Fracking Boom Fractures the Environmental Movement

Shane Davis, a self-described "fractivist" gives a tour of oil and gas operations throughout Weld County, Colo
National Journal
Amy Harder
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Amy Harder
Nov. 20, 2013, 4:31 p.m.

FIRE­STONE, Colo. — If you look closely at the fights over en­ergy de­vel­op­ment in Col­or­ado, you can see the full spec­trum of po­s­i­tions evolving among na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment­al groups on what role, if any, nat­ur­al gas should play in the quest to com­bat glob­al warm­ing.

Be­fore the frack­ing boom of the last five years, nat­ur­al gas was widely con­sidered by en­vir­on­ment­al­ists to be a “bridge” fuel that could help the U.S. cut green­house gases while it de­veloped more re­new­able en­ergy, largely be­cause gas pro­duces far few­er car­bon emis­sions than coal or oil.

Now, with burn­ing of nat­ur­al gas grow­ing at un­pre­ced­en­ted levels, the en­vir­on­ment­al com­munity is be­com­ing frag­men­ted on the is­sue of how much it should be used.

On one end of the spec­trum are grass­roots or­gan­izers like Shane Dav­is, a self-de­scribed “fract­iv­ist” who is op­posed to frack­ing and by ex­ten­sion all fossil-fuel de­vel­op­ment. He is the re­gion­al dir­ect­or in Col­or­ado for Josh Fox, pro­du­cer of the anti-frack­ing film Gasland. Dav­is is part of a re­l­at­ively small but loud and in­flu­en­tial seg­ment of grass­roots or­gan­izers fight­ing to stop frack­ing not just to pre­vent glob­al warm­ing, but to pro­tect so­cial val­ues.

“This is not an anti-frack­ing fight any­more. Now it’s a civil-rights move­ment,” Dav­is said on Elec­tion Day this year while driv­ing around Weld County — Col­or­ado’s frack­ing epi­cen­ter with more than 15,000 wells. “Our civil rights to safety and pro­tec­tion have been taken away from us.”

Dav­is’s po­s­i­tion is aligned with cer­tain na­tion­al groups also op­posed to all fossil fuels, in­clud­ing Food & Wa­ter Watch and the Si­erra Club, one of the world’s old­est and most in­flu­en­tial en­vir­on­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tions. After years of sup­port­ing nat­ur­al gas as a bridge fuel to re­new­able en­ergy and even tak­ing money from the gas in­dustry, the Si­erra Club form­ally changed its po­s­i­tion last year in the name of glob­al warm­ing. The group now does not ne­go­ti­ate with or take money from the gas in­dustry.

“As more in­form­a­tion came out and frack­ing ex­ploded across the coun­try, we ad­jus­ted our policy,” Si­erra Club Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Brune told Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily in an in­ter­view this week. “It’s the fun­da­ment­al con­cern we have. We think gas of­fers a false hope of ar­rest­ing cli­mate change.” The group is con­sid­er­ing mov­ing up by 20 years — from 2050 to 2030 — its goal to wean the na­tion’s power sec­tor off coal and nat­ur­al gas, which right now com­bined ac­count for al­most 70 per­cent of U.S. elec­tri­city.

Rep. Jared Pol­is, D-Colo., who rep­res­ents four Col­or­ado com­munit­ies that voted earli­er this month to ban frack­ing, said he doesn’t think many en­vir­on­ment­al groups, in­clud­ing the Si­erra Club, are op­posed to nat­ur­al gas out­right.

“Those are really the fringe views,” Pol­is said. “There are not many in the en­vir­on­ment­al com­munity that say all en­ergy will be re­new­able to­mor­row.”

The Si­erra Club and Food & Wa­ter Watch were among the largest na­tion­al groups sup­port­ing the anti-frack­ing meas­ures in Pol­is’s dis­trict.

At the oth­er end of the spec­trum is the En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Fund, an or­gan­iz­a­tion known for its in­flu­en­tial col­lab­or­a­tion with the oil and gas in­dustry on tough­er drilling reg­u­la­tions. EDF helped broker an agree­ment — an­nounced this week by Demo­crat­ic Gov. John Hick­en­loop­er of Col­or­ado — with a trio of oil and gas com­pan­ies that cre­ates the first-ever state reg­u­la­tion for meth­ane, a po­tent green­house gas that can be re­leased from frack­ing op­er­a­tions.

“This pro­pos­al rep­res­ents a mod­el for the na­tion,” EDF Pres­id­ent Fred Krupp said after this week’s an­nounce­ment. When asked about oth­er groups’ in­sist­ence not to ne­go­ti­ate for stronger rules, Mark Brown­stein, as­so­ci­ate vice pres­id­ent for EDF’s U.S. en­ergy and cli­mate pro­gram, re­spon­ded: “The ques­tion is not wheth­er you like gas or hate gas, it’s what you do to pro­tect a com­munity from the en­vir­on­ment­al risks for however long you’re go­ing to use gas.”

The gulf between the po­s­i­tions of EDF and groups like the Si­erra Club has grown amid the frack­ing boom.

“It’s brought some of the is­sues to the fore­front that have al­ways been present but were more eas­ily avoided in the past,” said Ro­ger Pielke Jr., a pro­fess­or of en­vir­on­ment­al stud­ies at the Uni­versity of Col­or­ado in Boulder, one of the four Front Range cit­ies that voted to ban frack­ing earli­er this month. “What the frack­ing boom is show­ing is that ar­gu­ments that hinge on scarcity are not at least for the fore­see­able fu­ture go­ing to be the path for­ward if we’re go­ing to trans­form the en­ergy sys­tem.”

Brune, the Si­erra Club’s lead­er, said, “It is true, we have dif­fer­ent po­s­i­tions on nat­ur­al gas and the de­gree to which we’re fo­cus­ing on in­creas­ing clean en­ergy.” So does this cause dis­cord with­in the en­vir­on­ment­al com­munity? “Yes,” Brune said, opt­ing not to say more.

“I don’t think ne­ces­sar­ily I want to [elab­or­ate] be­cause I’m more in­ter­ested in find­ing ways for en­vir­on­ment­al groups to sup­port each oth­er at pre­vent­ing frack­ing from ex­pand­ing, while help­ing com­munit­ies to pro­tect their air and wa­ter where frack­ing might already be oc­cur­ring.”

Back in Weld County, Dav­is wasn’t as re­served.

“My per­son­al opin­ion is they [EDF] are a dis­grace to the en­vir­on­ment,” Dav­is said, ac­cus­ing the group of a “derel­ic­tion of duty.”

Mean­while, the Uni­on of Con­cerned Sci­ent­ists, whose most re­cent pres­id­ent, Kev­in Knobloch, stepped down to be­come chief of staff to En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz, rep­res­ents a middle part of the spec­trum. The group is go­ing to help in­form com­munit­ies along Col­or­ado’s Front Range with “toolkits” that in­clude ba­sic facts about the pros and cons of oil and gas drilling.

“If it’s go­ing to be done, com­munit­ies should have ac­cess to in­form­a­tion about the risks and the be­ne­fits about it to help in­form their de­cisions,” said Gretchen Gold­man, an ana­lyst at the group’s Cen­ter for Sci­ence and Demo­cracy. UCS has already helped some com­munit­ies in Cali­for­nia, and Col­or­ado is next on its list. Mis­in­form­a­tion about frack­ing “comes from all sides,” Gold­man said. “It really demon­strates what a high-stakes de­bate this is.”

What We're Following See More »
SAYS HE’LL MOVE ONTO OTHER PRIORITIES
Trump Drops Ultimatum on Healthcare
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump delivered an ultimatum to House Republicans on Thursday night: Vote to approve the measure to overhaul the nation’s health-care system on the House floor Friday, or reject it and the president will move on to his other legislative priorities." Passage remains far from certain, however, even with a 3pm Friday vote scheduled.

Source:
POTENTIAL CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Trump’s SEC Chair Nominee Faces Tough Questioning
16 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Jay Clayton, Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, was grilled today during his hearing in front of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. In question were his extensive ties to Wall Street and his potential conflicts of interest. During his hearing, Clayton promised he would not show favoritism to anyone. Clayton's financial disclosure revealed that Clayton "raked in $7.6 million in the year leading up to his nomination, buoyed by a client roster that included big banks such as Goldman Sachs. President Donald Trump has picked Goldman alums for several regulatory roles in his administration."

Source:
HOPING TO REGROUP FOR A FRIDAY VOTE
Health Vote Postponed
16 hours ago
THE LATEST
AGRICULTURE SECRETARY CONFIRMATION
Senators Press Sonny Perdue on Budget Cuts
17 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s pick to lead the Agriculture Department, faced pointed questions about the administration’s proposed cuts to rural assistance programs during his otherwise friendly Senate confirmation hearing Thursday. Throughout the hearing, Perdue affirmed his commitment to several programs that could face cuts due to Trump’s budget: the Rural Utilities Service; the Natural Resource Conservation Center; and various agricultural research programs," even as the president's budget would cut his agency by 20 percent.

Source:
FREEDOM CAUCUS MET AT WHITE HOUSE
No Deal on Healthcare
18 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login