“Don’t Frack Denver” asks city leaders to prohibit exploration and production in the city limits

Denver City Park sunrise
Denver City Park sunrise

From TheDenverChannel.com (Alan Gathright, Jennifer Kovaleski):

A coalition including conservationists and neighborhood activists is asking Denver’s mayor and City Council to block fracking in the city and the river valleys that supply its drinking water.

The “Don’t Frack Denver” alliance on Tuesday called for elected leaders to impose an immediate moratorium on fracking in the city.

Opponents want to prevent “fracking wells being sunk into an area where Denver draws nearly 40 percent of its drinking water supply,” Sam Schabacker, regional director of Food & Water Watch, told an afternoon rally outside Denver’s City and County Building.

He’s talking about the Platte River Basin, a watershed that also “supplies thousands of jobs and an immense about of economic activity for the recreation industry.”

“Out in northeast Denver, residents that live in communities like Montbello and Green Valley Ranch are faced with the risk of having fracking wells put next to their homes or [where] they send their children to school,” Schabacker said. He asserted that contamination from fracking chemicals could place people at “increased risk of things like cancer, birth defects, lower birth rates.

Whether local governments can regulate fracking is the subject of debate. A task force appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper is considering how much control local governments should have.

Hickenlooper, a geologist and the former mayor of Denver, has argued the state should regulate drilling.

In response to the alliance’s call for a fracking moratorium, Mayor Michael B. Hancock’s spokeswoman Amber Miller issued this statement:

“Mayor Hancock hears their concerns loud and clear and will continue to work toward a shared goal of preserving our environment and quality of life here in Denver. The Mayor is keeping a keen eye on this issue, and eagerly anticipates the recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force before any action would be considered on a municipal level. Understanding the Task Force is working on a responsible balance, the Mayor asks for the community and stakeholders to remain patient and allow a thoughtful process to take place.”

Backers of the new campaign include nature photographer John Fielder, local affiliates of Food & Water Watch and the Sierra Club, three microbreweries and others.

At the rally, Fielder expressed concern about potential oil spills and protecting Colorado’s beauty.

“We want to make sure that they hear us, and hear our voices and that is that South Park is the last place we want to see oil and gas exploration in Colorado,” Fielder said of the high plain where the Platte River flows through Platte County. It’s a popular area for trout fishing and other outdoor recreation.

The Bureau of Land Management issued this statement about the South Park drilling site:

“The Bureau of Land Management Royal Gorge Field Office will be conducting a Master Leasing Plan for South Park as part of its upcoming Resource Management Plan revision. The purpose of a Master Leasing Plan is to provide BLM managers a way to strategically plan for oil and gas leasing and development and address potential resource conflicts. The BLM anticipates starting the public planning process this summer, in which public participation plays a vital role. “

From The Denver Post (Jon Murray):

Oil and gas representatives Tuesday assailed a campaign to ban new fracking operations in the state capital, with one pro-industry group equating the effort to “declaring war on Denver’s economy.”

Activists behind “Don’t Frack Denver” countered that they want to ward off the threat of expanded fracking in a city where oil extraction near homes is much less common than in some suburbs.

The push by environmental and community groups, activists and businesses received no immediate commitment from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock or the City Council.

It spurred Vital for Colorado, a pro-industry business advocacy group, to issue a blistering statement that referred to the activists as “anti-science extremists.”

“Groups that peddle fear, instead of facts, are out to hurt Colorado’s economy and out to reduce the tax base that supports our schools, parks and libraries,” said Peter Moore, the group’s board chairman.

But with fracking operations planned or setting up just outside far northeast Denver, the activists say they’re right to worry. Environmental group Food & Water Watch is coordinating the effort, The Denver Post reported in Tuesday’s print editions.

A Hancock spokeswoman said he understood the activist coalition’s concerns, but she said he wouldn’t consider backing any local action until a state oil and gas task force looking at regulatory issues publishes its recommendations. Those are due Feb. 27.

Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents northeast Denver, echoed Hancock’s comments.

A moratorium also could be in murky legal territory, given recent state court rulings that have overturned other cities’ fracking bans. Those are on appeal.

The most noticeable fracking in Denver occurs at Denver International Airport, which has 70 active wells leased out to oil and gas companies.

The activists also asked Hancock and the council to voice opposition to potential fracking leases on federal land in South Park near the headwaters of the South Platte River, a major source of drinking water for the metro area. Those could be years from winning approval, though, since the Bureau of Land Management has hit the pause button while it begins extensive studies that it says will consider environmental safety.

About three dozen activists Tuesday delivered letters to the mayor’s office and to City Councilwoman Susan Shepherd.

The signatories included environmental, community and social justice groups, businesses — including two microbreweries concerned about water quality — and nature photographer John Fielder.

Pro- and anti-fracking forces sparred over science, safety, air quality and water quality.

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break up underground rocks, releasing oil and gas. The industry says it has been safe for six decades and is subject to intense federal and state regulations that keep it from harming the environment.

But Rossina Schroeer-Santiago and other residents of Greenwood Valley Ranch, where Hancock lives, have watched oil companies lease ground nearby in Aurora.

“I want protection from these airborne hazards — not just for myself, but as a mother, for my children and for the other families in the community,” Schroeer-Santiago said. “Don’t frack my community.”

A spokeswoman for Green Valley Ranch’s developer, Oakwood Homes, told The Post this week that it has no plans for mineral exploration in the neighborhood.

From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

Colorado’s fracking wars arrived at Denver city hall Tuesday, with a coalition of 25 groups that included some of the standard bearers of the anti-fracking movement in the state delivering a statement calling for Mayor Michael Hancock and the City Council to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing within the city limits.

“We think it’s just a matter of time before they start fracking in Denver,” Sam Schabacker, the western region director for Food & Water Watch, who’s been working on the fracking issue in Colorado for the last few years, told the Denver Business Journal.

The Don’t Frack Denver coalition includes photographer John Fielder, Food & Water Watch; Greenpeace, Kids Against Fracking, Mercury Café, MM Local, Mo’ Betta Green Marketplace, Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, Rosenberg’s Bagels, Sierra Club – Denver Metro Network, Slow Food Denver; and the WildEarth Guardians.
And if the coalition is looking for a fight, the chairman of Vital for Colorado, a coalition of more than 35,000 Coloradans, businesses, civic leaders and trade organizations that support the oil and gas industry, says the organization is ready.

“We cannot let anti-science extremists destroy Denver’s economy over hype and environmental hysteria,” said Peter Moore, a Denver attorney and Vital’s board chairman, noting that fracking has been done in Colorado for decades and fracking fluid has never been discovered in underground water supplies.
“Groups that peddle fear, instead of facts, are out to hurt Colorado’s economy and out to reduce the tax base that supports our schools, parks and libraries. Extreme environmentalists are declaring war on Denver’s economy and thousands of Coloradans are ready for the fight,” Moore said…

On the one hand, fracking already has occurred in Denver. Denver International Airport owns 76 oil and gas wells, all of which have been fracked, a spokesman said.

The 76 wells have generated between $5 million and $7 million a year in revenue for the airport since 2010, money that’s used to pay for airport operations, according to the airport’s figures.

On the other hand, the group’s concerns Tuesday focused on Green Valley Ranch in northeast Denver, the home of Mayor Michael Hancock.

No drilling has taken place and no drilling is planned on the Denver side of that community, according to Wendy Aiello, a spokeswoman for the Oakwood Homes developer of the community.
ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) owns mineral rights near Green Valley Ranch, but they’re on the Aurora side of the Denver-Aurora border.

“However, we do not have any plans to drill there in 2015,” a company spokeswoman said Tuesday…

Food & Water Watch, based in Washington, D.C., wants the nation to shift to greener, renewable energy sources, Schabacker said.

“We think we need to move away from these forms of extreme energy extraction and need to be moving toward renewable energy,” he said.

“This ‘Don’t Frack Denver’ is asking for a moratorium on fracking in the Denver city limits to protect Denver’s residents, and also asking for Denver to ask the BLM {Bureau of Land Management] to not allow fracking in the water shed,” he said.

The group wants the BLM to halt plans to explore a master plan for leasing and drilling in the South Park area, a project the federal agency launched in response to environmental groups’ criticisms of previous efforts to explore the area for oil and gas.

Schabacker said the coalition worries that if the BLM finishes its plan and leases the South Park area for oil and gas operations, and if oil and gas companies drill for oil, then a spill could happen that contaminates the South Platte River, which supplies water to Denver.

“There will be an accident and spills into Denver’s water supply,” Schabacker said. “The question is what will it cost, and what are the implications for Denver’s residents and businesses who rely on that water.”
Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for an oil and gas advocacy group called Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, said the new Denver anti-fracking group is “looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “has never found a case where fracking has contaminated groundwater, but this shows what happens when extreme, Washington-D.C. groups come into Colorado: they scare the heck out of people by peddling propaganda to further their agenda,” Crummy said.

More oil and gas coverage here.

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