Last week, citizens of Colorado Springs joined students and faculty from Colorado College in Palmer Hall. Minutes before the arranged panel was to commence last Wednesday night, the discussion of fracking already filled the air.
The panel, hosted by The Energy, Environment, and Security Project at Colorado College (CCEESP), was organized to provide an open space for in-depth discussion on the issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing and natural gas.
The members of the panel came from a variety of positions across Colorado. Each member was given an equally allotted time to project their argument and answer questions posed by the mediator, Colorado College visiting professor Diane Alters.
The dialogue began with Chris Arend, the director of Conservation Colorado. Jeffrey Kauffman, the chief operating officer of the independent oil and gas company K.P. Kauffman Company, Inc., followed closely after, beginning the real debate among the panelists. Kaufman argued that the standards for oil and gas drilling in Colorado had improved and there was no need for fear of leakage or other threats. Light chuckles from the audience and a readied rebuttal from Be the Change’s representative Phil Doe followed shortly after Kauffman’s statement.
“As of this moment, over 20 percent of the state is leased to the oil and gas industry,” said Doe. “[Kauffman} said that the fracking industry is very old. Well, horizontal fracking is very new.”
Doe explained the statistics of fracking in Colorado. Tension among the panel members ensued following this argument.
The discussion was halted just after Phil Doe’s introduction to announce the arrival of the delayed Chipotle order made for the attendees. Declaring a 10-minute food break, the audience rushed towards the assembly line of stacked burritos, bags of chips, and an assortment of salsas and guacamole.
A community member, despite the weight of the topic being discussed, lightened the mood amid the crowd: “Where are all the fracking napkins?!”
Quickly after, the panel regrouped and continued the discussion.
Kauffman and Arend, an anti-fracking representative, addressed the economic benefits of fracking. Kauffman spoke to the decrease in tax dollars and gas prices, and the increase in job opportunities available as a product of the fracking industry, which makes it hard to ignore the potential benefits of fracking. Arend admitted that Conservation Colorado supports transfer from coal to natural gas only after serious issues are addressed.
Controversies among the panel were strongest among the two state officials and pro-fracking representatives, Kent Kuster of the Department of Health and Environment and Stuart Ellsworth of the COGCC, who opposed Western Slope activist Lisa Bracken. Ellsworth and Bracken feuded over their personal conflicts stemming from long before the commencement of the panel involving alleged false claims by Bracken, according to Ellsworth.
When asked how the Public Health department can reach out to the community, Bracken responded, “Being there would be a start…they are very good at fracturing. Fracturing families, fracturing communities…”
The public erupted into applause.
“Under federal law, no one’s allowed to pollute,” said Ellsworth, in an attempt to justify the actions of the COGCC. He argued that it’s a false concept to assume the fracking practices under the jurisdiction of the COGCC also pollute.
In response, Bracken rolled her eyes at chuckles from the audience.
According to Chris Ox Edmonds, a junior and member of the CCEESP, the idea of a panel discussion on natural gas developed from the lack of clarity and factual evidence surrounding the issues of fracking. He hoped to provide a difference of opinions on an issue that is often falsely supported by propaganda and misled information.
“The activism that started on campus [in mid-December] was well-intended, but unfortunately, stemmed from a lot of influence from the oil and gas industry; there really was not any factual evidence coming to the campus community,” Edmonds said. “Secondly, there are also a ton of different types of dimensions to the fracking industry that aren’t really talked about. There are lots of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ surrounding this conversation, but it is a conversation that needed to be discussed.”
Edmonds was glad to have made that conversation possible through last week’s controversial panel. “Of course there was going to be a difference of opinion on the panel, which is what we wanted,” he said. “But we wanted a panel that would be informative to our campus most of all.”
The diversity of opinions among the panel members provided an opportunity to develop perspectives for many of the audience members that they might not have reached otherwise. CC junior Rebecca Lehman attended the discussion hoping to learn more about the impacts of fracking in Colorado, but left the panel rethinking her opinion on the oil and gas industry.
“I still wouldn’t say I’m a supporter of it, but you have to understand the [pro-fracking] side is just motivated by money and that’s kind of how our world works,” she said.
Not all spectators were swayed. At the conclusion of the panel, junior Sarah Freeman was not so impressed.
“I thought that the panel would be a great venue for learning about fracking,” she said. “However, the pro-fracking representatives were neither as articulate in their arguments nor as supported by the audience as the anti-fracking representatives. Although I appreciate how detrimental fracking can be, I wish the panel had been a little more evenly sided.”
Senior Zach Atchinson felt that the panel was informative in explaining the problems and viewpoints surrounding fracking, but lacked any resolution to what needs to be done now.
“I think people left [the panel] thinking to themselves: okay, it’s a problem. But still, what is there to be done?” he said.
CC junior Annie Taylor thought the panel discussion was a success. “I greatly enjoyed the dialogue that the panel created,” she said. “It was interesting to hear the oil commissions’ answers to the common anti-fracking questions.”
The fracking panel was the largest event the Colorado College Energy, Environment and Security Project will be hosting this semester. That being said, the program plans to put on one more panel or discussion-based activity later this semester. The CCEESP will also be accepting applications to join their project in the upcoming year. Following the first event, Edmonds is pleased with the results.
“It’s a really complicated issue. We wanted to bring as many dimensions as possible,” he said. “And I think we really succeeded in doing that. We engaged in a great discussion with some heat. But if there isn’t heat, then the conversation isn’t happening. “