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Coloradans Give Gov. Hickenlooper and State Legislature an 'F' for Failing to Address Fracking

Energy

As Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their legislative session on Wednesday, members of Coloradans Against Fracking set up a mock classroom on the capitol steps and staged a performance to draw attention to the legislature’s failure to protect constituents from fracking.

The performance featured a disappointed teacher regaling two figures wearing “dunce” hats (one representing the Colorado legislature, the other Gov. Hickenlooper) over a shameful report card comprising “F” grades in every subject related to reining in the Colorado oil and gas industry.

The author, Sharon Carlisle, left, as "teacher," gives "students"—"Gov. Hickenlooper" and a "legislator"—an "F" for fracking. Photo credit: Sam Schabacker, Food & Water Watch

According to the state’s own data, during the past five months the legislature has been in session, Gov. Hickenlooper’s agency has permitted nearly 1,000 new wells in Colorado. Legislators have been sitting on their hands while Colorado’s families and futures get fracked.

Coloradans Against Fracking staged the “F is for Fracking. F is for Failure.” performance on the final day of the session to highlight that the governor’s and legislature’s inaction on fracking presents ongoing threats to Coloradans’ health, air, water, environment and safety from oil and gas development. After the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force was deemed a failure by its own members, the Colorado legislature carried forward this trend by doing virtually nothing to abate the widespread fracking fiasco being literally drilled into Colorado.

“The Colorado Progressive Coalition is disappointed that the state legislature and Governor Hickenlooper have allowed gas & oil companies to continue to pollute and endanger the residents of low income, communities of color through continued fracking in Northern Colorado and northeast Denver,” said Mike Roque, executive director of Colorado Progressive Coalition.

After the performance, members of Coloradans Against Fracking waded through the waves of oil and gas lobbyists who inhabit the Colorado State Capitol (it’s estimated there are more oil and gas lobbyists than there are inspectors to monitor the state’s 53,000 fracking wells), to deliver the fracking failure report cards to the governor’s office. Last year, the oil and gas industry spent nearly $12 million to influence the outcome of elections, money “well spent” based on the result of this legislative session: no new oil and gas restrictions, no meaningful attempt to ban the fracking and no redress for the thousands of regular Coloradans whose health, safety and property is threatened by fracking.

“Our elected representatives—legislators and Governor Hickenlooper—should be standing up to the oil and gas companies to keep Colorado’s water and air clean and healthy for my generation and many more to come,” said youth leader Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Earth Guardians. "They deserve an "F" for their lack of meaningful action to protect our future."

Coloradans are following a national trend of opposing fracking. Communities in Longmont, Fort Collins, Broomfield, Boulder and Lafayette have voted to place bans or moratoria on the dangerous industrial activity, and residents of Denver have launched an effort to stop fracking in that city and its watershed. Unfortunately, Gov. Hickenlooper continues his “Drill, Baby, Drill” stances—including supporting the export of fracked oil overseas (likely to China, Europe and India), a move that will create a further incentive for oil and gas companies to frack more wells next to homes and schools in Colorado.

"Due to the poor performance of our legislature and governor, our right to exercise local control over polluting industries remains undefended. The health and safety of Coloradans remains at risk from exposure to toxic emissions and industrial accidents. We need our elected officials to protect the rights of citizens, not the oil and gas industry," said Lauren Swain, 350 Denver fracking specialist.

“Governor Hickenlooper and our lawmakers need to stop drinking the fracking fluid and start protecting Coloradans,” said Sam Schabacker, western region director with Food & Water Watch.

Where is this all going? As the Presidential Race heats up, this issue will continue to be a defining one in Colorado politics. And as the war over these issues escalates within the Democratic Party—with the party elites embracing fracking while the rising grassroots wing calls for a ban—one thing is certain: precisely because Gov. Hickenlooper and the legislature failed to address the fracking fight, this fight is only going to heat up.

Coloradans Against Fracking is a broad-based coalition of organizations, businesses and individuals from all corners of Colorado working together for a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas.

Sharon Carlisle is with Protect Our Loveland, a grassroots group working to protect that Colorado city from fracking.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."