‘Ban Fracking’ Activist Agenda Sidelined and Criticized, Yet Again, at Broomfield City Council Meeting
The announcement this week by the Broomfield City Council to indefinitely postpone consideration of an oil and gas moratorium in the county represented yet another loss for national “ban fracking” activist groups, which have tried and failed to peddle their agenda around the state for years now. In fact, the activists who showed up to the city council meeting on Tuesday evening were met with chilly reception and strong pushback, and even the Broomfield residents who supported the moratorium deliberately distanced themselves from the “ban fracking” agenda.
The vote came after Extraction Oil & Gas, the operator seeking to drill in Broomfield, voluntarily withdrew its regulatory applications in a show of good faith and commitment to working with residents and local elected officials on its proposed projects.
Outside “Ban Fracking” Activists Recycle Talking Points
The activists who showed up to the meeting to lobby the city council represented Food & Water Watch (F&WW) and 350.org, national groups that have a long history of attempting – and failing – to ban oil and natural gas development in Colorado.
F&WW is, as The Colorado Statesman has described, one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement” in Colorado that “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities,” including Broomfield. F&WW’s partner in “ban fracking” activism, 350.org, runs a “keep it in the ground” campaign, which seeks to ban the production of oil, natural gas, and coal – the energy sources that provide 81 percent of the country’s power.
Speaking before the council, F&WW’s Rocky Mountain Region Director Lauren Petrie stuck to her group’s “ban fracking” playbook that it has recycled and reused time and time again: demonizing the oil and natural gas industry, making scary and unfounded claims about drilling, and advancing quixotic notions of energy production and consumption that have been roundly roasted and panned even by climate activists.
In response to a comment made earlier in the public hearing, Petrie accused the oil and gas industry for “scar[ing] the public into continued reliance on fossil fuels” and “shoving oil and gas development down our throats”:
“I did want to address an earlier comment that called everyone in this room hypocrites for driving cars, for eating dinner, and for heating our homes with fossil fuels. This is nothing more than outrageous and unfair hyperbole, and it drives me crazy every time I hear it. It’s parroted by the industry to scare the public into continued reliance on fossil fuels. The reason that so many of us are dependent on fossil fuels is because we don’t have a choice. The industry is shoving oil and gas development down our throats whether we want it or not.”
Petrie gave “outrageous and unfair hyperbole” a spin herself by making farfetched claims about drilling to scare Broomfield residents:
“Broomfield doesn’t need 139 wells, wells that are going to be leaking, corroding, and emitting toxic pollutants throughout the community – forever. They’re not going away. And Broomfield county and the taxpayers will be left on the hook for footing the bill to clean up the mess for decades to come. The industry isn’t going to pay for that.”
Finally, Petrie offered the classic false choice between oil and natural gas and renewables, which not only ignores the partnership that exists between the energy sources, but has also been characterized, by a leading climate activist, as “almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy”:
“Oil and gas is not a wasted resource if it’s not extracted. It’s a destructive industrial process that has no place near our homes and schools. It’s archaic technology that needs to be left in the past. Colorado’s wind and sun, on the other hand, are wasted resources, for sure, that if they are not harnessed quickly, will cost us our future.”
Food & Water Watch’s Lauren Petrie: “The industry is shoving oil and gas development down our throats whether we want it or not.”
When addressing the council, fellow “ban fracking” activist Lauren Swain chose to identify herself as a member of a neighborhood group in adjacent Adams County, despite sitting on 350 Colorado’s board as a “Fracking Specialist” while leading Sierra Club’s “Beyond Oil & Gas” campaign in Denver and the group’s national “hydrofracking grassroots team.”
She informed the city council that one-sixth of the people who supported the pro-moratorium petition she had been circulating were Broomfield residents:
“I’m here to represent Neighbors for Safe Energy, which originated in Adams County, when residents there found out that they were beset with a massive drilling project that is nowhere near as massive as the drilling project proposed for Broomfield. They were stunned, and they wanted to get to work organizing people, and our Facebook group has 631 members, but there’s really just a very small group of completely unpaid people, unfunded people, standing up for the rights of local residents. And we put together in just the last couple of days, starting yesterday morning, to reach out to all Coloradans, there’s at least 50 Broomfield residents who signed our petition, and right now we’re up to 300 for statewide residents who care about what’s happening in Broomfield and signed on to the petition.”
350.org and Sierra Club’s Lauren Swain telling the Broomfield City Council about a pro-moratorium petition that received fractional support from Broomfield residents.
Residents Call for Constructive Dialogue
F&WW and 350.org’s talking points were so out of place at the city council meeting that even the Broomfield residents who supported the moratorium went to great lengths to set themselves apart from the activists’ blanket opposition to all fossil fuel development.
Seeking to clear up the “misconception about what the neighborhood groups are after,” a Broomfield resident clarified that they are “not anti-fracking” and “not anti-energy or oil,” because they “do understand the basic needs of our communities and fossil fuels”:
“I just want to say, there seems to be some misconception about what the neighborhood groups are after. We’re not anti-fracking, and we’re not anti-energy or oil. We continue to say that time each time we come up and I just want to make that point again. We do understand the basic needs of our communities and fossil fuels. We’re not saying no fracking anywhere, and we’re not even saying no fracking in our backyard. We have said time and again our serious concerns about health and safety, and we’re saying we need to understand how this project will go forward in the most safe way for residents, and that’s all we’re looking for.”
Some of the health and safety concerns raised by the residents were addressed at last week’s oil and gas forum, where the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment unveiled a landmark health assessment that found that “the risk of harmful health effects is low for residents living [near] oil and gas operations.”
Councilman Kevin Kreeger, who later voted against the motion to postpone the moratorium vote, said beforehand that he has “never been against fracking” and is “not opposed to fracking in general”:
“I have never been against fracking. … I am not 100% for every fracking project, but I don’t think fracking in general is always bad. I think natural gas burns more cleanly than coal and oil. … I’m not opposed to fracking in general …”
City Council Members Push Back Against Activist Talking Points
Other members of the city council felt compelled to address and criticize – on the record – the activists’ talking points.
Councilman Mike Shelton pushed back against Swain’s claims that the oil and natural gas industry is forcing dependence on fossil fuels and “shoving oil and gas development down our throats”:
“Why are we forced to buy oil and gas? I heard that from the last speaker. We’re not! We’re not forced to buy oil and gas. You can purchase solar panels. You can purchase wind mills. You can set up a hydroelectric dam, maybe. Or you can purchase energy that are created from those sources. I would wish you luck in finding a wind mill or a solar panel that’s created without using fossil fuels. I don’t know if they exist. It’d be great, but I don’t know if we’re there yet.”
Shelton’s colleague Councilwoman Martha Derda explained the limitations of renewable energy in this day and age:
“We’re number 9 in the nation in renewable energy, but we still need oil and gas. What we have in renewable energy is not enough for what we consume.”
Joining Colorado’s leaders from both parties, who have repeatedly rejected bans on oil and natural gas development in the state, members of the city council articulated their reservations about the morality, legality, and practicality of a moratorium.
Shelton warned that a moratorium is a “statement against fracking in general,” which suggests “discrimination or prejudice”:
“But a moratorium also is a statement against fracking in general. It’s not saying that this particular project is guaranteed to do any of the nasty things that it could do. What it’s saying is that we don’t like the industry of fracking. I think that’s [closer] to discrimination or prejudice than anything. We heard about morality earlier. Discrimination and prejudice, especially by a government, is completely immoral.”
“Relying on a ban is not a good solution,” Shelton concluded.
Industry Representatives Underscore Collaboration With Local Communities
Representatives of oil and natural gas trade associations reiterated before the council the industry’s commitment to collaborating with local communities on safe and responsible energy development.
Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, said striking an appropriate balance on development “can be challenging” but “is absolutely critical”:
“Striving to achieve a balance between responsible energy development and the concerns and needs of communities in and around development can be challenging, but it is absolutely critical that we continue to work toward solutions. We are hoping that is the case here.”
Following the council’s vote to postpone the moratorium indefinitely, Colorado Oil and Gas Association chief Dan Haley issued a statement reaffirming the industry’s pledge to continue “constructive and productive conversation” with communities:
“Broomfield made the right call tonight in choosing not to enact a divisible moratorium in their community. The industry is listening, and will continue to make every effort to address the questions and concerns posed by the Council and members of the community. We remain committed to finding workable solutions and hope that Broomfield will choose to engage in a constructive and productive conversation with industry. Responsible oil and gas development provides the resources essential in our everyday lives and enacting a ban would have sent a strong message to our working families and other industries that Broomfield is not open for business.”
Energy In Depth hopes that constructive dialogue and fact-based discussion will continue to shape energy development in Broomfield going forward.