Mountain States

Just Fracking Wrong: Colo. Task Force Leader Undermines Her Credibility

The co-chair of Colorado’s oil and gas task force, La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, has falsely claimed that banning hydraulic fracturing “does not mean a ban on oil and gas development.”

The claim undermines the credibility of Lachelt, who spent more than a decade working for an oil and gas opposition group before seeking elected office, and calls into question the sources of information she’s using to shape the future of one of Colorado’s critical industries. Task force members have heard from state regulators, local officials and experts from inside and outside the oil and gas industry, but anti-energy activist groups have also been waging a political campaign to pressure and mislead the panel.

One of the subjects examined by the task force has been the compensation owed to mineral rights holders if government action – such as a hydraulic fracturing ban – blocks them from developing the oil and natural gas they own. Just in Boulder County, where national “ban fracking” groups have aggressively campaigned for years, those mineral rights could be worth as much as $1 billion, according to an estimate from the National Association of Royalty Owners.

To avoid talking about these costs, activist groups falsely claim that banning hydraulic fracturing – a routine process which opens tiny cracks in deep underground rock formations to release the oil and natural gas trapped inside – does not block the development of these energy resources. And in a recent interview with the Durango Herald, Lachelt repeated these activist talking points:

“A ban on fracking does not mean a ban on oil and gas development … It just means the actual fracking process itself.”

Lachelt should know better. In 2011, the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) conducted a review of Colorado’s hydraulic fracturing regulatory program. At the time, Lachelt worked for the activist group Earthworks, which was an official observer of the Colorado review and even has a seat on the STRONGER board. Besides concluding the Colorado hydraulic fracturing program is “well managed and professional,” the STRONGER review also found:

“Hydraulic fracturing has occurred in Colorado since 1947. Nearly all active wells in Colorado have been hydraulically fractured.”

That’s consistent across the country, according to both the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Ground Water Protection Council:

“Over 90 percent of the wells drilled in the United States use the hydraulic fracturing process.”

For this reason, the state’s top oil and gas regulator Matt Lepore has said:

“[A] ban on fracking is really a ban on drilling.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who created the oil and gas task force and named Lachelt as co-chair, says the agenda of “ban fracking” activists violates state and federal constitutional protections, including the Fifth Amendment, which stipulates private property cannot be taken for public use “without just compensation.” As the governor explained to National Journal:

“Our state’s Constitution guarantees the right to access those minerals. If you’re going to ban fracking, you’re saying people can’t get access to their mineral rights. Historically, when the government does that, there is some compensation. At some level it’s a takings under the Fifth Amendment.”

The facts couldn’t be clearer, which is why Vital for Colorado – a coalition of business leaders that supports the state’s critical energy industry – strongly criticized Lachelt for claiming that a hydraulic fracturing ban does not constitute a ban on energy production. As the group wrote in a letter to the Durango Herald:

“This statement shows an alarming lack of understanding about gas and oil operations, and we want to correct it. In fact, more than 90 percent of the wells drilled in the United States and Colorado rely on hydraulic fracturing…

Without fracking, there is no American energy revolution.”

Soon after the task force was formed, Energy In Depth warned that the misinformation campaign of millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis and national anti-energy groups like Food & Water Watch wasn’t going away, even after the withdrawal of their statewide ballot measures targeting Colorado’s oil and gas industry. It was our hope that the members of the task force were ready, willing and able to sort fact from fiction under some immense political pressure, because anti-energy groups – backed by millionaires and billionaires – were bringing the fight to them.

For that reason, it’s deeply disappointing that the false talking points of activists who oppose oil and gas development are being repeated and endorsed by the co-chair of the oil and gas task force.


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