Mountain States

New York-Style Fracking Ban Defeated by Colorado Task Force

An activist who was using his position on Colorado’s oil and gas task force to push for a New York-style ban on oil and natural gas development has given up on the fringe proposal for lack of support, according to documents released by state officials overnight.

The proposal’s demise is yet another defeat for national anti-fracking groups in Colorado, such as Food and Water Watch and the Sierra Club, which are desperately trying to reboot their failed campaign for an effective statewide oil and gas development ban. It’s also a reminder of how outside of New York, the “ban fracking” political campaign is failing nationally and at the state level, due to  broad bipartisan support for increased domestic energy production.

Task force member and self-described “activist” Jim Fitzgerald – who has close ties to the anti-energy group Earthworks – proposed the statewide ban on oil and gas permitting in late January. To support the ban, Fitzgerald’s proposal cited a research paper which Energy In Depth had shown weeks earlier to have been written and peer-reviewed by anti-energy activists. The paper – which was used to justify New York’s recent ban on shale gas development – also failed to disclose the anti-energy activism of its authors and reviewers, which violates at least four different codes of conduct for scientific research.

Sierra clubThe Sierra Club celebrated New York’s ban on energy development and called for Colorado to “follow suit.”

But Fitzgerald was ready to use a paper that subverted the peer-review process to bring one of Colorado’s most important industries to a grinding halt, because, he claims, “[s]imilar studies caused Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.” According to Fitzgerald’s January proposal, “[n]o new permits should be issued for fracking or drilling” in Colorado starting March 1, for a period of at least three months.

The stated purpose of the moratorium is conducting “a review of existing studies on fracking in Colorado and nationally.” But Fitzgerald’s proposal specifically cited the New York example, where activists campaigned successfully for extension after extension to a permitting moratorium until it became a permanent ban. The New York example is even more disturbing because Gov. Cuomo’s political decision based on highly questionable research overrode two separate determinations by state environmental regulators – in 2009 and 2011 – that it could proceed safely.

Ever since the New York shale gas ban was announced in December 2014, Colorado anti-fracking activists who claimed to be supporters of “local control” over oil and gas development have revealed themselves once again to be campaigning for a statewide ban. Food & Water Watch even demanded the task force impose such a ban when the task force met in Greeley in mid-January. Fitzgerald’s intitial proposal, made just weeks after the Greeley task force meeting, would have immediately given Food & Water Watch and other “ban fracking” groups their wish.

CuomoLike the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch urges Colorado to “follow suit” after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sided with “ban fracking” groups.

But a revised version of Fitzgerald’s proposal, released by state officials overnight, drops the immediate moratorium:

fitzgerald redline

To be clear, Fitzgerald still engages in reckless fear mongering by continuing to cite the same research paper that violated well-established standards of peer review in order to claim that dangerous levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, occur near oil and gas wells. In so doing, Fitzgerald is completely ignoring the expert testimony given during task force proceeedings, including the following assessment from Dr. Larry Wolk, the state’s chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, about those VOCs:

“They’re certainly lower than what you would see or measure in a normal indoor residential environment.  So I’m going to say that being inside your home, as a rule, you’ll probably have a higher risk of VOC exposure, or VOC affecting your health, than being outdoors in an oil and gas-rich environment.”

Simply put, Fitzgerald’s push for New York-style statewide ban on oil and gas permitting, followed by his quiet and reluctant admission of defeat, shows once again that the “ban fracking” ideology of national activist groups like Food & Water Watch is too extreme for Colorado.

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