Local activist part of massive national fracking petition drive
Post Independent Staff
CARBONDALE — A local woman was part of a massive petition drive mounted by conservation and environmental groups over the past couple of weeks, which earlier this week delivered approximately a million signatures calling on the Obama administration to halt all hydraulic fracturing (known as fracking) activities on public lands.
“It’s public land,” said former elementary school teacher Mary Russell on Friday, referring to the federal government’s programs of leasing large parcels of western public lands to energy companies.
“It’s our land. We pay for it,” she continued. “But they [federal land managers] will say that they get to decide. That we hired them to decide what should be done.”
But, she went on, “Should I put all my trust in their hands, or should I remind them that I am a participatory person in a democracy.”
Russell, who presently lives near Carbondale and at one time was a science teacher in the Carbondale schools, put up a petition on the MoveOn.Org website that topped out at more than 85,000 petitions, she said.
A year ago, she added, she put up a MoveOn petition focused on Colorado residents, and aimed at stopping fracking on public lands in Colorado only, that gathered fewer than 4,000 signatures.
“But then I thought, this is a national issue,” she recalled, so she started a petition that called for signatures on a nationwide basis.
“I feel really empowered, and I do have a say,” she told the Post Independent on Friday.
All told, according to news reports, a coalition of 276 environment, conservation and consumer groups on Thursday sent petitions to President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, which on that day contained 650,000 signatures.
But as of noon on Friday, according to a spokeswoman for Environment Colorado, the number of signatures had grown to about 1 million. Friday was the final deadline for submitting petitions as part of the “public comment” period about proposed Bureau of Land Management rules governing fracking on public lands.
Industry representatives, however, were not impressed by the petitions.
Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for Western Energy Alliance, called the petition drive a “publicity stunt” by environmentalists.
“So a million liberal activists from around the country, the vast majority of whom are not tied to productive public lands communities, are naively responding to an emailed action alert,” Sgamma said dismissively. “That’s not a substantive comment and only represents a narrow view from the public.”
Russell, who lately has been a regular attendee of the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board and a known critic of the oil and gas industry’s tactics, stressed on Friday during an interview, “I’m not against natural gas, it’s the process for extracting it, the hydraulic fracturing that I’m against.”
She said that fracking is too dangerous to the nation’s natural resources — mentioning threats to air and water quality — and the degradation of public lands, to be permitted in the way it is now.
Other methods, just as effective as fracking, will be found to get at the natural gas without what she and others say are the hazards associated with fracking, she predicted.
“I see that there’s something possible with that,” Russell maintained. “So let’s just wait until someone comes up with that, because it’s not worth it [the ongoing fracking boom] for the rest of us.”
Again, the industry has a different view.
“Banning fracking on public lands is banning prosperity in western Colorado,” said David Ludlam, director of the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
But, he added, the industry is always willing to talk with its opponents, if they are willing to seek “rational solutions to the U.S. energy problems. Anyone who is willing to meet us in the middle, we’re always going to engage.”
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