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‘Devastating’: Despite Majority Support, ‘Fractivists’ Plan Statewide Fracking Ban; MoveOn Joins Effort

DENVER—Calls for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing in Colorado have escalated following the passage of a handful of local moratoria, even as a majority of Colorado voters continue to support the drilling method.

A Quinnipiac poll from November 19 conducted just two weeks after voters in Boulder, Lafayette, and Fort Collins—and possibly Broomfield—voted for moratoria in their municipalities, 51 percent of Coloradans surveyed support the use of fracking as an extraction method, versus 34 percent who were opposed.

A combined 56 percent of all surveyed viewed fracking as “very” or “somewhat” safe, including Republicans and independents.

The impact of a total ban on fracking would be tremendous, as a report from the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder concluded in July 2013.

More than 111,000 jobs were created, generating $3.8 billion in wages, or 2.8% of Colorado earnings. The average direct jobs—over 51,000 in all—received $101,171 in wages in 2012, more than double Colorado’s average wage ($50,339), the report said.

In addition to the impact on Colorado’s economy, the report’s authors also demonstrated the enormous contribution of the oil and gas industry to state and local government. Nearly $1.6 billion in severance, property, ad valorem, royalty, income, and sales taxes were paid to the state in 2012, including $600 million in property taxes alone.

According to CBS4Denver’s Shaun Boyd, approximately $500 million of those taxes go to Colorado schools. Those funds would be in jeopardy if voters or the state legislature enacted a statewide fracking ban.

Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, told the National Journal Daily the consequences of such a ban would be dire.

“A statewide ban would be devastating for the state’s economy. If we were to lose the oil and gas jobs that we have, it would be just catastrophic for our economy…. The idea of a statewide ban on fracking—that is such a draconian response, because there are a lot of areas, the vast majority of areas, where oil and gas development is taking place across the state that people are pretty happy with it,” King told NJD.

The goal of a statewide ban was thrust out of the shadows by Tuesday’s unveiling of a new ad from Americans Against Fracking, featuring what the Denver Post called “B and C-list celebrities” demanding Gov. John Hickenlooper act to ban fracking.

Among the groups backing the video are the Environment Media Association, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Frack Free Colorado, Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, and New Yorkers Against Fracking.

The national effort follows on the heels of Frack Free Colorado’s site-scrubbing of ties to another national organization, Water Defense.

But plans for a fracking ban were hushed during and shortly after the conclusion of the campaign for the local moratoria, as indicated by statements made by Food and Water Watch’s Sam Schabacker following the November 5 election.

In an interview with KUNC, Schabacker said the election results left “all options” on the table in Colorado. But his celebratory press release on November 6 did not mention plans for a statewide ban, even as the national website of FWW calls for a ban in Colorado, and even a national ban.

The group’s calls for banning go beyond other calls by environmental groups for regulations on fracking, “to make it safer, more transparent and cleaner.”

Proposed emission regulations, such as the one made earlier this week, are not enough for Schabacker, in an interview New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.

Nocera asked Schabacker about the rules Hickenlooper announced on Monday. Schabacker rejected the decision made by groups like the Environmental Defense Fund to push for regulation rather than a complete ban. Schabacker told Nocera that EDF efforts were a “smoke screen” giving the oil and gas industry “a veneer of respectability.”

“We believe that fracking is inherently unsafe and should be banned,” Schabacker said.

But Schabacker admitted that the tactic of underplaying the desire for a statewide ban in favor of short-term efforts like the municipal moratoria gives groups like FWW the opportunity to push against fracking—and chew into the support indicated by the Quinnipiac poll.

As the National Journal reported, “Schabacker’s group is willing to accept temporary moratoriums so communities can spend time learning about the potential impacts—and so national organizers can drive more opposition to fossil-fuel development outright.”

Not just a ban on fracking, but the end of the entire oil and gas industry.

“Shane Davis, a self-described ‘fractivist’ whose full-time job is to mobilize people against fracking—and oil and gas drilling writ large—focuses mainly on the public-health and environmental concerns. Ultimately, though, he is fighting to end fossil-fuel production altogether,” according to the National Journal.

“Fractivism around hydraulic fracturing is so critical, and it’s moving at a really fast pace,” Davis told NJ. He pointed to climate change, declaring it a “climate crisis.”

National organizations such as MoveOn have recently announced support for “fractivists” with their #FrackingFighters campaign. Applicants are eligible for $500 in grants, materials, and training to oppose fracking. MoveOn’s efforts target individual activists and small groups with an annual budget of no more than $50,000. It was unclear how many grants would be issued.

“#FrackingFighters is a project of MoveOn.org Civic Action to support and develop the leadership and capacity of grassroots individuals and organizations to win victories that protect our communities, our water, our air, and our climate from the destruction caused by hydraulic fracturing—also known as fracking—and the entire fracking lifecycle,” MoveOn wrote.