September 10, 2014

Fracking Frustration Over Oil & Gas Task Force

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Anti-fracking activist Kaye Fissinger gestures out to a reservoir near her community of Longmont where oil and gas companies are looking to drill.

Brian Gill

Anti-fracking activist Kaye Fissinger gestures out to a reservoir near her community of Longmont where oil and gas companies are looking to drill.

Seventy-year-old great-grandmother Kaye Fissinger looked out over a reservoir near the edge of Longmont, Colorado, a place where companies have been trying to put in a series of gas wells near the banks.

“There will be fracking all along here, where people play,” Fissinger said.

Fissinger helped lead a successful effort to ban fracking within Longmont city limits a couple of years ago. She was also an ardent supporter of anti-fracking initiatives which looked to be on their way to the November ballot until a last-minute compromise from Gov. John Hickenlooper stopped them in their tracks–in exchange for an oil and gas task force formed to craft solutions on fracking controversies for the state legislature.

“It’ll be a cold day in hell before I vote for Hickenlooper,” Fissinger, a life-long Democrat, said. She added she will instead be voting for Harry Hempy, the Green Party candidate for governor.

Many activists on the environmental left feel betrayed by the Hickenlooper compromise, particularly by Congressman Jared Polis. Polis bankrolled the anti-fracking measures before agreeing to the Governor’s deal.

Political analysts say pressure from the Colorado Democratic establishment was a big factor in Polis backing down on the initiatives. Both Gov. Hickenlooper and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall are facing tough re-election bids this year.

“And for Sen. Udall or the Governor to open themselves up to accusations that they were somehow opposed to energy development and jobs in this state, would have been politically quite dangerous for them,” said University of Denver Political Scientist Peter Hanson.

Polis himself dispels the rumors of political intervention in his decision to support the compromise. He labels the deal a victory; on top of the new task force, the state agreed to drop a lawsuit against Longmont over fracking regulations, to more strictly enforce 1,000-foot setbacks for oil and gas wells from high-occupancy buildings, and the industry agreed to drop two pro-fracking initiatives. Polis said that was better than rolling the dice on ballot initiatives in November.

“This provides some certainty. A few steps forward and a process in place that hopefully will allow us to solve this issue in the future,” he said.

President and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Tisha Schuller, commended Hickenlooper for the compromise announcement.

“By putting the state’s interests ahead of politics, the Governor has a cleared a path for conversation and understanding, rather than fighting through talking points,” she said in a statement.

Gov. Hickenlooper announced the makeup of the task force this week. The 19-person body includes industry representatives, local government leaders and members of local anti-fracking groups.

Co-chair of the task force, La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, initially supported the anti-fracking ballot measures. The compromise left her with mixed emotions, but she sees the task force as an opportunity for industry to show they are not ignoring the issue anymore.

“If the oil and gas industry refuses this time to address the people’s concerns, they will lose their social license to operate. And the people of Colorado will take matters in their own hands,” she said.

Many so-called “fractivists”, like Fissinger, are all-too ready to take up that charge.