Pro-Fracking Turnout Frustrates Activists at Front Range Task Force Meeting

Energy workers and pro-energy citizens did themselves proud at this week’s oil and gas task force meeting in Loveland. Turnout from energy industry supporters was strong, despite the fact that “ban fracking” activists have organized no less than six anti-energy campaigns in Northern Front Range cities in two years.

Elected officials, oil and gas workers and local business owners were among the pro-energy speakers during two hours of public comment. Many more industry supporters, especially oil and gas workers, were in the audience and ready to speak but their names were not called during the limited time available.

Even so, the large presence of energy workers and energy industry supporters bringing some balance to the discussion in Loveland must have irritated the anti-energy campaigners – or “ban promoters,” as one activist described herself during the public comment period.

Before the public comment period began, Shane Davis –  local representative of anti-energy Gasland campaign out of New York – warned oil and gas workers that activists would “crush your fracking industry.” But Phil Doe, one of the state’s leading “ban fracking” activists and the last speaker of the evening, reluctantly conceded this didn’t happen:

“It was pretty lively this evening, even though there were a lot of industry people here.”

Even before the meeting, activists were trying to counter the clear pro-energy sentiment expressed during the task force’s first two meetings in Denver and Durango. After the Durango meeting, San Francisco-based Sierra Club sent almost 1,500 canned e-mails to the task force, the vast majority of which contained duplicate boilerplate language. In fact, e-mails sent directly from the Sierra Club’s national website accounted for 96 percent of the written comments received by the task force before this week’s meeting in Loveland.

During the Loveland task force meeting’s two hours of public comment, Loveland City Council member Troy Krenning spoke of his experience working with the oil and gas industry as a local elected official. In June, the citizens of Loveland voted down a proposed oil and gas development ban:

“I have seen firsthand that the system we currently have works. We are given the ability as a community to work hand in hand with the oil and gas commission to develop regulations that, for Loveland, has worked. Our staff, along with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staff has worked over the last number of years very well together.”

One oil and gas worker, with 40 years of industry experience, cited Energy Information Administration data showing a 10 percent cut in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions since 2005. Because the EIA has cited increased natural gas production and consumption as a major factor in these emissions cuts, the employee told the task force:

“We have heard earlier that we are good for the economy; I am going to tell you that we are good for the environment as well. Through natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, every well that we hydraulically fracture means less CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere.”

Another long-time energy industry employee spoke of the dramatic improvements in oil and gas industry technologies and practices over the course of his career:

“I have been in this business for 35 years … The level of protections that we employ, the safety precautions [and] the safety mechanisms that we put out there are second to none…

We want to work with our neighborhoods, too. We live here, we breathe the same air, we drink the same water and we enjoy the same outdoors.”

Joe Wilson, the former mayor of Erie, urged the task force to focus on the control local governments already have over oil and gas development through the state-approved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) process. MOUs are agreements between local governments and oil and gas operators that are enforced by state regulators. In 2012, when “ban fracking” group Food & Water Watch declared Erie “ground zero” in the national campaign against oil and gas development, Wilson and the Erie Board of Trustees rejected activist calls for a drilling ban and negotiated tough MOUs with oil and gas operators instead:

“We have what has been hailed from many sides of the equation as a model for the nation in our MOU. And you have heard other elected officials who have been successful in using their tools to produce results that are fantastic for their constituents…

I would say the ability to bring all parties, landowners, industry, citizens and environmental activists to the table to create a win-win situation and an outcome. You draft agreements in a civil arena that serve the majority and protect constitutional rights and property rights, which is what our job is and what we swore to uphold.

Your last question is to the extent that great grey area exists, what clarity would you like to see? And I think from a municipal standpoint, we should study effective precedents of the past that have served the majority of us well in the past and then know that we are empowered by effective local MOUs and similar agreements that have already been used in quickly and effectively addressing these problems. Be sure to establish relationships, encourage respectful dialogue between all parties and share the hard science before striking out in filing lawsuits against each other. The answer is civility.”

A developer from Windsor Colorado spoke of his positive experience working with oil and gas developers while planning development:

“There are 8 wells currently on our property in the middle of a golf course we have had drilling, fracking and been producing from those wells for 6 years and have not had one neighborhood complaint.”

“It is about taking the time, doing it right and making the industry blend. Make the land development blend with the energy. But I implore you not to just look at a blanket setback.”

A Loveland resident criticized the misinformation that was prevalent in the local “ban fracking” campaign waged earlier this year in his hometown:

“I found that there was a lot of rhetoric, a lot of false and misleading information going around. The movie Gasland was sensational but it had what I considered to be a lot of false and misleading claims. As a result of my research I joined the Loveland Energy Action Project, the sole purpose of which was to provide factual information to Loveland residents on this issue…

The oil and gas companies are good partners. Their employees live in the community, they spend their money in the local community and they raise their families in the community. Colorado regulations are among the most stringent in the nation and while every activity carries a risk the regulations are effective in creating an incentive for oil and gas companies to take appropriate action to avoid an unfavorable event. And as a career military member I support the development of oil and gas resources.”

Michelle Smith, an organic farmer and president of the Colorado chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners discussed the importance of mineral rights to local farms:

“Over the last 5 years we have lost over a 1,000 small farms in Colorado. Small farms have been squeezed out because of rising cost of feed and up to 75% increase in costs. My hay cost tripled.”

Leasing our mineral rights has gone a long way towards overcoming the costs of our hay. This isn’t specific to my family but many other Front Range families also rely on this revenue.

The answer to balancing the concerns around Colorado’s oil and gas development are not bans, moratoriums or stricter regulations, I believe the answer to balancing our concerns is the MOU and the current regulations in place. The MOU does give a voice to the county in the specific regulations needed for their county as long as those regulations do not conflict with COGCC regulations.”

One University of Colorado student addressed the strength of Colorado’s regulations and how they are working for local communities across the state:

“Not only does Colorado have the strictest regulations for oil and gas operators but the state has a system that offers both consistency for the industry and caters to the uniqueness of Colorado counties and municipalities…

The majority of counties and cities and towns in our state find that the regulatory structure works. Just last year the state adopted new setbacks for operators working near homes and businesses and earlier this year the first-in-its-kind air regulations were passed. The regulations here are cutting edge. Operators are able to develop natural resources and communities by and large are content. Please look to Arapahoe County, Elbert County and here in Loveland for successful examples of how state regulation has interfaced with local practices.”

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