CARBONDALE — The chief executive officer for the environmentally conscious outdoor clothing company Patagonia Inc., Casey Sheahan, responded this week to recent criticism by a group of Western Slope Republican state legislators taking the company to task for its anti-fracking stance.
Sheahan, the head of the Ventura, Calif.-based company who makes his home in Carbondale, has published an essay opposing the method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in drilling for natural gas and oil.
“Patagonia is against fracking,” Sheahan reiterated in a letter sent Monday to five area legislators, including Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, who was among those who asked that Sheahan reconsider his position.
“We believe the damage caused by this process to human health and to the environment, especially the air, soil and water quality, will have consequences that can’t be undone for centuries,” Sheahan wrote.
That, and Patagonia’s financial support for the Frack Free Colorado campaign, which seeks a ballot initiative to ban fracking statewide next year, prompted the letter last month from the legislators asking the company to reconsider its position.
“We would like to call your attention to the damage your recent and ill-thought-out anti-fracking campaign is doing to the people and economy of both our region and our state,” reads the letter signed by state Sens. Steve King of Grand Junction and Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, along with state Reps. Rankin, Ray Scott of Grand Junction and Jared Wright of Fruita.
“We would hope that, as a respected business leader and employer, you would put a little more thought into the things you say and write, and perhaps consider more carefully the consequences of your words for real people,” the legislators urge.
Sheahan, in his Monday letter, points to the use of as many as 632 chemicals in the fracking process, “many of which are known to be toxic to humans and wildlife; several are known to cause cancer.”
Further, “The expansion of fracking sites also threatens Colorado’s vibrant recreation economy,” Sheahan added, noting Colorado’s $13.2 billion-per-year outdoor recreation industry and $4.2 billion in wages and salaries.
“Communities such as Carbondale depend on clean water and air to support cattle ranching, organic farming, fishing, watersports or just soaking in nearby Glenwood’s famous hot springs,” Sheahan noted.
Rankin, responding Tuesday to Sheahan’s letter, said a statewide ban on fracking is unreasonable, and called Sheahan’s reasoning “inaccurate and misleading.”
A fracking ban would be devastating to the state as a whole and particularly Western Slope counties, such as Garfield County, that depend on natural gas development for jobs and tax support for local services and schools, Rankin said.
“No matter what you think about fracking, 90 percent of the wells use the fracking process, and advocating for a statewide ban would mean completely shutting down the state [to oil and gas development],” Rankin said.
“This is a technology that has been used successfully since the 1940s without a single instance of contaminated groundwater, according to the EPA,” Rankin said. “Somebody who is going to take a position on this should try to understand the process first.”
Rankin said he does support the objectives of another organization supported by Patagonia and Sheahan, the Carbondale-based Thompson Divide Coalition, which is working to prevent natural gas drilling on public lands in the Thompson Divide area west of town.
Although he does not support a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennett to end federal mineral leasing in the Thompson Divide, Rankin said there are other ways to prevent or at least limit drilling in that area.
“What we need to do is bring all the different players together to discuss this,” he said. “Most of the [lease holders] are willing to trade that asset for another asset of equal value somewhere else.
“Active citizens can prevent oil and gas development in Thompson Divide without the senate bill, in my opinion,” Rankin said.
Sheahan concluded in his letter that Colorado has the opportunity to be a national leader in ending the practice of fracking and pushing toward development of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal.
“Patagonia has a core set of values that inform each decision we make and position we take — build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environment crisis,” Sheahan also noted.
“Fracking, by causing unnecessary harm to human health and natural ecosystems, is in direct conflict with two of these core tenets,” he said.