National ‘Ban Fracking’ Groups Target Erie, Colo. Once Again
Frack Free Colorado, a group created by Food & Water Watch and other East Coast “ban fracking” organizations, is turning out activists to campaign against oil and gas development in Erie.
Outside “ban fracking” activists, who are campaigning to drive oil and natural gas development out of Colorado, are trying to derail the local debate over energy production in the Town of Erie. The new effort comes three years after the activists first tried, and failed, to ban Erie’s oil and gas industry.
The cast of characters includes Frack Free Colorado, a campaign co-founded by Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch and two other East Coast activist groups backed by Yoko Ono and Mark Ruffalo. Back in 2012, Food & Water Watch declared Erie “ground zero” of the group’s national campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing and the domestic oil and gas production made possible by this technology.
One of the Sierra Club’s top attorneys, Eric Huber, is engaged in Erie. So is the environmental attorney Matt Sura, a member of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force who led a failed effort to to halt oil and gas permitting in nearby Brighton, Colo. Meanwhile, Be The Change – an activist group that compares oil and gas development to slavery and energy industry supporters to Nazis – was even captured on camera lobbying Erie’s mayor.
Just as they did in 2012, “ban fracking” activists are using scare tactics – such as calling energy development “a violation of our human rights” – to disrupt good-faith discussions between town officials, oil and gas companies, state regulators and Erie citizens over a new local agreement governing energy development in the town. In light of some recent noise complaints, one oil and gas company in Erie even suspended drilling near that neighborhood and said it would not start again until quieter equipment can be found.
But the activist groups – who hold the fringe political belief that “no amount of regulations can ever make fracking safe” – don’t want to see the parties continue their talks, work through the understandable concerns that citizens and town officials have brought to the table, and reach an agreement. Instead, they are trying to end the negotiations and force a confrontation by pushing for a blanket oil and gas ban of at least one year. Based on their track record in Boulder County and other parts of the country, the activists will then push to keep the “temporary” prohibition going indefinitely, despite a series of Colorado court decisions that have found such bans to be unlawful.
Tonight, the Erie Board of Trustees will convene to consider a one-year ban on local oil and gas permitting. Whatever the outcome, we hope the debate remains factual, civil and focused on constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, if history is any guide, the loudest voices in the room will do everything they can to derail the discussions, promote conflict and score political points against an industry they oppose for ideological – not factual – reasons.
Food & Water Watch and Frack Free Colorado
Food & Water Watch’s Sam Schabacker demanded a total ban on hydraulic fracturing at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Colorado oil and gas task force.
Frack Free Colorado has been circulating a MoveOn.org petition that calls for oil and gas development to be banned in Erie until at least June 2018, urging people to add their names “wherever you live.” The group has also been driving activists to attend recent Board of Trustees meetings so they can “tell Erie officials loud and clear that fracking is a violation of our human rights and if they don’t stop it, we will.” At a Jan. 20 public hearing, so many outside industry opponents showed up to speak that town officials tried to limit participation to those who gave home addresses in Erie.
Frack Free Colorado was co-founded in 2012 by Washington-based Food & Water Watch, Yoko Ono’s Artists Against Fracking, based in New York, and actor Mark Ruffalo’s Water Defense, also based in New York. The agenda of these groups is national, not local, and they are seeking to ban oil and gas development completely, not improve the way it’s done. Frack Free Colorado’s Facebook profile used to be quite clear about advancing the fringe agenda of national “ban fracking” groups inside Colorado:
The group’s Facebook profile has since been edited to remove the “ban fracking” rhetoric. This is part of a bigger strategy among “ban fracking” activists in Colorado to downplay their real agenda – which calls for statewide and national oil and gas bans – and rebrand themselves as “local control” advocates. “Ban fracking” groups have even claimed in media interviews: “This isn’t about banning fracking, it is about giving communities the ability to put some controls on development.”
Of all the groups that co-founded Frack Free Colorado, however, Food & Water Watch is the most prominent. According to the Colorado Statesman, Food & Water Watch has “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities” in Colorado and is one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement” in our state. The group was a key player in 2012 debate over energy development in Erie, which it called “ground zero” in the “national movement” against hydraulic fracturing, an essential technology for developing more than 90 percent of the nation’s oil and gas wells.
The same Food & Water Watch activist who led the failed 2012 campaign in Erie – Sam Schabacker – recently made clear that the group’s fringe political belief – that “fracking is inherently unsafe” and “no amount of regulations can ever make fracking safe” – remains unchanged. While leading a protest outside an oil and gas task force meeting in Greeley, Schabacker reiterated the group’s call for a statewide ban on “this dangerous, industrial process.”
Schabacker has also explained why “ban fracking” activists pursue both temporary and permanent bans in their campaign to eliminate oil and gas development altogether:
“Whether it’s a statewide ban, or a statewide moratorium, those things are pretty complementary, right? One is a permanent stop to drilling; one is a temporary stop to drilling.”
To be clear, the “ban fracking” position is a fringe political belief that has been rejected by environmentalists who work inside the Obama administration and state-level environmental regulators across the country. For example, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says the activists who claim “fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed full-stop” ignore that “fracking has been done safely for decades.” Likewise, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy says “[t]here’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish.”
Even California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who is considered a hero to the environmental movement and who has clashed many times with the oil and gas industry throughout his long political career, has rejected the “ideological bandwagons” of political activists who want to ban hydraulic fracturing. Gov. Brown even said the following about the political groups campaigning to ban this technology: “Some of these fracking people … don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
In mid-December, attorney Eric Huber met with roughly two dozen Erie residents to discuss oil and gas issues. According to one resident’s account, the discussion was “about our legal rights in battling this drilling/fracking operation.” But it’s unclear, however, if residents knew they were meeting with one of the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program’s managing attorneys. Huber is one of the Sierra Club attorneys defending Longmont’s 2012 ban on oil and gas development, which a judge ruled to be unlawful last year.
The Sierra Club, headquartered in San Francisco, has also gone to court to defend a similar ban in Fort Collins and is one of several national groups trying to pressure Gov. John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force into endorsing policies that would severely impact one of the state’s mainstay industries.
For example, the Sierra Club’s Lauren Swain urged the task force to “adopt a compromise” that would halt oil and gas permitting across nine Front Range counties, including Boulder and Weld counties, where Erie is located. Swain told the task force: “That would not be too bad, would it?”
What Swain failed to mention was the Sierra Club’s so-called “compromise” would effectively stop almost two-thirds of the drilling activity in our state, crippling an industry that supports almost $30 billion in economic activity, $1.6 billion in state and local revenue and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Colorado families.
At the same mid-December meeting attended by the Sierra Club’s Eric Huber, attorney Matt Sura also met with residents and members of the Erie Board of Trustees.
Sura’s work came under close scrutiny when he was hired by local officials in Brighton, Colo., to help update the city’s oil and gas regulations. He then advised the city to impose a temporary ban on local oil and gas permitting, similar to the moratorium being considered tonight in Erie. The ban was overturned less than a month later after Brighton residents – many of whom work in the oil and gas industry – learned of Sura’s background in anti-energy activism.
For 12 years – from 1996 to 2008 – Sura worked for the Western Colorado Congress, an activist group that openly brags about working with “ban fracking” filmmaker Josh Fox and has helped Food & Water Watch petition the federal government for a national ban on hydraulic fracturing.
Sura joined WCC as a community organizer and rose to become the group’s executive director. Sura now has a private legal practice and denies being a “fracktivist.” But he has worked directly with the activist groups who organized local “ban fracking” campaigns in Northern Colorado. Sura helped organize an event in Erie titled “Tools for Activism on Oil and Gas Development,” which was co-hosted by Food & Water Watch and several other anti-energy groups in August 2013. And in November 2013, National Journal reported that Sura was working with activists in Greeley who wanted to impose a moratorium on drilling projects inside the city limits.
Be The Change
“Ban fracking” activist Wes Wilson with Be The Change USA tries to get an audience with the Erie Board of Trustees during a Jan. 20 meeting.
At a Jan. 20 meeting, the Erie Board of Trustees brought together residents, oil and gas company representatives, industry officials and other parties involved in negotiating a new local agreement governing oil and gas development.
Another out-of-town activist group, Be The Change USA, was present at the meeting. After town officials said they would prefer to hear from local residents, Be The Change’s Wes Wilson was undeterred and used a break in proceedings to try to lobby the Board of Trustees.
Wilson is the Be The Change operative who infamously compared oil and gas development to slavery during a 2014 Centennial Institute debate, according to the Colorado Statesman. Wilson’s Be The Change USA colleague, Phil Doe, also made headlines in the Denver Post for comparing the leader of a pro-energy campaign in Loveland to “Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.”
Be The Change denies supporting a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, but the facts tell a very different story. Both Wilson and Doe have taken the “Pledge to Resist Hydraulic Fracturing in Colorado,” which among other things, states:
“I believe … hydraulic fracturing is an accident prone, inherently dangerous industrial process … [T]hese risks cannot be properly resolved, nor can they be mitigated through regulation by any government agency or scientific body…
Governor Hickenlooper, former Governor Ritter, state legislators, state agencies, and some state environmental leaders are misguided in their information about the benefits of natural gas and the safety of hydraulic fracturing… [T]hey need to acknowledge the body of evidence and public outcry to the contrary and ban hydraulic fracturing…
If the Governor and the State Legislature continue to permit hydraulic fracturing in any part of Colorado, I pledge to join with others to engage in non-violent acts of protest…”
Once you know what Wilson and other “ban fracking” activists really want, it’s clear they have no interest in playing a constructive role in the negotiations over energy production in Erie, or anywhere else. They do not want a one-year oil and gas ban in Erie to give residents, town officials and the energy industry more time to engage in constructive dialogue, resolve their differences and reach an agreement. They are pushing this moratorium because their highly misleading political campaign depends on such agreements never being reached.