Dems Face Opposition On Oil And Gas Reforms From Activists Calling For A Ban At Boulder Townhall
Boulder’s top Democratic elected officials discussed the rollout of potential legislation on planned oil and gas reforms at a public townhall meeting back in their district, facing opposition and criticism from activists who made it clear the newly elected majorities at the State Capitol were not going far enough on the issue for their tastes.
House Speaker K.C. Becker, State Rep. Edie Hooton, and Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg drew an engaged—and sometimes unruly—crowd of approximately one hundred community members and activists to a packed townhall meeting on Thursday at the Boulder Elks’ Lodge. Their plans for a question-and-answer exchange via note cards was repeatedly challenged by audience members who frequently stood or interrupted the legislators, particularly on the issue of oil and gas regulation.
But those repeated interruptions calling for a ban on hydraulic fracturing also aroused the ire of fellow townhall attendees who were interested in many other issues as well, like immigration and youth vaccinations, that were among the several topics raised at Thursday night’s meeting.
“Hey! Hey! This is your warning. There are a hundred people here who all want to hear about different things,” shouted Becker after audience members began heckling the elected officials. Several other audience members called for the disruptors to be quiet, with one man yelling, “Shut up!”
The planned legislation that includes a reform of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s mission statement, adjustments to forced pooling, and a measure for local control were among the menu of items the Democrats hoped to address, with the expectation that the actual bill language would be available as early as next month, when the bills are introduced, according to Fenberg.
Boulder anti-fracking activists are well-known for their public antics, with East Boulder County United’s Cliff Willmeng, who was in attendance Thursday and was one of those participating in the disruption.
Protesters demanded to know if oil and gas companies had seen the proposed legislation or provided any input, insisting that they had evidence that the claim was true. The legislators rejected that claim.
Fenberg said the only eyes on the legislation so far, besides himself, Becker, and the bill’s drafter, were activists, some of who he said were probably in the room, and those who would implement the regulations.
“This is corruption,” another audience member shouted.
After a brief exchange, Becker issued a warning.
“This is your warning, that if you’re disrupting our townhall, you will be escorted out,” Becker said. “I want to hear your questions, I want to hear your input. I do not want you to disrupt this meeting for everyone else here,” she continued, with the remaining audience applauding.
“I’m a registered nurse and I’m a parent of two kids that are walking around with dissolved benzene in their blood,” Willmeng shot back. “So I’m sorry if you’re inconvenienced by this fact…” he added.
“Sit down, Cliff,” Becker said, immediately adding, “Why are you arguing with us?”
But even Fenberg’s later admission he would back a potential fracking ban bill was not enough to quell activists’ concerns. A request to ban fracking turned into an intense exchange at the Boulder Elks Lodge, as multiple audience members lobbed questions at Fenberg, Hooton, and Becker.
“Here’s what I would say. If there was a bill, if there was an effort to end extractive oil and gas industries, I would support that. I think absolutely that is where we need to go,” said Fenberg.
“If this bill specifically said, ‘we are now giving full authority to local governments to ban fracking, period,’ the bill wouldn’t have a chance in hell of passing,” Fenberg continued. “I think that’s the reality.”
“We can talk about what’s the absolute ideal scenario…,” Fenberg added before being interrupted by activists asking who among the Democratic majority in his chamber would vote against a fracking ban bill.
“Probably in the Senate, everybody but me,” Fenberg answered. The Boulder Democrat added that the majority had two choices, to run an “ideal” bill and expend political capital only to see it defeated, or “comprehensive reform we’ve all been asking for for a decade or more, and successfully get that across the finish line to dramatically change the paradigm of oil and gas extraction in this state.”
No activists were escorted away by meeting officials or law enforcement, but several simply walked out after several minutes.