DENVER – Colorado’s economy is recovering quicker from the recession years than most states in part because of oil and gas development, but some people remain wary of the fracturing process.
Fueled by green energy crusaders and big money-fueled liberal groups, community activists have campaigned to place moratoriums on oil and gas development, introduced 16 ballot initiatives to limit fracking in communities, and one to ban it statewide.
The industry was targeted again Thursday during a more than five-hour House committee hearing of House Bill 1297 sponsored by Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins), that proposed spending more than $566,000 in taxpayer money to study the health effects of oil and gas development over three years in Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties.
If enacted, the measure would kick off a so-called “scientific study” by mailing surveys written in English and Spanish to 600 households in each of the four counties. Those would be evaluated by a 13-member coalition appointed by the governor and legislative leadership.
“There are many competing claims about whether or not oil and gas operations have an impact on the health and quality of life in our local communities, especially here on the Front Range,” said Ginal.
“As a scientist, I question certain issues,” said Ginal, a pharmacology consultant and former sales rep for major pharmaceutical firms including Merck Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Ginal said that she reviewed several studies on the effects of oil and gas development in Colorado, but only two were performed in a Front Range community. She dismissed four studies in Garfield County because it’s located west of the Front Range.
“It sounds to me like you want to have it both ways,” said Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-Fountain), who questioned why Ginal distributed her bill with fracking impact reports from Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) said that it is disingenuous to say the studies in Colorado didn’t address health issues. The studies, he said, correlated the facts to assess potential health risks – or the lack of any risks.
McNulty questioned why Colorado taxpayers should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a study that isn’t needed and reminded Ginal that Colorado has one of the most restrictive guidelines and oversight of oil and gas development in the nation.
The only reason for another study of Colorado, he surmised, is to try to find a negative premise that does not exist in the current body of scientific studies.
“You’re assuming that I want this bill to find a health problem, that I’m trying to find some negative outcome,” Ginal responded.
“There are no assumptions. I am a scientist,” declared Ginal.
Among the dozens of people who testified for the bill was Fort Collins City Councilman Ross Cuniff, who said the study would enable the council to better evaluate oil and gas development contracts.
“We are operating in a vacuum,” said Cuniff.
Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, which advocates for more than 3,000 companies and 300,000 employees throughout Colorado, opposed the bill.
“We are opposed to a study that targets a particular industry, especially one that is such a key component in our economy,” said Charles Ward, vice president of public affairs for Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.
“In a presumptive effort to find something wrong,” Ward said, this bill unfairly singles out a specific geographical area where oil and gas development is thriving and creating jobs.
If passed, the bill’s premise is skewed, Ward said, because it will be shaped by the results of a survey that is subjective.
“It will bias the study,” said Ward. “You’re not going to hear from people who have no complaints.”