A town hall meeting in Broomfield, Colorado, this evening provides opportunities for a smart, thoughtful, and fact-based discussion on oil and natural gas development in the area.
Broomfield has long been a target of national “ban fracking” groups, including Washington, D.C.-based political activist group Food & Water Watch (F&WW), one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement” in Colorado, according to The Colorado Statesman, that “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities,” including Broomfield. As part of its agenda to ban fracking nationwide, F&WW is also behind the creation of statewide groups such as Frack Free Colorado, Protect Our Colorado, Local Control Colorado, and Coloradans Against Fracking.
After Local Control Colorado affiliate “Our Broomfield” – now defunct – began organizing a ballot measure to impose a five-year moratorium on fracking in Broomfield in 2013, residents who supported fracking formed a group called “It’s Our Broomfield, Too” to demonstrate that the anti-fracking group did not represent the entire Broomfield community. “We felt it was time you knew there were citizens that are in favor of fracking,” “It’s Our Broomfield, Too” member Linda Reynolds told the media at the time. “This is our Broomfield, too.”
Today, Broomfield is weighing proposals to drill in the northern part of the county, and the oil and gas public forum this evening is an opportunity for community members to learn about the proposed projects and hear from state officials about how they regulate the oil and natural gas industry.
Confirmed speakers include officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Mayor Randy Ahrens, Broomfield’s deputy city and county attorney and deputy city and county manager, and representatives of the Anthem Highlands, Wildgrass, and Anthem Ranch neighborhoods.
Lisa McKenzie, an assistant research professor at the University of Colorado, was originally slated to speak at the meeting, but has been removed from the agenda after her latest anti-fracking research was discredited by state officials. For Broomfield residents seeking constructive dialogue about oil and natural gas development, this should come as welcome news.
Just one week ago, McKenzie and her team released a paper attempting to link oil and natural gas development to childhood leukemia. This paper followed McKenzie’s previous efforts to link oil and natural gas development to birth defects. Both times, her research was disavowed by state officials.
About McKenzie’s first study, CDPHE’s Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director Dr. Larry Wolk said health officials “disagree with many of the specific associations” in the study,” which rely on “miniscule” statistical differences,” and “a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned.”
About McKenzie’s newest study, Dr. Wolk said in a statement that “this study’s conclusions are misleading,” and that the paper failed to “adequately address additional or alternate explanations for findings, specifically differences in population demographics, smoking history and exposure to other environmental factors.”
Even though McKenzie’s research has been disavowed and discredited, it has nevertheless provided fodder for activist groups to justify their anti-energy campaigns – and to scare residents about unfounded health risks associated with oil and natural gas development.
But as Dr. Wolk told the Greeley Tribune recently, “we don’t see anything to be concerned with” with regard to oil and natural gas development and public health. From the article, titled “Weld County health incidents level with rest of state, despite more oil and gas development”:
“Despite public fears that oil and gas development is causing asthma, birth defects and cancer, statistics from the health department show oil and gas has not affected the general health of Weld County, which produces 90 percent of the state’s oil.”
“The statistics show that even though Weld has about 70 percent more active wells than other northern Colorado counties, it does not have more health issues.”
“The numbers, which were reported in two-year increments between 2008 and 2012, show that Weld does not have significantly more, and in many cases, it has fewer, instances of asthma, cancer, birth defects, infant mortality and low birth weights than other Front Range counties.”
Even though the health risks associated with oil and natural gas development have been exaggerated by activists peddling anti-energy campaigns, the billions of dollars the industry delivers to Colorado’s economy tend to draw fewer headlines.
According to a report prepared by the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, oil and natural gas development in the state contributed $31.7 billion in total economic impact to Colorado’s economy in 2014. “[T]he outflow of these dollars,” the report states, “impacts every citizen in the state through investments in education, transportation, and others.”
We hope that this evening’s meeting will be an opportunity for Broomfield residents to have a fact-based dialogue, free of activist rhetoric, about the risks and rewards of oil and natural gas development. Energy In Depth will be there to observe.