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Home / Articles / Views / Perspectives /  A fracking credibility gap
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Thursday, November 29,2012

A fracking credibility gap

By Cliff Willmeng

On Nov. 6, the city charter of Longmont banned fracking from its city limits.

In doing so, Longmont overcame the influence of corporations powerful enough to have the full public blessing of presidential candidates, our governor and most local politicians to one degree or another. The oil and gas industry was able to find $500,000 in its back pocket to throw at the problem of a citizenry disillusioned and moved to action. Some of the names on that list of industrial contributors against Ballot Question 300 ranged from the corrupt to the outright murderous. All of them wished to confuse and exploit the community for nothing more than profit and dividends. They tried through threat and deception to do just this.

Longmont never blinked, and today fracking is banned in the town. As a result, the movement against hydraulic fracturing and for the safety of our families and communities has entered a new and higher phase. Beyond the intimidation of industry and state politicians, there were also other highly relevant hurdles that the people of Longmont pushed out of their way. One of these is the illusion and concessionary idea that hydraulic fractur ing can be done safely, and that it can be regulated by the very state apparatus that is now suing Longmont for ridding itself of fracking.

By approving Ballot Question 300, Longmont did not seek to introduce symbolic and meaningless regulations, and it did not ask vacant politicians to protect its homes. It cut the Gordian knot on the issue and delivered a victory based on community need, science and genuine self-defense.

This is particularly difficult for a community to do. At every stage, the voices of science and community have been told to bend to the will of the oil and gas industry. The general social forces that have propagated this idea come from every manner of political office and include select environmental leaders.

The argument advanced is very simple in its formulation, even if its consequences complicate the movement against fracking in every way. What’s behind the argument is the notion that fracking is inevitable and that to fight it in its entirety is simply not politically possible. To ignore this bit of advice means being shut out of the offices of our so-called representatives. It means political isolation. It means the only governmental figures that we have willingly and with great determination ignore our concerns and return to the same business as usual that leads to the inevitable poisoning and loss of our communities.

As to the politicians themselves, I will ignore the question “What kind of person is able to do such a thing — to ignore people fighting to protect their families from the threat of a toxic industrialization forcing itself upon them?” This question does not need to be answered. Every genuine person reading these words already knows. Instead of attempting to rid ourselves of another empirically toxic fossil fuel, we are told instead to be “credible,” which, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as “Offering reasonable grounds for being believed.”

So what is this credibility, or the grounds for being believed by our officials, based on? Is it based on the study of the Colorado School of Public Health that showed elevated cancer rates within a half mile of fracking sites? Is it based in the research of toxicologist Theo Colborn, who has exposed the deadly mix of chemicals in fracking fluid and their effects on our health? Is it based on the exhaustive research of Shane Davis about the failing of the industry and government alike? Or is our credibility based, in this particular circumstance, on the politicians’ unwavering and cynical view that to defy the profits of the oil and gas industry is to pull at the fabric of their personal political ambitions and of larger economic forces, and therefore not negotiable in any real sense?

You see, if we follow the best science that is available, we cannot be credible. To be credible is a function of bending to the political will of elected and appointed individuals and, by extension, to the profits of the oil and gas companies. If we offer capitulations point blank to a lying and enormously destructive industry, we are given the respect and time of our representatives. If we fight for the safety of our families and homes, we are disingenuous, shunned and marginalized as a force of misled individuals and groups.

One does not have to look far for examples of this type of thinking. Take the Colorado Environmental Coalition, for example, which is telling people and representatives: “Colorado needs 1,000-foot setbacks from homes and requirements that industry use best available technology to mitigate the impacts to our air and water.”

Where does the 1,000-foot setback figure come from? While it alludes to an idea that setbacks can determine a level of safety for our children, there is absolutely no scientific study that suggests a safe distance from hydraulic fracturing, and the authors of this demand are well aware of this fact. Instead, the figure is physical representation of the Orwellian science of political capitulation, nothing else.

Many so-called environmentalist groups and leaders have similar, madeup figures that do nothing for science and health but go a long way to accommodate the oil and gas companies. Most recently, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) claimed: “A 500-foot buffer around residences is a sensible approach to ensuring that Boulder County residents are not exposed to hazardous chemicals used in and resulting from fracking, while still allowing the extraction of natural gas in less populated areas.”

If 500 feet is safe, surely Mr. Polis can show us what he is reading that leads him to educate the rest of us on this fact. Again, the 500-foot figure told to us by Polis, one of the proponents of the Frac Act, has no basis in reality except the reality of capitulation.

What game are we are playing now, especially in view of the tremendous, authoritative and uncompromising victory in Longmont? The game of setbacks and other quasi measures that are supposed to make us feel better about the gas industry is nothing short of toxic roulette, a tangible negotiating of acceptable levels of poisoning. And this game we are playing, and that we are being told to play by various environmental groups and political leaders, is not being done in the name of science. It is for the “credible” benefit of industrial profit. Hydraulic fracturing is poisonous. It is a process being conducted by private multinational corporations that have taken ownership of the political system and that are now forcing themselves into our communities and aquifers, our air and land, and all for the prospect of massive financial enrichment. These are not charities, and they do not care about the lives of our people. The gas companies will disappear as soon as the financial incentives are gone, and we will be left with countless insults to our health and an environmental destruction that will extend for generations to come.

Is this the force that we should be accommodating in our efforts? Should we willingly pay lip service to their messengers and base our strengths on concessions to their mineral rights and profits? Let’s embrace the heights that Longmont compels us to as a movement. Let’s use the science and the studies that exist and that are becoming more available at every stage. We do not need, and should openly defy, any force suggesting that minimal demands will buy us a seat at the table, regardless of who asserts it. That table is the property of Encana and Anadarko, not the citizens of Colorado, and the lungs and health of our children are not items up for negotiation. The sooner we take ownership of this fact, the truer we become to the issue itself and to the science that commands us to fight hydraulic fracturing to begin with.

The politics of accommodation does not work when it comes to our health and welfare. The days of retreat are now behind us, and Ballot Question 300 has opened up a new chapter in this fight. Now it is time for our offensive.

When history is written about the defense of Colorado from profit and pollution, this can be one of our bravest and proudest moments.

Ban fracking, fight concession and speak the truth. We truly have a world to gain.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

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