DENVER—Patagonia, a California-based outdoor clothing company whose products are made in part from petroleum, is throwing its support behind the drive for a statewide Colorado fracking ban in 2014.
“We will continue to support grassroots movements that are pushing local, state and federal governments to ban or strictly regulate fracking in communities across the country,” said Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan in a letter released Wednesday. “That starts with a statewide ban in Colorado in 2014.”
The letter comes as the latest sign that Colorado’s anti-fracking movement, often described as a local and grassroots effort, is receiving help from wealthy environmentalists as it pushes for a statewide moratorium or ban on the November ballot.
Sheahan was responding to a November letter from five Republican state lawmakers who had asked him to consider “the damage your recent and ill-thought out anti-fracking campaign is doing to the people and economy of both our region and our state.”
The legislators—Randy Baumgardner, Steve King, Ray Scott, Bob Rankin and Jared Wright—were referring in part to an anti-fracking essay written by Sheahan and included in Patagonia’s summer catalog.
Scott said Patagonia’s plan to jump into Colorado’s political arena shows that the state has once again become a springboard for national interests. He cited the involvement of national groups in pushing gun-control legislation passed by the state legislature in March.
“That’s the hidden truth about these efforts. It’s very easy to say these are local, but look what happened with the gun bills and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg. That was local?” said Scott. “It’s just kind of interesting how these people can sit back and judge what happens in Colorado.”
Although his company is based in Ventura, Calif., Sheahan described himself as a “long-time resident of Carbondale, Colorado,” whose county is “home to nearly 10,000 gas wells.”
“Here’s what disturbs us about fracking: 632 chemicals are contained in fracking fluids, many of which are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife; several are known to cause cancer,” said Sheahan.
He added that “high levels of flammable methane gas have been detected in household drinking water in areas neighboring gas drilling sites,” an apparent reference to the scene in the anti-fracking movie Gasland that shows a Weld County homeowner lighting his kitchen faucet on fire.
That scene has been repeatedly debunked by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and others who say that the area has long contained high amounts of gas in the ground, and that locals were able to light their water on fire long before hydraulic fracturing entered the picture.
Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency have yet to detect contamination from fracking in groundwater, a point driven home a few years ago by Gov. John Hickenlooper when he famously drank a glass of fracking fluid.
“He [Sheahan] is just wildly making bizarre claims,” said Scott. “I’d like to see him turn off the heat at his house in Carbondale for a few days and see how that goes.”
The drive for a statewide ban follows the success of anti-fracking groups in passing moratoriums last month in three cities: Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette. A recount in a fourth city, Broomfield, is being challenged.
None of those communities has much if any oil-and-gas development taking place, but the votes have emboldened anti-fracking activists nationwide.
“The eyes of the country are watching how Colorado manages this challenge, and I believe we will rise to the occasion and set best practices that can be replicated nationwide,” said Sheahan.
Patagonia is known for its high-end outdoor clothing for skiers, snowboarders and other outdoors enthusiasts. The Patagonia catalog includes items made from petroleum-based materials like acrylic, nylon and polyester.
In the letter, the Republicans said that “a frac-free western Colorado would mean a largely Patagonia-free western Colorado,” noting that the “quality products you provide are, after all, luxury items for most people.”
“Without economic development, people simply cannot afford the recreational activities that are the lifeblood of your company,” they said.
Industry officials say that about 95 percent of wells use hydraulic fracturing, a process that lasts three to four days in the life of a 30-year well.