Poll: Western Slope voters like FRAC Act
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A poll released on Tuesday indicates that a strong majority of voters in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District are in favor of increased federal oversight of all of the nation’s water resources to guard against pollution, and of a pending bill that would impose greater federal control of gas drilling practices.
According to the poll, two thirds of registered voters in District 3 support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (known as the FRAC Act), which was introduced into both houses of Congress earlier this year, while 22 percent oppose the act.
The poll, commissioned by a pair of politically progressive organizations active in Western issues, found similar sentiments among voters in Montana, where support for the FRAC Act and the Clean Water Restoration Act came in at two to one.
The FRAC Act, sponsored in the House by Colorado Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Jared Polis, D-Boulder, and by easterners in the U.S. Senate, would impose federal oversight onto the substances used in the hydraulic fracturing (known as “frac’ing”) of gas wells.
The procedure involves injection of huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals into wells to break up rock formations deep underground and release trapped oil and gas deposits, and has been the subject of growing controversy over concerns that it may be polluting groundwater and endangering human health.
Industry representatives have consistently maintained that the procedure poses no hazards to the environment or to human health, and regularly stress that no evidence has yet been found to show otherwise.
The poll was released on Tuesday by the Western Colorado Congress, an alliance of community organizations, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils, a network of agricultural and conservation groups in several western states.
The survey indicated that the support for the FRAC Act is “consistent throughout key voter groups in the district,” according to a statement from WORC, including Democrats (80 percent), independents (79 percent) and Republicans (51 percent.) The district comprises 29 counties, with a population of more than 614,000 spread over 54,000 square miles.
In other findings, the poll reported that 70 percent of voters in the two relatively urbanized counties in the district – Mesa and Pueblo – favored the FRAC Act, while in the more rural counties the favorable tally was 66 percent.
The act is viewed favorably by 63 percent of the farming and ranching population, and 61 percent of hunters and fishers, according to findings reported by WORC.
The poll reportedly also found that there is “strong support” among District 3 voters for extending federal protection of all water sources, rather than applying that protection solely to “navigable waterways” as decreed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a decision in 2001 that limited the scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act.
In 2006, the court further cut back the scope of the Clean Water Act in a case about a developer filling in wetlands to develop a shopping mall.
“These poll numbers are a very pleasant surprise,” declared Randy Fricke of New Castle, who was one of a panel of activists speaking to reporters in a telephone conference about the poll results on Tuesday.
“This is a tremendous statement,” said Fricke, who is on the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance water committee and has long been an activist critical of the gas industry in Garfield County.
“People are eager to see legislation to protect our water sources,” he continued, referring to support among Colorado and Montana voters for the Clean Water Restoration Act introduced in Congress earlier this year.
Also participating in the telephone conference was Lisa Bracken, a Silt area landowner and businesswoman, who described a battle with the EnCana gas company that began in 2004 and has yet to be concluded. The discovery of benzene in her water wells led to EnCana being fined and to a moratorium on drilling that later was lifted by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
“People expect protection of vital water resources,” she said, arguing that the COGCC is not “effective” in providing such protections, and that federal oversight is needed.
Conducted by the polling company Harstad Strategic Research Inc. in late July 2009, the poll asked questions of 504 registered voters in the third district. Two questions focused on whether the Clean Water Act should apply to all water sources or strictly to navigable waterways, and one asked whether voters felt inclined to favor or to oppose the FRAC Act as described to them by the poll takers.
Pollster Chris Keating said his company worked to keep the polling “sample” as representative as possible of the district’s population, in terms of such variables as political orientation, gender, type of work and others.
According to Gretchen Nicholoff, president of the Western Colorado Congress, one goal for the poll results is to turn them over to Colorado’s congressional delegation, including Sens. Bennet and Mark Udall, and Rep. John Salazar, all Democrats, as evidence of what their constituents are thinking about pending legislation.
Plus, she said, “I’d love to disseminate the results of the poll as widely as we can,” and she may make appearances before the elected leaders of the district’s 29 counties.
The poll results, and a written summary of its findings, can be found at the website http://www.worc.org.
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