fracking bans and issues

Local officials in Erie, Colo., are pushing back hard against a national environmental group for misrepresenting the outcome of a failed “ban fracking” campaign in their town. The officials say the Massachusetts-based group has “ignored or misstated” the facts, including a number of scientific analyses posted on the town’s website, and they are demanding to know: “Why did you ignore this information?”

The Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass., profiled the Town of Erie in a “toolkit” for anti-energy activists called Science, Democracy and Fracking: A Guide for Community Residents and Policy Makers Facing Decisions over Hydraulic Fracturing. Regular readers of Energy In Depth may recall we have closely tracked events in Erie ourselves (some examples here, here, here, and here).

Among other things, the UCS publication falsely claims that a group of “ban fracking” activists were responsible for negotiating agreements with oil and natural gas companies in 2012 that have been hailed as a “statewide model” and a “thoughtful step forward” in the debate over energy development in Colorado. In reality, the activist group Erie Rising fought those agreements tooth and nail with help from the national “ban fracking” group Food & Water Watch.

Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch even declared Erie “ground zero” of the “national movement” to ban hydraulic fracturing, which is really a ban on domestic oil and gas development, because this technology is essential for developing more than 90 percent of oil and gas wells in Colorado and across the nation. Food & Water Watch opposes negotiated agreements with the energy industry and even tougher regulations. Instead, this group just wants to ban energy development across Colorado and nationwide for ideological reasons.

But in Erie, the “ban fracking” campaign fell flat when Erie town officials investigated the alarmist claims of the activists and found them to be false. Former Erie Mayor Joe Wilson later wrote in a Denver Post column that town officials “sorted fact from fiction, and helped our Board of Trustees drive a hard bargain with oil and gas operators to get the best possible environmental controls” while the activists “mindlessly opposed them.”

Erie Town Administrator A.J. Krieger corrected the record in a scathing July 10 letter to UCS. Krieger and his staff also shared the letter with local officials, environmental advocates, industry representatives, academics and other stakeholders to promote the idea that “factual information serve as the cornerstone of any public discussion of oil and gas activities – including fracking.” Here are some highlights from Krieger’s letter to the UCS Center for Science and Democracy:

“It came as no surprise to us that the Town of Erie was mentioned in your publication. … But what did surprise us is just how much inaccurate information you could squeeze into a mere 128 word article.

We are not sure if you ignored or misstated information readily available to the public. However, what is clear to us is this article does not even meet the most basic criteria including on your “Checklist for Determining Reliable Information” (see page 9 of your publication).

We have taken the time to set the record straight for you and your readers because the Town of Erie values a balanced approach to oil and gas development – one that is protective of human health and the environment while taking into consideration private property rights. …

The Town of Erie has a great story to tell. We are at a loss for why you chose not to dedicate the time to share it accurately with your readers.”

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Photo Credit: Fracking, Activism, and Public Opinion/shutterstock