Mountain States

Activists Attempt to Capitalize on Gold King Mine Spill in Effort to Reboot Failing “Don’t Frack Denver Campaign”

The Washington D.C.-based anti-fracking group, Food & Water Watch (F&WW), is attempting to reboot its failing “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign by seeking to capitalize on the recent Gold King Mine wastewater spill.

In a new op-ed published in the Colorado Statesman, a representative from F&WW’s Western states group, desperately attempts to compare the 3 million gallons of mine wastewater that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accidently released into the Animas River to what she claims would be widespread contamination from hydraulic fracturing.

In doing so, F&WW simply repeats many of the same claims that led the Denver Post editorial board to conclude: “Denver should ignore fractivists.”

Rehashing debunked claims on water contamination

F&WW writes:

“Opening Denver’s watershed to fracking would place the South Platte at risk for the same type of toxic spill fouling the Animas. The color would be less dramatic, but the toxic chemicals released would be just as dangerous to the wildlife and people who rely on the water source….

And spills will be inevitable if our decision-makers allow fracking in these headwaters.”

Of course, F&WW makes no mention of the fact the EPA recently released a comprehensive five-year study, which found that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” 

EPA found that the number of cases of where groundwater was impacted by drilling activities to be “small” in the context of oil and gas development taking place across the nation:

“Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

South Platte Watershed

Among F&WW’s attempts to turn public anger over the Gold King Mine spill toward oil and gas development is a repeat of the claim that hundreds of thousands of acres of an important Denver watershed are at risk from hydraulic fracturing. F&WW writes:

“Alarmingly, a darker specter hovers above Denver, where potential hydraulic fracturing threatens 280,000 acres of land in the headwaters of South Platte River. The area supplies nearly 40 percent of Denver’s drinking water supply”

But Energy In Depth has investigated this issue before. While F&WW claims to be concerned that plans for oil and gas development threaten the South Platte River watershed, a source of drinking water for many Denver-area communities, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is already handling this issue in the exact way that environmental groups have lobbied for.

At the behest of environmental groups and others, a comprehensive BLM review process, called a Master Leasing Plan, is currently underway. No decision on leasing in that area for oil and gas development can be made until the MLP is completed, and according to the National Wildlife Federation, the BLM even withdrew the sale of some proposed leases as the process was initiated.

Even Clean Water Action, a group that has worked alongside Food & Water Watch in support of an anti-energy agenda, endorsed the MLP process as “critical” and demanded that the BLM take its current course writing: “BLM must create a Master Leasing Plan with broad community support before any land in the South Park Basin is leased for energy development.”

Denver City Council lobbying efforts

Another hallmark of the “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign has been its efforts to persuade Denver city leaders to engage on the issue of hydraulic fracturing. From F&WW:

“The newly inaugurated Denver City Council has an opportunity to influence an ongoing Bureau of Land Management planning process in the South Platte Basin to ensure that thousands of acres in our watershed are not opened up to fracking.”

While F&WW hopes the Denver City Council will “encourage the BLM to prevent drilling in Denver’s watershed from the outset,” this demand seems to be the latest in F&WW’s struggling lobbying efforts to draw Denver city leaders into a debate on hydraulic fracturing. The lack of success has even caught the attention of the Denver Post:

“So far, the effort hasn’t gained traction with city officials, but the activists hope the petitions help.”

But the petitions did not help. Embarrassingly, the “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign delivered petition signatures to Denver City Council members that they claimed demonstrated support for their cause from the “Denver community.” But a review of the petitions found that a large percentage of the signatures came from outside the Denver area with some from as far away as New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

The Denver Post also took notice of this trend, finding that the page of signatures shown to the reporter by activists didn’t actually include any Denver residents:

“Interestingly, while the petition language (see image above) says the signers are Denver residents, not one of the nine listed on the page shown to me lists Denver as home. They live in St. Paul, Minn., Boulder, Santa Fe, Aurora, Glendale and Fort Collins.”

The groups then staged loud protests complete with slogan chanting, drums, bullhorns and sign-waving outside Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2015 Inaugural Address. But despite the ploy to draw attention to their various causes and glean on to media coverage of the event, they once-again failed to gain the traction they were looking for.

Signs and Security

Activists protest outside of the Denver Mayor’s 2015 Inaugural Address

As the Denver Post editorial board highlighted in a scathing editorial when the “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign was launched, the lack of attention to the group likely comes from the fact that groups like F&WW avoid “responsible contribution to the debate.” From the Denver Post:

“[C]omprehensive opposition to fracking, the demonization of industry, and the trumpeting of a study that the state’s own health department felt obliged to repudiate are not a responsible contribution to the debate. Officials in Denver, whose downtown is home to a significant concentration of energy-related offices, would be wise to steer clear of this effort.”

With their previous lobbying efforts falling flat, it is likely that this effort will meet the same fate.


This is the latest move by F&WW to breathe life back into their losing anti-fracking campaign and we are sure it won’t be the last. But equating hydraulic fracturing with the Gold King mine wastewater spill only shows how desperate their situation is, and how little support they’ve managed to glean across the state.



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