A couple of day ago a few of us went to Loveland, CO., a small city of roughly 70,000, 60 miles north of Denver. We went to listen to B.J. Nikkel, the director of Coloradoans for Responsible Energy Development, CRED. A pro-fracking front, CRED is a registered nonprofit. The Houyhnhnms in Gulliver’s Travels, having no word for a lie, would call CRED “the thing which is not.”
Founded less than a year ago, CRED is funded by Noble Energy and Anadarko so that they can continue to have their way with the people of Colorado. With a growing war chest of over $5 million, the Colorado Independent reports they have already “reserved 323 TV ad spots at a cost of more than $299,000 for the nine weeks leading up to the November election – and that’s at just one Denver station.”
Following the Koch brothers strategy of many front organizations built on similar, repetitive models, Nikkel has already morphed into the leader of yet another pro-fracking front group, called Loveland Energy Action Project. It was this newly formed group we went to hear.
They were having a rally against the Loveland grassroots initiative calling for a 2 year time-out on fracking within the city limits until more is known about the long and short term health consequences of fracking in close proximity to homes and schools. This initiative will be voted on this month in a special election. Five cities in the state have already used the initiative process to keep the frackers out of their backyards and playgrounds. The Governor, a former oil and gas geologist, has joined the industry in suing his own people for defending home and hearth against the industry.
The Loveland city council wouldn’t allow the issue on the regular city ballot earlier in the year because a local man, openly in the pay of the oil industry, objected and filed suit. In one of those glorious only-in-America twists, the council went with the one against the many and wouldn’t allow the measure on the ballot. The court ruled for democracy and the initiative is now to be voted on in a special election, the costs of which could have been avoided had the council listened to its own people.
Yesterday, despite trying to lure locals with promises of free pizza and pop, we counted only about 90 people, 15 of them on the speaker’s platform. The speakers were grandly separated from the sparse audience by a gangplank leading to a lily-pad-like platform on a small, man-made lake outside city hall. The speakers were the usual suspects, the growth-at-any-cost crowd—a couple of bankers, a hotel and hospitality industry flak, the local head of the chamber of commerce, a developer with mineral rights to lease, and two members of the city council, one the mayor pro tem. The speechifying was so leaden that I feared the lily pad might sink. But the only real action was a balky sound system that kept blowing a fuse. This provided the opportunity for one speaker to warn of what might happen if we didn’t have natural gas to keep the electricity flowing to events such as this. A person next to me murmured, “If only!”
Nikkel’s charges against the citizen’s of Loveland were her usual canned aerosal of lies. A former state legislator, she bestows upon herself major credit for the legislation that gave the oil and gas industry rights that negate those of local citizens–you know students, teachers, garbage collectors, firemen, sales clerks, cabbies, cops, mothers, fathers, housewives, etc. It is in fact this suffocating brand of overreach by the legislature in service of the oil industry that is the source of the present discontent.
If Loveland didn’t allow the industry to frack away inside city limits, Colorado’s energy economy would surely suffer, she intoned.
This may be one of the greatest whoppers ever told. Incorporated Loveland measures about 25 square miles. By comparison, Colorado, a big state, measures about 104,000 square miles. It is inconceivable that by putting a tiny, tiny fraction of the state (2 hundredths of one percent) off limits to fracking the state’s economy would tail spin.
In fact, even if every city in the state, including Denver and its suburbs, were off limits to the industry, the industry could still have its way with over 98 percent of the state. Add to this that the state is underlain by oil and gas producing shale except where the Rockies have pushed through, and you get some sense of the enormity of the lie. This is not to say that all shale deposits are equal, but they all contain some organic materials from which oil and gas are created.
Nikkel also told the crowd, as she always does, that fracking is safe, that there are no “proven” cases of damage from fracking. Nikkel surely must live in a hermetically sealed universe where nothing gets in, not light nor sound, for just last month a family in Texas was awarded $3 million for damages to their health and wellbeing from air pollution from nearby fracking operations. Closer to home a recent report by the Colorado School of Public Health found residents within a half-mile of a fracking site were at greater risk for cancer than the general population, and that birth defects were also higher within ten miles of fracking operations.
State government has not been helpful in adding to our understanding of the potential public health consequences of fracking. For two years running it has been instrumental in defeating legislation introduced by state legislator Joann Ginal that would increase our knowledge about the health history of citizens living near oil and gas operations. Two years ago her legislation was openly opposed by the Governor. This year he was simply neutral, allowing the industry to peal off the votes required for passage once again.
Another Front Range study by NOAA found that 55 percent of volatile organic compounds in our air originate from fracking, more than from all other sources, including cars. These VOC’s are instrumental in the formation of ozone, which, in turn, can increase the incidence of asthma in the population. Several years ago the CDC estimated the health costs to the nation from asthma to be $56 billion annually.
Add to this that the World Health Organization in March reported that an estimated seven million people die prematurely from air pollution each year, making air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk.
And industry analysts, only days ago, added to this witches brew with the prediction that oil production in northeast Colorado could double by 2019. This is industrialization on a mind-boggling scale, with air, water, and land use degradation impacts that are unfathomable.
Finally, among the many whoppers dutifully trotted out like a trained talking dog, Nikkel reminded the audience that fracking is perfectly safe because it has been around since the 1940’s. Well yes and no BJ. Fracking has been around since the 40s, but horizontal fracking, the kind that is now being employed in Colorado, is of new coinage, and is on a scale many times greater in industrial intensity and potential destructiveness.
The first of these kinds of wells was drilled in Texas in 2003, or thereabouts. The process is only about five years old in Colorado, but is gaining ground rapidly as the new rigs required for the process become available. Over half of the new wells drilled last year are horizontals. Eventually almost all those where oil, not natural gas is the prize, will be horizontals.
Probably the shortest reply to this big lie is the statement from Scott Denning, the Monfort chair of Atmospheric Sciences at Colorado State University. He, a former field geologist and fracker, said in an open forum that fracking is a heavy industrial activity that should not be allowed in any city. I don’t believe Nikkel has heard the man, or wants to.
For some reason after Nikkel and her folk got done speaking, I kept thinking of Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and how big lies gain acceptance. He is supposed to have said that if you repeat something often enough you can convince some people that a “square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
PHILLIP DOE lives in Colorado. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org