This week, the competing campaigns of environmental activists and industry advocates have been heating up surrounding issues of natural gas development.
Activists are pushing for a moratorium on fracking in the city of Denver, even though most of the state's development projects are well outside of Denver's city limits. The area around the Denver International Airport is one of the few areas in the city limits with any active wells leased out to oil and gas companies.
"Don't Frack Denver" activists say they want to stop the threat of expanding fracking within the city where it could affect their quality of life. They launched their effort on Tuesday by delivering a letter to Mayor Hancock and holding a news conference outside the City and County Building.
Industry advocates say this environmental effort is misguided and is essentially equivalent to "declaring war on Denver's economy."
Vital for Colorado, a leading pro-industry business advocacy group, has issued a news release statement in response, referring to the activists as "anti-science extremists."
"Groups that peddle fear, instead of facts, are out to hurt Colorado's economy and out to reduce the tax base that supports our schools, parks and libraries," said Peter Moore, the group's board chairman.
The oil and gas industry has been a boon for Denver’s economy in recent years. The industry makes up about 20 percent of downtown Denver’s office space, or about 4.5 million of the 22.3 million square feet of available space, according to the Denver Business Journal.
A Hancock spokeswoman said he understood the activist coalition's concerns, but she said he wouldn't consider backing any local action until a state oil and gas task force looking at regulatory issues publishes its recommendations. Those are due Feb. 27.
“Mayor Hancock hears their concerns loud and clear and will continue to work toward a shared goal of preserving our environment and quality of life here in Denver. The Mayor is keeping a keen eye on this issue, and eagerly anticipates the recommendations from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force before any action would be considered on a municipal level. Understanding the Task Force is working on a responsible balance, the Mayor asks for the community and stakeholders to remain patient and allow a thoughtful process to take place.”
Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents northeast Denver, echoed Hancock's comments.
A moratorium effort may be lacking an actual legal footing given that recent state court rulings have overturned other cities' fracking bans.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to break up rocks deep underground, thereby releasing oil and gas. The industry says it has been safe for six decades and is subject to intense federal and state regulations that keep it from harming the environment.
Overall, the oil and gas industry recently contributed $29 billion to Colorado’s economy and helped support more than 100,000 good-paying jobs.
“The oil and gas industry, like any industry, is not perfect, but it operates under some of the most stringent regulations in the country,” Moore said. “It’s been one of the brightest spots in our economy. The facts — and science – are on the side of industry.”
Vital for Colorado is a broad coalition of business and civic leaders formed to support responsible energy development. More than 35,000 Coloradans, businesses, civic leaders and trade organizations have signed its pro-energy pledge. For more information, go to www.vitalforcolorado.com