Mountain States

Scientists Refute Landslide Claims of Anti-Energy Activists

“Ban fracking” activists promoted this video in an effort to falsely blame oil and gas operations for a fatal mudslide in Western Colorado. The video also claims the news media engaged in a cover up.

Scientists have once again debunked claims from “ban fracking” activists that oil and natural gas activities may have caused the fatal West Salt Creek slide that occurred May 25 outside Collbran in Mesa County.

Quoted in the Denver Post during a recent media tour of the site, geologists voiced their agreement that heavy rains – not hydraulic fracturing or any other stage of the oil and gas development process – triggered the slide:

“It was a rain event,” said Jon White, with the Colorado Geological Survey…

Also in attendance was Colorado Mesa University geology professor Rex Cole, who, according to the Denver Post article, has studied the region’s geology for decades:

“There is a lot of science pointing in the other direction,” he said of claims that fracking caused the earth to move. “You get it wet, and down it comes.”

The U.S. Geological Survey also agreed:

“From my perspective, there is absolutely no evidence fracking was involved in any way,” said U.S. Geological Survey geologist Jeff Coe, who has spent the past 3½ months mapping and studying the slide.

The Grand Junction Free Press also reported on the tour:

“All experts concluded there was no connection between the oil and gas activity in the area and the slide. In particular the geologist point to the obvious fact that the drilling occurred 5,000 to 8,000 feet into the Wasatch formation, while the slide occurred roughly 2,000 feet higher up the side of the Mesa. All historical evidence suggests that landslides have and will occur on the Grand Mesa regardless of human activity.”

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, activist groups seized on the tragedy to support their campaign against the oil and gas industry. They took to social media and blogs to push their view that energy production was somehow responsible, ignoring the warnings of experts who said there was no evidence of such a link.

Leading the charge was Peggy Tibbets, a prominent “ban fracking” activist, who told the Grand Junction Sentinel just four days after the slide took place:

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that there’s drilling activity in that area and there’s a big landslide. … It seems like there have to be relationships; you can’t separate the two.”

Tibbets used her website to promote an online video (embedded above) which claimed the media covered up the true cause of the slide, as did anti-industry political activist Reuben Espinosa: even engaged in speculation that improper well construction likely triggered the slide:

“If the cement casing was improperly built, thousands of gallons of fracking fluid likely leaked into the ground to destabilize the ground deep underneath the surface.”

Of course, jumping to conclusions and exploiting natural disasters are nothing new for Colorado’s “ban fracking” activists. In fact, a year ago, we saw exactly the same thing from anti-industry groups during the historic floods that struck our state, and those claims were debunked by state-level public health officials and even President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. The “ban fracking” activists were wrong then, they are wrong now, and that should matter in the debate over energy and environmental policy in our state.







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