Drilling Foes Regroup After Bitter Legislative Session

Photo: Moms and kids deliver postcards to Boulder County Commissioners asking for an extension of a moratorium on drilling. [CPR/BMarkus]

Opponents of fracking are licking their wounds after a bruising legislative session. One by one, attempts to reign in the oil and gas industry were either watered down or died on the Senate floor. Wednesday on Morning Edition and Colorado Matters, we got details about some of those bills. Now CPR's Ben Markus looks at where the environmental community goes from here.

Here is a transcript of Ben's report:

Reporter Ben Markus: In Boulder this week, a group of mothers, grandmothers and restless children gathered in front of the County Commissioners' building. A woman held a sign that read “Moms say No to Fracking.” Neshama Abraham from Frack Free Boulder asked the county commissioners, who were actually watching in the crowd, to come up and receive a box filled with postcards.

Neshama Abraham: Let's give you these cards, here you go...thank you.

Reporter: The cards, signed by county residents, implore the commissioners to extend an existing moratorium on fracking for another two years. A grandmother of two, Merrily Mazza from Lafayette, stands up and says commissioners must act because her local legislators, Senator Matt Jones and Representative Mike Foote, couldn’t.

Merrily Mazza: Matt Jones and Mike Foote tried some minor issues. Nothing happened. We know nothing is going to happen at the state level, so we have to challenge these corporate rights locally.

Reporter: Mazza is from Lafayette, where she hopes voters will have a chance to ban fracking in November, joining other nearby communities in Longmont and Fort Collins that have instituted bans of their own. The state is suing Longmont. Gov. Hickenlooper says its rules overstep local authority. Mazza’s House Representative Mike Foote understands the frustration.

Mike Foote: And so I think what we’re seeing is we’re seeing citizens' groups like the ones that you mentioned go to county commissioners, go to city councils in order to try to get some satisfaction that their voices are being heard, because they don’t feel that way with the current structure in place at the statewide level.

Reporter: Foote attempted to remake the state oil and gas regulator to focus more on protecting human health and environment, and he tried to increase fines on violators for the first time in half a century. Neither bill passed, but the freshman lawmaker’s not done.

Foote: I do think there will be some kind of legislation next year, but it’s way too early to tell what form it’s going to take.

Reporter: He says his and other bills ran into powerful lobbyists at the state capitol - guys like Stan Dempsey.

Stan Dempsey: We think the debate, and the conversation, would be better informed if those legislators really had taken the time to sit down with industry.

Reporter: He’s with the Colorado Petroleum Association. He says lawmakers didn’t consult the industry on the failed oil and gas bills. He points to the success of one bill that did become law, requiring reporting of minor spills to state regulators. Dempsey says they were consulted all along the process. He expects lawmakers from these hotbeds of the anti-fracking movement to keep introducing bills, but he hopes there’s a more open dialogue.

Dempsey: It would be helpful to have legislators and other citizens go out and see various operations and learn the facts - what’s real what’s not real. I think that would be helpful to the conversation next January.

Reporter: But simply visiting an oil well is unlikely to change the mind of constituents deeply concerned about the unknown health impacts of drilling. Pete Maysmith with the environmental group Conservation Colorado says lawmakers will eventually have to impose limits that drilling companies don’t like.

Pete Maysmith: The drilling isn’t going to stop any time soon, we know that, and the need for strong protections around our environment - that isn’t going to go away either.

Reporter: So, expect continued action at the local level and another battle in January when the next legislative session starts.

[Photo: CPR/BMarkus]