DENVER—The battle over four anti-fracking measures on the Nov. 5 ballot may be over—well, almost—but the public-opinion war over hydraulic fracturing in Colorado has only just begun.
Two leading oil-and-gas companies have launched Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, a public-information campaign aimed at countering what critics describe as the fractivists’ unscientific, hysteria-based anti-fracking message.
“Colorado has the most progressive rules of any state in the country, and we continue to build on those. Bans like this fail to recognize those,” said Ted Brown, senior vice-president for Noble Energy, which started CRED with Anadarko Petroleum.
“Good regulation spurs innovation,” he added. “Shutting down energy development is not the solution, and the stakes are very high, there’s no doubt about it.”
Indeed, the oil-and-gas industry and anti-fracking camp are now headed on a crash course. Anadarko and Noble plan to sink $10 billion into the Wattenberg field, located in the Denver-Julesberg basin in Weld County, even as anti-fracking groups push for a statewide ban.
CRED began in September, prior to the election, but its television ads were still running during Sunday’s Denver Broncos game. Anti-fracking groups like Frack-Free Colorado don’t stop when the campaign ends, which means the industry can’t afford to stop, either, said CRED spokesman Jon Haubert.
“If you’ve got people banning something that’s not a threat, then to us, that’s an education issue,” said Haubert, who doubles as a spokesman for the Western Energy Alliance. “It’s on us to explain what we do. We’ve been quiet for too long.”
Certainly the anti-fracking camp isn’t taking a breather. Activists are scheduled to hold a rally Friday at the state capitol, then march to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to present a petition calling for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing “until it can be done without adversely impacting human health,” according to a statement by Earth Guardians.
Anti-fracking groups were buoyed by their Nov. 5 election wins, which saw voters in Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins approve five-year fracking moratoriums. A fourth vote in Broomfield is expected to undergo a second recount after the first recount Thursday showed the measure passing by just 17 votes.
Those election results have been described as largely symbolic, given that they took place in liberal university towns with virtually no hydraulic fracturing.
“In a very tight race, Broomfield voters demonstrated that they’re concerned about extreme energy bans,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “In Round 1, we significantly changed the dialogue about Colorado’s energy future. Round 2 starts today. We will continue until we put an end to the misinformation that ban-supporters have been spreading for years.”
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of shooting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to extract oil and natural gas from rock. About 90 percent of all oil and natural gas wells undergo fracking, which typically lasts several days in the life of a 30-year well.
Industry officials point out that hydraulic fracturing isn’t new: It’s been used since 1947, and that 1.2 million U.S. wells have undergone the process. The Environmental Protection Agency has never found a link between fracking and groundwater contamination.
Even so, mention “fracking” and many people picture the scene from the anti-fracking movie Gasland showing a Weld County man lighting on fire tap water from his faucet. What they may not realize is that the scene has been debunked by the COGCC, whose experts say that residents were able to light their water on fire long before fracking entered the picture, given the large amount of biogenic gas in the ground.
Even though they were unable to beat back the anti-fracking initiatives, industry officials say they learned during the campaign that voters want more details about the debate, and that they’re willing to listen to both sides.
“We actually had some of our employees knock on doors, engage in conversation with citizens about the fact that ‘You don’t have to make this false choice,’” said Brown. “We can have clean air, clean water, and responsible energy development here in Colorado. We do that every day.”