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Post-Election, Oil And Gas Industry Steps Up Outreach

Bente Birkeland
Governor Hickenlooper explains a new rule he's proposing to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling. Two of the companies behind the effort, Anadarko and Noble Energy have recently created a public education outreach organization on fracking.

Colorado’s Energy industry is continuing to make the case that hydraulic fracturing is safe and a critical part of the state’s economy.

They’re stepping up efforts following the recent passage of fracking bans and moratoriums in three Front Range communities. The outcome of a ban in Broomfield has yet to be determined.

“Merely the fact that they qualified shows that there’s not enough education out there on these issues,” said Jon Haubert, spokesman for Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development.

Anadarko and Noble Energy formed the group in September. They’ve been running pro-fracking radio and TV ads across the state. Haubert says the goal is to educate people and correct misinformation.

“Overwhelmingly the information they’re getting is 2-to-1 against oil and gas development, still despite all that they haven’t made up their minds. Which means they do want another set of facts,” said Haubert.

The idea for such an organization has been batted around for years. Haubert says things got serious after several anti-fracking initiatives made it on to the 2013 election ballot.

“There are other entities that do some component of this, but this is CRED’s entire focus, public education on fracking, and I think it’s arguably overdue, but no time like the present,” said Haubert.

Improving community relations was clearly on the minds of those attending the annual Mountain Energy Summit in Denver in August.

“Any time there is a new technology there will be a fear. Fracking it is technical. Any time you have the opportunity to air on the side of full disclosure, take it. These are the concentrations. The more you can de-mystify fracking the more accepted it will be,” said Jeff Navin the former Chief of Staff to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is stepping up their efforts as well, having just hired its first community outreach coordinator.

“It’s reasonable for people in the public to have concerns about oil and gas development,” said Tisha Schuller, the president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“When we have that conversation begin with empathy and engagement, then we are successful,” said Schuller. “You can very successfully transition a community from one that opposes oil and gas development, to one that’s engaged and passes solutions and is supportive. We need to be doing that more often.”

Fracking activists say engagement isn’t the answer.

“They’re out there saying ‘this is perfectly safe and we’re there to help you.’ In fact there’s not scientific consensus that its’ safe,” said Kelly Giddens with Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins which helped pass a 5 year fracking moratorium in the city.

“Every time they say that on TV they’re lying,” Giddens said.

Giddens wants more studies on the environmental and health impacts associated with fracking and she wants companies to drill in less populated areas.

There are still a lot of unknowns about fracking and its future. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association hasn’t said if it will challenge any of the recently passed fracking bans and moratoriums. The state and COGA are already suing the city of Longmont for a fracking ban passed in 2012.

Regardless, Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development says both pro and anti-fracking groups will continue battling it out.

“Certainly Colorado is looked at in the west as sort of a bellwether state, and I think that’s why you see it happening here,” said Jon Haubert.

One thing that may help the oil and gas industry as speculation grows about a statewide ban on fracking is a new poll from Quinnipiac University. It shows out of 1,200 voters surveyed, 51 percent support fracking, while only 34 percent oppose it.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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