Anti-fracking advocates want Polis to hit pause on new oil and gas developments

The movement seems mostly unfazed by the failure of marquee legislation and hopes the new governor will side with them.

Outgoing state Rep. Joe Salazar speaks as Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Outgoing state Rep. Joe Salazar speaks as Latino community leaders meet to discuss the community's representation in state government following the midterm election, Nov. 15, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Despite the failure of Proposition 112, anti-fracking advocates aren’t letting up on their quest to make it harder for new oil and gas wells to pop up throughout the state.

They’re not planning on letting newly elected officials forget, either.

A pair of rallies this week aligning with the state government’s reconvening will ensure their message will keep reverberating through the state Capitol hallways. On top of their to-do list is asking Gov.-elect Jared Polis to place a moratorium on new fracking in the state to provide time for the General Assembly to consider new oil and gas regulations.

Anti-fracking advocates and environmentalist groups are planning a rally Thursday to call on Polis, who will be sworn-in as governor next week, to place a nine-month moratorium on new fracking permits. On Friday, the group behind Proposition 112, Colorado Rising, will hold a rally at the State Capitol to coincide with the opening day at the General Assembly.

Ahead of its event, the group made a splashy personnel announcement: It named outgoing state Rep. Joe Salazar as its executive director. The Thornton Democrat and attorney is now an official face of the anti-fracking movement in Colorado after spending time in the legislature and on Twitter as an outspoken critic of the oil and gas industry.

Neil Allaire, of 301 Broomfield Health & Safety First, said there will be 26 groups represented during Thursday’s rally, which is taking place at Denver’s Civic Center Park. The rally is part of a nationwide day of action intended to get the attention of lawmakers set to begin new terms locally and in Congress.

Salazar will be among the featured speakers. Allaire said community advocate and Denver mayoral candidate Lisa Calderon is also scheduled to attend.

Most of the groups expected Thursday represent Front Range communities.

Heidi Henkel, who will be co-MC alongside Allaire during Thursday’s rally, is part of Broomfield Moms Active Community and will be on hand to deliver a letter outlining their goals for Polis. They’re expecting 100 people to attend.

An oil rig in Commerce City, March 9, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

An oil rig in Commerce City, March 9, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Protecting the environment will be a big theme for the groups after 2018 brought dreadful predictions for the planet’s future. They will put pressure on the state’s regulatory agency, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, to reflect those concerns.

“We want … people who realize that our climate is an emergency, is in a crisis mode right now and we need to treat it as such,” Henkel said.

The group is calling on COSGG to hire additional inspectors and to add more scientists to the commision.

The COSGG has made some changes recently: Last month, they approved a new rule taking effect this year that adds a 1,000-foot buffer zone between new oil and gas developments and school properties.

According to figures from COSGG, there were 1,693 new well starts in Colorado as of Dec. 1, 2018. That’s slightly lower than in 2017 (1,948) but higher than in 2016 (1,030). Their figures show there are currently 53,470 active wells in the state as of Dec. 1, 2018.

Polis did not support Proposition 112, but advocates are hopeful he will be an ally.

The measure would have increased setback distances between new wells and certain occupied buildings. Still, the incoming governor has lofty environmentally friendly goals, chief among them his plan to have the state run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

Overall, Allaire is enthusiastic about the new governor. He believes Polis will be an ally, and he’s certainly interested in being an ally for Polis.

“The overall purpose of the rally, the overall message… it’s a statement nationwide that we’re here, we’re not going away,” Allaire said. “We’re very involved, both in Washington but also locally.”

Henkel is a little more reserved. She’s taking a more cautious approach. She criticized what she called “a corrupt system” in oil and gas development that elevates “money over people.”

“We’re going to wait and see if our legislators are going to do something,” Henkel said. “Because we have this good trifecta, where we have Dems in both (legislative chambers) and a Democratic governor.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis speaks at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's annual energy summit at the Colorado Convention Center, Aug. 22, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis speaks at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's annual energy summit at the Colorado Convention Center, Aug. 22, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Even though Proposition 112 failed (it was rejected by 55 percent of voters) Allaire points out it got more votes than the Republican gubernatorial candidate (nearly 36,000 more).

He hopes Thursday’s event helps motivate some new advocates. They’re hoping to find more people to engage in the legislative process.

“Going to rallies is good,” Allaire said. “The next step is actually going and knocking on their doors and talking to them, having their backs, supporting them, telling Governor Polis when he’s governor, ‘Go ahead and do this, we’re here for you, we’ll back you up.'”

Salazar said he will need to find a balance between his new bosses’ interests and those with his friend at the Capitol.

“I’ve seen too many elected officials going into a direction that they didn’t campaign on,” Salazar said Wednesday. In the case of Polis, whom Salazar called a friend, he said he wants to “thread the needle” with the new governor to balance things out. “I am hoping that I can rely on his leanings to make those big changes that we definitely (want).”

Both Allaire and Henkel praised Salazar’s hiring; they both initially supported Salazar during his attorney general run last year, though they ended up backing the party’s eventual nominee, Attorney General-elect Phil Weiser. Both are planning on attending Friday’s rally.

Salazar joked that his new role “might just very well be” his dream job. He’s looking forward to working with other non-profits in the state. He sees Colorado Rising doing work for local residents adversely affected by oil and gas developments the way the ACLU would step in for someone facing civil liberty violations.

“All of us have a common goal but we all have different agendas,” Salazar said. “There really isn’t another organization that does that at the state level…that actually is willing to take the oil and gas industry and government agencies for actions that adversely impact Colorado and the environment.”

He wants the group to lend a hand in crafting “legislation that really does protect Colorado.” But if lawmakers aren’t able — or willing — to make changes to regulatory practices, Salazar said they might end up pursuing another Proposition 112-like ballot initiative in 2020.

“This is the issue of our time,” Salazar said. “We have to address this now and not in this moderated fashion that so many people talk about. We have to take bold action.”

Thursday’s rally will start at noon and take place at Civic Center Park, while Friday’s event will start at 7:30 a.m. at the Colorado State Capitol.

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