Mountain States

Lachelt’s Disclosure Record Shows Activists Don’t Honor Their Own Fracking Agreements


Colorado oil and gas task force co-chair Gwen Lachelt, a former activist with the anti-energy group Earthworks, leading the “Stop the Frack Attack” rally in Washington, D.C. in July 2012. Photo: Complete Colorado

Colorado oil and gas task force co-chair Gwen Lachelt plans to make the disclosure laws that apply to oil and gas development an issue at the panel’s final meeting today, based on documents released overnight. It’s a curious issue for Lachelt to tackle, given her track record on the subject.

Lachelt – who recently made the false claim that banning hydraulic fracturing does not ban oil and gas development – is now a La Plata County Commissioner, but she spent more than a decade working for the anti-energy group Earthworks. In 2011, her group was part of an environmental coalition that helped write Colorado’s hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure requirements. In negotiations with state regulators and industry officials, Earthworks chose to be represented by Earthjustice, a California-based non-profit that essentially acts as a law firm for environmental activist groups.

When an agreement on those new disclosure requirements was reached in December 2011, Earthjustice issued a statement on how pleased its clients were with the outcome:

“The rule is one of the strongest in the country and Earthjustice’s Denver office was actively involved in shaping the decision. …  In the negotiations, Earthjustice represented the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, National Wildlife Federation, San Juan Citizens Alliance and High Country Citizens Alliance, and also worked closely with the Environmental Defense Fund. … ‘Overall, we are pleased with the strength of this rule,’ said [Earthjustice staff attorney Michael] Freeman.”

Freeman told the Huffington Post:

“That’s the big advancer here. We’re getting a full picture of what’s in that fracking fluid.”

New York-based Environment Defense Fund (EDF) echoed the same sentiment in a press release:

“Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today praised the State of Colorado for adopting a fracturing fluid chemical disclosure policy that, in many ways, can serve as a model for the nation …

“The Colorado rule … makes important strides in requiring companies to disclose chemical information in ways that are useful and user-friendly. The Colorado rule requires companies to disclose chemical information on a database that allows the public to search and sort information by company, chemical, geographic area and other criteria. … Finally, the Colorado rule takes a reasonable approach to trade secrets.”

Governor John Hickenlooper also called the disclosure rules a national model:

“These new rules give Colorado the fairest and most transparent set of fracking regulations in the country and will likely serve as a model for other states. We commend everyone involved for coming together to create a chemical disclosure rule that marks another big step forward for Colorado’s responsible regulation of this important industry. We believe oil and gas development can thrive while also meeting our high standards for protection of public health, water and the environment.”

At a press conference with the Governor, Executive Director of Colorado Conservation Voters (now Conservation Colorado) Pete Maysmith said:

“The clear winners of the rulemaking today are the citizens of Colorado. Now all Coloradans will know what chemicals are being used in natural gas drilling in our state. …

It’s setting the pace for the rest of the country and we hope that other states will follow our lead. …

It’s no secret that we don’t always see eye-to-eye with the natural gas industry, but this was a great example of putting aside our differences where we have them and getting something done.”

A Denver Post editorial described the regulations as “the country’s most stringent rules regarding disclosure of fracking fluids.”

But one day after the deal was reached, a strange thing happened. Lachelt started criticizing the same regulations she and her colleagues at Earthworks helped write. While Earthjustice said the regulations provided the “full picture,” Lachelt offered only faint praise and said the new rules were merely “steps in the right direction – but disclosure of fracking toxics is still not an open book.” In fact, rather than stand by the new state standards her group just negotiated, Lachelt called for the permitting process of oil and gas development to be taken away from the states and federalized through two bills supported by “ban fracking” groups like Food & Water Watch.

Generally speaking, it’s tough to negotiate with people who start campaigning to undermine the very agreements they helped create just one day after those agreements were reached in the first place. If Lachelt has trouble finding others on the task force willing to take her proposals seriously, maybe that’s why.

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