Fracturing common sense
By Paul Driessen
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has given the USA and world centuries of new petroleum supplies, lowered energy prices for manufacturers, motorists and consumers, and altered geopolitics for the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela. New natural gas supplies provide low-cost petrochemical feed stocks, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by fueling electrical generating plants – which you'd think would be good news for climate alarmists.
But naturally, those who inhabit environmentalism's loonier fringes have gone into overdrive. They used to support natural gas. However, now that they've shut down many American coal mines and coal-burning power plants, they're against it.
In shale-rich Colorado, they're upset that the state supreme court overturned several local fracking bans. So Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development collected signatures on petitions to have several anti-fracking "citizen initiatives" put on the November election ballots. To them, anything promoting or allowing fossil fuels is "extreme."
With great hoopla, CREED delivered hundreds of boxes to Colorado's Secretary of State. Lots of boxes, in a clever PR stunt – but most of them almost empty, and holding only a few thousand more signatures than the 98,492 required to get on the ballot, with thousands likely to be invalidated.
One frack-hater sounded relieved, saying he'd rather see the initiatives kept off the ballot than be "crushed" in the elections. That indeed would be the likely result. Most Coloradans want the benefits fracking brings, know the alleged health and environmental impacts are exaggerated or fabricated, and realize the CREED petitions fracture common sense and truly ethical energy policies.
It's the same at the national level: Hillary Clinton and her Big Green-Bigger Government allies want to eliminate the oil, gas, coal and fracking job-creating miracle. The only energy jobs they want is those that require perpetual billions in taxpayer and consumer subsidies paid to the Democrats' campaign donors.
Fractured common sense and ethics also mean hypocrisy. Local control is vital, CREED insists – but only if communities oppose fracking. Never if they want fracking, ethanol-free gasoline or affordable coal-based electricity for poor, minority and blue collar families. Never if locals don't want bird-butchering wind turbines in their neighborhoods. Never if they don't want oil replaced by biofuels grown on millions of acres that used to be croplands, forests, grasslands and rainforests.
The anti-fracking petitions also violate private property rights, the bedrock of America's wealth creating free enterprise system. They endow us with the freedom to work hard to obtain and retain a residence, car, farm, business, college fund or retirement nest egg. They are protected by our Constitution, which holds that no one can be deprived of property without "due process of law" and "just compensation."
If anti-fracking fringe groups get their way, property rights could become just a fond memory. If their schemes catch on, these fundamental rights could become endangered far more widely.
One CREED initiative, which did not secure enough signatures, would have guaranteed "a healthy environment." As a Colorado Legislative Council memo notes, that raises unanswered but basic questions. Is the environmental currently healthy? If not, when was it healthy? How will environmental health be assessed – and by whom?
Another failed idea would have banned land and mineral owners from employing fracking to produce oil and natural gas. Another still pending initiative would let localities pass ordinances, including bans on drilling and fracking, with primacy over state law.
#78 would prevent drilling and fracking within 2,500 feet of occupied buildings or "areas of special interest." CREED defines "areas of special interest" as playgrounds, sports fields and virtually any body of water: lakes, rivers, intermittent creeks, irrigation canals and nearly anything except potholes.
My former home state already has strict setback standards and some of the toughest drilling rules in the nation. Wells cannot be drilled within 1,000 feet of schools and hospitals, and must be 500 feet from homes and commercial buildings. Additional setbacks cover recreational facilities and property lines.
Extending the setbacks to 2,500 feet (nearly one-half mile) would almost eliminate the state's energy production. Many think is CREED's real goal. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission maps reveal that Initiative 78 would prohibit 90% of new wells and fracking operations. In the most energy-productive counties, 95% of energy development would be stopped.
A University of Colorado Leeds School of Business study projects that even a 2,000-foot setback could cut Colorado's GDP by as much as $11 billion per year and eliminate 62,000 jobs by 2030.
The initiatives severely impact property rights. If an amended state constitution imposes 2,500-foot setbacks, thousands of mineral-rights owners would be precluded from producing energy on their own land. Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper says that could be considered a "taking," in which the state essentially confiscates private mineral rights. That means it could ultimately be required to pay billions of dollars in "just compensation."
CREED and its allies couldn't care less. They want all fossil fuels kept in the ground and claim fracking chemicals endanger groundwater – despite extensive evidence that refutes those claims. Even a landmark 2015 U.S. EPA study found almost no instances where fracking contaminated subsurface drinking water.
They also ignore two fundamental realities. First, government and other analysts point out, oil and natural gas will still supply 65-70% of total U.S. energy needs in 2040. Second, supposed petroleum "alternatives" also have major environmental impacts.
For example, industry and government data show that generating just 20% of US electricity with wind power would require some 18,000,000 acres of land, 186,000 turbines, 19,000 miles of new transmission lines, and 270,000,000 tons of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass and rare earths. Those materials have to be extracted somewhere, nowadays mostly in countries with regulations that generally fail to protect human health and environmental quality, with Baotou, China a poster child for abject failure.
Of course, these are minor details for zealots. They think they should be the ones deciding whose property rights, jobs, living standards, health, welfare, environmental quality and other basic rights should be protected, and whose should be sacrificed to advance activist agendas.
So CREED and its radical allies like the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and 350.org intend to stir up as much state and local mischief as possible, to impose their will on America. The high stakes have made the Colorado ballot initiatives vitriolic and expensive.
CREED's antics are akin to a "toddler throwing itself on the floor, kicking and screaming in the hope it will get its way," the Greeley Tribune editorialized. Unfortunately, "progressive" toddlers are used to getting their way, in legislatures, in courtrooms and on college campuses.
They remind me of Irish statesman Edmund Burke's observation. "Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field … or that they are other than little, shriveled, meager, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour."
Will informed, responsible adults finally inject some sanity into state and federal energy policies?
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (www.CFACT.org) and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death.