Gary Wockner

Boulder County succumbs to bullying

Vote endangers public's health and property and puts Democracy at risk.

GARY WOCKNER is the  Colorado Program Director for Clean Water Action, Fort Collins

The environmental community — and our organization, Clean Water Action — was extremely disappointed to see the Boulder County commissioners cave in to the oil and gas industry. The commissioners could have extended the moratorium on drilling and fracking and spared the toxic pollution and trespass that this rogue industry will now splatter across Boulder County.

Fracking causes air and water pollution, has been shown to increase cancer risks, and reeks havoc on nearby homes and families. In addition, methane escaping from fracking operations and the burning of natural gas is a significant contributor to climate change.

Shame on the commissioners for not protecting their citizens. Their vote endangers the public’s health and property and further puts our Democracy at risk.

DSC_0395_EliseJonesHickenlooper 2That said, we were happy to see Commissioner Elise Jones try to persuade the other two commissioners to extend the moratorium. Commissioner Jones’ grit and leadership was apparent and appreciated a few weeks ago when she took on (and beat!) Gov. John Hickenlooper in the fracking debate at the University of Denver. And again, Commissioner Jones stood up for the publi when she supported the extension of the moratorium.

Gov. Hickenlooper is a bully, and the oil and gas industry is an even bigger bully with billions of dollars. Commissioner Jones: Please keep standing up to these bullies, and please keep speaking out against the frack attack coming into Boulder County.

Fort Collins: Keep Fracking Moratorium

Fort Collins fracking ban was undermined 

For Immediate Release
April 15, 2013

Fort Collins, CO – Today, three citizens groups – Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, and Frack Free Fort Collins – asked the City of Fort Collins to keep its drilling and fracking moratorium in place to protect citizens from cancer-causing fracking chemicals. The moratorium was set to expire on July 31, 2013; the vote to terminate the moratorium is set for Tuesday night, April 16th.

On Tuesday, March 5, 2013, the Fort Collins City Council passed a ban on fracking that grandfathered in the current driller, Prospect Energy LLC, allowing that driller to drill and frack on its eight currently occupied well sites in northern Fort Collins. However, three weeks later on March 19, on a flipped and contested vote, the Council passed an “Agreement” with that driller that included opening up 1,280 acres (2 square miles) of new land inside the City of Fort Collins for drilling and fracking surrounding the Budweiser brewery. The “Agreement” with the driller effectively undermines the ban and was moved forward to the Council with no public meetings or Council work session beforehand.

As a result, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, and Frack Free Fort Collins are requesting that the moratorium stay in place and that a new Agreement with the driller be negotiated.

Although the Council originally voted 5-2 for the ban on fracking, the vote flip-flopped three weeks later when Mayor Weitkunat and Councilmember Horak joined in an anti-environmental majority and voted to open up 2 square miles for new drilling and fracking. Ironically, in the weeks leading up to the ban, Horak publicly positioned himself in the media as an anti-fracking supporter garnering a large front-page story in the Fort Collins Coloradoan and other stories in the regional media. Horak even publicly stated that he proposed the ban and helped write the language for the ordinance. Horak was quoted in the Fort Collins Coloradoan as saying:

“This will ban fracking in 99.9 percent of Fort Collins and avoid a very costly lawsuit with the current operator,” Horak said.

But three weeks later, Horak flip-flopped and voted to open up 2 square miles of land in Fort Collins for fracking. Horak’s role in the fracking ban was clouded in controversy from the beginning. A month before the vote, Horak attended a “closed-door meeting” with the Matt Lepore, State Director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. About the closed-door meeting, Lepore was quoted in the Fort Collins Coloradoan as saying:

“We didn’t want to have an open meeting,” Lepore said. “We wanted to reach out to those (on council) who we understood were maybe a little bit more undecided on their positions.”

“The moratorium needs to stay in place,” said Shane Davis of the Sierra Club. “The citizens in northern Fort Collins, especially those living around the Budweiser brewery now and in the future, are at risk of contamination from cancer-causing fracking chemicals.”

“Horak voted to open up 2 square miles of Fort Collins for fracking,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action, a national group that advocates against fracking in cities across the Front Range of Colorado. “When the public and media were watching, Horak positioned himself against fracking, but three weeks later in a quieter vote, he flip-flopped.”

“Horak deceived the public,” said Rico Moore of Frack Free Fort Collins. “His flip-flop votes do not represent the values of Fort Collins or of his very liberal and environmentally minded district.”

A map of the “Undeveloped Acreage” – 2 square miles surrounding Budweiser brewery that is now open for drilling and fracking – is here: http://water.clean.home.comcast.net/~water.clean/FoCo-frack-field-UDA.jpg.


Gary Wockner, PhD
Colorado Program Director
Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CleanWaterActionColorado
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/CleanWaterCO1
Web: http://cleanwater.org/co
303-405-6755 (office)
970-218-8310 (cell)

Fort Collins Bans Fracking as Democracy Comes Alive in Colorado

We the PeopleAlmost exactly nine months ago on May 22, 2012, I wrote an editorial in the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper, Fort Collins Should Ban Fracking. And yesterday, on Feb. 19, a sharply divided Fort Collins City Council voted 5-2 to ban fracking in the City of Fort Collins.

Nine months ago the conversation around fracking was relatively new in Colorado and few people and environmental groups were directly addressing it. Now, nine months later, very much has changed—fracking is in the news constantly, many environmental groups are engaged in the fight to stop fracking and the issue is escalating wildly throughout the public across the state.

What has changed in a mere nine months?

First, the threat of fracking has increased dramatically across the residential areas of the Front Range of Colorado. The Niobrara Shale geological formation underlies much of the landscape from Fort Collins all the way around suburban Denver and 150 miles south to Colorado Springs. The advent of horizontal drilling and horizontal hydraulic fracturing technology has allowed hundreds of thousands of acres of land to be leased and eventually fracked. Much of this land is squeezing up against suburban homes, neighborhoods and even schools, and those residents are speaking out in an increasingly feverish pitch. In fact, one of the biggest segments of the population speaking out as “fracktivists” is suburban mothers. And as we see in many types of politics in a purple state like Colorado, when suburban moms take up an issue, elected officials really start to pay attention.

Second, a few activists—in part let by retired U.S. Environment Protection Agency “whistleblower” and Gasland movie star Wes Wilson—started touring the state giving dozens and dozens of presentations to local government officials, local homeowners groups and local activists about the threat of fracking. These activists spent hundreds of hours (and miles) pressing the case that fracking is a serious concern, and left unregulated, fracking could turn many suburban communities into mirrors of Weld County, Colorado (in the northern part of the state) which has more active oil and gas wells (more than 18,000) than any county in the U.S. With those wells has come health problems, air quality problems, water pollution problems, water supply problems, social problems, real estate problems and financial problems. No surprise, but this exploitative extractive industry tends to take the oil and gas—as well as all of the money—and leaves local governments and people with pollution and financial trouble in its wake.

logo_our_longmontThird, a small band of fracktivists in Longmont, Colorado, in part led by a very small contingent of activists from the environmental group Food & Water Watch, made national news when they led a successful ballot initiative to ban fracking in the November 2012 election. This ban occurred with almost no financial backing (less than $20,000), with almost no support from other environmental groups, and through the sheer grit and moxy of its leaders. Further, the Big Oil and Gas Industry spent more than a half million dollars trying to defeat this ballot initiative in a town that cast only 42,773 votes—that’s more than $10/vote. And when the vote was final, the result sent shock waves around the state. Longmont is not a raging environmental hotbed—if a ban could pass in Longmont while being outspent 25 to 1, it could likely pass in nearly any city in the state.

Follow the money will billsFinally, Colorado’s Governor, John Hickenlooper (a former oilman), has become a lightning rod who has rapidly escalated the tension around fracking and infuriated local residents and environmental activists. His anti-environmental, pro-fracking actions—too numerous to count and catalogued elsewhere—include starring in a radio ad for the natural gas industry and recently boasting to a U.S. Senate committee that he drank fracking fluid because it is safe and risk free. Every time he speaks about the issue, he just makes it worse both for him and for the issue—his disrespectful and demeaning attitude towards environmentalists seems to be closely matched by his reckless deception of the public. It’s gotten to the point where the best way to fight fracking in Colorado is to just give the Governor the microphone and wait for him to say something inappropriate and further infuriating.

Nine months ago there was little support for banning fracking in Colorado, and there were hardly any organized groups willing to take it on. Nine months later, the situation has completely changed. Cities like Fort Collins are making clear that it makes no sense to put a ban to a vote when it is almost assured to pass, and so therefore a smart and progressive council has the obligation to pass a ban with a simple ordinance. Further, more than a dozen small ad-hoc “fracktivist” groups have sprouted up around the state pushing their local governments hard and publicly. The group that led much of the fight in Fort Collins is Frack Free Fort Collins, while some of the names of other groups around the state have been more creative like Erie Rising (in Erie, Colorado) and The Rio Grande Watchdogs (in the Rio Grande valley).

With fracking, threat has bred opportunity, and democracy has come alive in Colorado. While it’s profoundly unfortunate that thousands of homeowners are now threatened with the impacts of fracking, it’s also deeply important and powerful that these same homeowners and suburban moms and dads learn how to be active and informed citizens in our democracy. Not only the promise of democracy—but the responsibility of democracy—is becoming real to thousands of people who just a year earlier were likely focused on normal suburban activities.

The Big Oil and Gas Industry doesn’t care and will say and do absolutely anything to anyone in order to increase their short-term profits. But the citizens of Colorado—at least in Longmont and Fort Collins, so far—do care and are learning that they don’t deserve what they’re getting, so they’re fighting for what they want.

Stay tuned and keep watching: Democracy in Colorado is coming alive. And it’s beautiful.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

Gary Wockner, PhD, represents Clean Water Action and Waterkeeper Alliance in Colorado. He lives in Fort Collins—Gary@GaryWockner.com.

Reprinted from EcoWatch with permission from the author.