DENVER—The environmental group Erie Rising recently turned in 21,000 signatures to the governor asking him to end hydraulic fracturing near two local schools – but only about 100 of those signers were actually from Erie.
In fact, the vast majority of the signers live nowhere near the Rocky Mountains. Thousands of the signatures presented to Gov. John Hickenlooper came from California, Massachusetts and New York, with several hundred coming from as far away as Europe and Australia.
The petition, collected online by the Food & Water Watch, a national health and safety organization, comes as the latest example of environmental “spamming” phenomenon, in which advocacy groups flood companies and public officials with online petitions, mass-produced grievances and pre-scripted complaints.
“Environmental groups are very good at manipulating the public process to get what they want,” Americans for Prosperity deputy Colorado director Sean Paige said. “I do think it’s very misleading.”
Critics contend that the petition shows Erie Rising is being directed by a national organization, rather than locally based grassroots advocates.
“There’s no question in my mind that it’s disingenuous to portray yourself as a grassroots organization when you’re really operating at a national level,” Paige said. “Clearly that’s a case of misrepresentation.”
The petition calls for stronger fracking regulations near two St. Vrain Valley schools, Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, where Encana Oil and Gas has been operating.
Erie Risng spokeswoman April Beach insisted that the local group operates independently of any national environmental organizations. She listed several distinctions between the local group and Food &Water Watch, noting that the Washington D.C.-based group opposes all types of hydraulic fracturing activity.
“Erie Rising doesn’t even want to ban fracking,” Beach said, “only fracking that takes place on school grounds.”
While the rigs can be seen from the schools, Encana spokeswoman Wendy Wiedenback confirmed that the oil and natural gas company is in compliance with state regulations governing hydraulic fracturing in residential areas.
“We are well within the state’s required setback,” Wiedenback said. “In fact, we are more than 2,000 feet from Red Hawk Elementary.”
She noted that the setback standard set by the state is 350 feet in high-density residential areas.
The Food & Water Watch is a spin-off of the longstanding advocacy group Public Citizen. Founded by Ralph Nader in 1971, Public Citizen supports increased government regulation to ensure consumer safety, particularly pertaining to energy, business and health-care.