Commentary

Pass or Fail for Governor Hickenlooper’s Fracking Task Force?

By Tim Ream, Climate and Energy Campaign Director, WildEarth Guardians

Fracking in Colorado proved deadly last week with the death of one and injuries of two other Halliburton workers at a frack job in Weld County. While a dramatic loss of life like this quickly made national headlines, Colorado residents near fracking sites continue to wonder whether they are being subject to less visible but just as deadly air and water pollution from fracking; pollution that will eventually strike in the form of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease.Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 8.58.04 AM

Concerns like these have led to a spate of local initiatives, including several ballot measures, seeking to rein in fracking. Bolstered by findings that oil and gas development can pose immense risks to public health and safety, including recent findings that fracking operations release seven times more cancer-causing benzene emissions than previously estimated, these initiatives succeeded in putting communities first.

Yet while local communities have asserted their rights to defend their residents, they’ve also faced oil and gas industry lobbying and lawsuits aiming to turn back efforts at local control.

To fully defend local communities’ rights to protect themselves from the oil and gas industry, citizens in 2014 proposed a Colorado Right to Local Self-Government Amendment to the state constitution. Sensing a serious threat to their bottom line, however, the industry and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper negotiated a deal that removed the amendment from the November ballot.

That deal resulted in the creation of a 21-person Oil and Gas Task Force, which was charged with recommending a set of statutory and regulatory changes to reduce the dangers of fracking to local communities. While welcomed by the oil and gas industry and the politicians they support, it has yet to be seen whether the Task Force can truly keep families and communities safe from fracking.Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 8.59.07 AM

WildEarth Guardians decided that if the Task Force were truly to succeed, it needed a clear set of standards to measure progress. To that end, today we released a “Test for Success” for the Task Force. You can read the report here, but in a nutshell, we believe that any set of recommendations by the Task Force must include the four following elements:

• A right to know what chemicals frackers are using near communities and full disclosure from the oil and gas industry and state regulators,

• Safety triggers for pollution violations, which ensure that fracking is shut down when air, water, and other health standards are not being met,

• Three strikes and you are out for the oil and gas industry’s worst repeat bad actors, and

• The ability for local communities to step in when the state fails to enforce its own rules.

Overall, these recommendations are incredibly straightforward and are simply about putting public health and safety first. With reports underscoring the extreme risks of fracking, the recommendations are all the more reasonable.

“Any deal that does not protect our families and communities from fracking is not a compromise, but a failure.”

Check out the report for more details on these key principles, but more importantly provide your own input to the Task Force by emailing it to ogtaskforce@state.co.us. You also have a right to provide live public testimony at Task Force meetings. Their meeting schedule is here.

The bottom line is that if Governor Hickenlooper’s Task Force is to succeed, they need to hear from us. Whether they pass or fail is up to them, but unless we make clear our expectations, we can’t effectively grade their efforts.

For the sake of Colorado, we hope the Task Force lives up to these recommendations. However, if Governor Hickenlooper won’t defend basic principles such as the right to know and the need to empower local communities to enforce laws and regulations, it will clearly signal that citizen’ ballot initiatives need to be aggressively renewed.

Ultimately, this isn’t about whether fracking is good or bad, it’s about whether Colorado is going to be protected. The challenge is upon Governor Hickenlooper’s Task Force and we eagerly look forward to assessing whether or not they rise to the occasion.