The national anti-fracking movement came to Denver over the weekend, for four days of education, training and activism against fracking, what some say has grown beyond a climate change problem to a climate crisis.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it is referred to, is a process for extracting oil and natural gas (methane) from deep underground rock formations. The process involves drilling a well down to 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and then injecting a mix of sand, water and chemicals into the well to fracture the shale rock and release the gas or oil. Colorado has about 55,000 fracking wells; about 25,000 of those wells are in Weld County. Fracking wells are also found in the Wattenberg basin north of Denver.
Community activists in the last several years have persuaded voters to ban fracking in a half-dozen Colorado cities and counties, all along the Front Range. Environmentalists argue fracking causes noise, pollution and health problems for those who live near the wells.
This is a “historic summit,” said Shane Davis of Stop The Frack Attack, in a keynote address Saturday to more than 200 people from 30 states who came for the convention. “This is the time to shape the global energy industry’s empire.”
The summit was convened by Stop The Frack Attack and brought in representatives from Colorado and national anti-fracking groups, such as Food and Water Watch, 350 Colorado, Coloradans Against Fracking and Earthworks.
“Climate change was yesterday. We’re in a climate crisis!” Davis said. Moral outrage is not enough, he added. “We have a right to democracy, including energy democracy,” and solidarity is the movement’s best weapon.
One of the convention’s most sought-after sessions was with Professor Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University, a former oil and gas industry insider. Ingraffea was the “talking head” in the movie Gasland, an Oscar-nominated 2010 documentary that galvanized many to take action against fracking.
Ingraffea discussed methane leaking from fracking wells in his session. He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency, in its rules, assumes there are no leaks during fracking drilling. Ingraffea’s research in natural gas leakage in 2011 reported that wells can leak methane into the atmosphere. This finding, based on predictive models, made his life miserable for a while, he said, as people working in the natural gas industry ridiculed him.
Ingraffea pointed out that the Obama administration has been slow to take methane leakage seriously. When he published his paper in 2011, the administration didn’t pay attention, Ingraffea said. But by 2014, other researchers had confirmed his results, and the administration admitted methane was a problem. Last month, the EPA finalized new rules and regulations on methane and other volatile organic compounds – those rules have been in development since 2012.
The industry can’t or won’t reduce methane leakage at its drill sites because it would cost too much and would take decades to accomplish, Ingraffea said.
He told The Colorado Independent that there are likely more than a million abandoned or lost fracking wells nationwide. In Pennsylvania alone, he said, there are at least 80,000 and the number could be as high as half a million.
The Independent Petroleum Association of America gives a much lower estimate of abandoned wells at about 325,000 nationwide.
Ingraffea said he realized the problems of fracking in 2008, when he began looking at the technology, engineering and lack of science in extracting oil and gas from shale. He called fracking “a very extreme form of energy extraction.”
The conference also provided activists with sessions on creative fundraising, working with the media, the science behind fracking, success stories as well as failures, and tactics to get the public’s attention.
Craig Stevens, a Pennsylvania activist, demonstrated his ability to get people talking by using symbols, such as the Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread on Me”) that has been adopted by the Tea Party movement.
Another session included a discussion about the Colorado Community Rights amendment adopted by the city of Lafayette in 2013. This amendment to the city’s charter says citizens have a right to clean water, air and soil, and a sustainable energy future; and that corporations that attempt to extract oil and gas in violation of the amendment do not have rights as “persons” as provided by the state and U.S. constitution.
The anti-fracking amendment is currently in litigation between the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Lafayette.
“We won’t save the planet casualty-free,” said Cliff Willmeng of the Colorado Community Rights Network, the amendment’s sponsor.
Willmeng, who is now running for Lafayette City Council, said the cost of fracking outweighs the cost of lawsuits.
He pointed to a Boulder County study on heavy truck traffic from fracking that estimated damages to county roads at $130 million. That’s without estimating the cost to quality of life or health, Willmeng said.
To date, the lawsuit between the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Lafayette has cost the city about $70,000 in legal fees, according to Willmeng.
On Monday, activists took to the streets of downtown Denver for protests. Targets included the EPA’s region 8 office in Denver, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the Governor’s mansion, and the offices of Halliburton and the Saddle Butte Pipeline company.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, in particular, is under fire from the anti-fracking movement. Coloradans Against Fracking issued a declaration last month to reject the legitimacy of the commission, claiming the board has failed to protect the public health, safety and welfare of citizens and the environment.
The anti-fracking summit did not go unnoticed by the energy industry. During his keynote address, Davis pointed out that industry people were in the audience.
That included Randy Hildreth, Colorado director of Energy In Depth, a pro oil-and-gas industry group founded by the American Petroleum Institute and other industry organizations.
Hildreth told The Colorado Independent that “with the campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing in Colorado struggling to gain momentum, it is no surprise that national activist organizations like Earthworks and Food & Water Watch are holding their summit in Denver in an attempt to regain a foothold.”
Among its projects, Energy In Depth counters the information presented in Gasland.
Hildreth also pointed out that “leading” Colorado Republicans and Democrats support shale development, along with scientists, regulators and senior members of the Obama administration.
“The misinformation being peddled about oil and gas development by these activists at the Stop the Frack Attack Summit represents an extreme political ideology that is finding itself farther and farther on the fringe by the day,” Hildreth said.