described by the environmental activist blog EcoWatch as an “implacable fracking opponent.”

Ingraffea’s application letter fails to disclose his starring role in the anti-industry movies Gasland and Gasland Part II, in which he argues “fracking can never be done safely.” His application makes no mention that his widely discredited research was funded by the Park Foundation, a group based in Ithaca, New York, that finances “the rock stars of the anti-drilling movement,” according to E&E News.

Ingraffea has even taken the “Pledge to Resist Hydraulic Fracturing in Colorado,” which states [emphasis added]:

“I believe … Governor Hickenlooper, former Governor Ritter, state legislators, state agencies, and some state environmental leaders are misguided in their information about the benefits of natural gas and the safety of hydraulic fracturing, and that they need to acknowledge the body of evidence and public outcry to the contrary and ban hydraulic fracturing

If the Governor and the State Legislature continue to permit hydraulic fracturing in any part of Colorado, I pledge to join with others to engage in non-violent acts of protest, which may include demonstrations and non-violent direct action, as my conscience leads me.”

But perhaps the greatest omission from Ingraffea’s application letter is the work he’s done with performance artist Yoko Ono. He even helped Ono launch her own New York-based activist group, Artists Against Fracking, in August 2012. Soon afterwards, Artists Against Fracking co-founded Frack Free Colorado, the umbrella group that helped establish local “ban fracking” campaigns in Fort Collins, Loveland, Boulder, Lafayette and Broomfield.

Citizens for banning oil and gas

Next comes Jim Ramey, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, a group from Hotchkiss, Colo. In his application letter, Ramey makes the following pledge:

“If given the opportunity to serve on this panel, I will work hard with diverse stakeholders to reach consensus on solutions to this difficult issue.”

But the promise rings hollow when you take a quick tour of the CHC website. This group doesn’t want more regulations on Colorado’s already tightly regulated oil and gas industry – it wants to wipe out Colorado’s oil and gas industry by banning hydraulic fracturing. The website urges visitors to sign a petition, which states:

“Ban hydraulic fracturing in the state of Colorado, on all public and private lands … Please sign this petition and let Colorado’s Governor and state legislature know the People of Colorado want a ban on the dangerous and life-threatening process of hydraulic fracturing.”

The petition itself, hosted by MoveOn.org, also includes a direct endorsement from CHC.

For the record, “ban fracking” activists are free to believe whatever they want, but their anti-energy ideology simply isn’t supported by the facts. It has been rejected over and over again by scientists, engineers, state regulators and senior federal officials, who have repeatedly concluded that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology that’s been used safely for decades.

For example, President Obama’s Interior Secretary Sally Jewell – who was a board member of the National Parks Conservation Association, the CEO of outdoor retailer REI and a petroleum engineer before joining the Obama Cabinet – says “fracking has been done safely for decades.” She even goes further, saying the “ban fracking” ideology is disconnected from reality:

“I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop. That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy and will be done for decades to come.”

Gasland extras

A number of people with ties to the Western Colorado Congress, based in Grand Junction, also applied for positions on the task force. Just this week, the WCC forcefully denied having an anti-drilling agenda, after the West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association challenged the group to level with the public about its real goals. The newspaper column from the WCC’s board of directors stated:

“Until we transition to renewable energies, we need oil and gas but it has to be done right.”

But on the group’s own website, WCC members brag about working with “ban fracking” activist Josh Fox and appearing in his Gasland movie. The WCC even says it “introduced Mr. Fox to Colorado’s gas-bearing Piceance Basin and the people who live there.” By supporting Fox – who last year produced a video demanding a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing in Colorado – the WCC revealed its support for his anti-energy agenda.

Likewise, the WCC has worked with one of the country’s highest profile “ban fracking” groups – Food & Water Watch – to push for national ban on hydraulic fracturing. In September 2011, the WCC, Food & Water Watch and more than 50 other activist groups “flooded White House phone lines” and “called on [President] Obama to ban fracking,” according to a press release from the activists.

An activist lawyer

For 12 years – from 1996 to 2008 – Boulder attorney Matt Sura worked for the WCC as a community organizer and, ultimately, the group’s executive director. Now in private practice, Sura has applied for a seat on the new oil and gas task force, and says he’s no longer an anti-energy activist. In March, Sura told The Colorado Observer: “[F]ar from being a fracktivist, I actually work on oil and gas development.”

Sura’s work came under close scrutiny when he was hired by local officials in Brighton, Colo., to help update the city’s oil and gas regulations. He then advised the city to impose a temporary drilling ban. The ban was overturned less than a month later after Brighton residents – many of whom work in the oil and gas industry – learned of Sura’s background in anti-energy activism.

Besides working for the WCC for more than a decade, Sura collaborated with activist groups during last year’s local “ban fracking” campaigns in Northern Colorado. He helped organize an event titled “Tools for Activism on Oil and Gas Development,” which was co-hosted by Frack Free Colorado, Food & Water Watch and several other anti-energy groups. And in November 2013, National Journal reported that Sura was working with activists in Greeley who wanted to impose a moratorium on drilling projects inside the city limits.

Stay tuned

The activists and groups highlighted here are just the names that jumped out at us during a fast review of the applicants for the oil and gas task force. We suspect we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to anti-energy activists misrepresenting themselves as reasonable oil and gas critics who want to regulate, not ban, oil and gas development in Colorado.

For example, it’s curious that Earthworks – a national activist group that used the September 2013 floods to circulate a statewide anti-drilling petition and supports unlawful local energy bans – is also trying to place two of its operatives on the task force. After all, La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, a former Earthworks activist, has already been named as the co-chair of the task force.

The issue here is not who should or should not apply for positions on the Colorado oil and gas task force. Petitioning the government is a freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, right alongside freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly.

The issue is why “ban fracking” activists don’t want people to know who they really are and what they really want, whether it’s on the campaign trail or when trying to shape the outcome of an oil and gas task force. It’s no secret that energy industry representatives are pro-energy. The agenda of anti-energy activists shouldn’t be hidden from the public, either.

That’s especially true when the “ban fracking” campaign threatens to wipe out an industry that supports more than 110,000 Colorado jobs, almost $30 billion of economic activity, $1.6 billion in tax revenue and energy bills 23 percent lower than the national average.

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  1. […] or not Sura makes the final cut is still an open question. Others in consideration include: Anthony Ingraffea, who helped Gwen Lachelt start her radical activist group EarthWorks and who starred in the […]

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