Listen closely and you can hear the sound of anti-fracking talking points going through the shredder.
It started less than two weeks ago, when Colorado state officials released a report on a ballot measure banning oil and natural gas drilling within 2,500 feet of buildings or “areas of special concern,” such as rivers, creeks, parks and open space. The report showed the proposed “setback” measure, still in the signature-gathering phase, would prohibit drilling across 90 percent of the state – an effective statewide ban.
It was a devastating blow to “ban fracking” activists, who have claimed for years they only want to give local governments and neighborhoods more of a say over where, when and how energy development takes place.
To be sure, the anti-fracking activists still have other ballot measures to push, besides the 2,500-foot drilling ban. These initiatives would overturn existing state law and allow cities, towns and counties to ban energy development. Over the years, they have been sold to the public as “local control” or “your town, your call.” In other words, the activists are saying they’ll respect any decision – a ban or the rejection of a ban – as long as it’s local.
But this isn’t true, either. Not even remotely true. Just ask Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a champion of “ban fracking” and “keep it in the ground” activists who oppose the vast majority of energy sources that power the American economy.
“Let me make it as clear as I can be,” Sanders told a June 1 press conference in Monterey County, Calif., where a local fracking ban will be on the November ballot. “If elected president, we will not need state-by-state, county-by-county action, because we are going to ban fracking in 50 states of this country.”
“It is too late for regulating. I think fracking has got to be banned in America,” Sanders said to the applause of activists attending the event.
So there you have it. No matter what Monterey County decides in the fall, Sanders and the activists want to impose a national ban – the very opposite of local control. They don’t really care what local communities think. They only want to ban energy production. Everywhere. Local campaigns and local talking points are just propaganda in service of their fringe national political agenda.
This is hardly the first time anti-fracking groups and their allies have been caught in the act.
Two years ago, the last time Colorado was threatened with anti-fracking ballot measures, “local control” activists insisted to the news media “[t]his isn’t about banning fracking, it is about giving communities the ability to put some controls on development – community by community.” They were later caught on a strategy call with Americans Against Fracking, a coalition of green groups led by Food & Water Watch, which wants to “ban fracking everywhere.”
In fact, Food & Water Watch – based in Washington, D.C. – has been the driving force behind anti-fracking activism at the state and local level in Colorado for years. The group “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities” in Colorado, starting with Longmont in 2012, and is one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement,” according to The Colorado Statesman.
You can even find the spokeswoman for one of this year’s “local control” ballot measures – Tricia Olson – quoted in a Food & Water Watch press release demanding a statewide oil and gas development ban in Colorado. How is that consistent with the anti-fracking talking points on local control? Honestly, who do these people think they’re fooling?
In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) called activist proposals on setbacks and local control “extreme measures that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado.” Thankfully, they didn’t make the ballot. Two years later, the proposals have gone from bad to worse, and the anti-fracking campaign’s talking points are in tatters.
But the activists still haven’t faced any tough questions about the state of their campaign and what their real agenda would mean for the state’s economy and working families. Let’s see how much longer they can get away with that.
Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.