Frack wars: Groups call for Matt Lepore to resign, while Jared Polis sues to stop drilling

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A coalition of several dozen grassroots consumer, environmental, business and farming groups is pushing for the resignation of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission director Matt Lepore, after his off-the-cuff comments last week referring to anti-fracking activists as essentially rich and clueless. Meanwhile a fracking critic who could be described as rich but not exactly clueless -- U.S. Representative Jared Polis -- has gone to court to try to shut down a noisy, smelly drilling operation next to property he owns in Weld County.

As we previously reported, Lepore remarked at an energy conference in Loveland that people who oppose the hydraulic fracturing process -- which involves using massive amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals to extract oil and gas from tight shale formations -- tend to be "armed with misinformation" and affluent and thus unconcerned about rising energy costs. That blithe dismissal, coming from a former industry attorney who now heads the agency responsible for overseeing oil and gas development across the state, drew responses ranging from outrage to ridicule from fracktivists, who've long maintained that the COGCC is too closely allied with the industry it's supposed to regulate.

Lepore kinda sorta apologized for those comments late last week, calling them an "overgeneralization" and an "improper leap." But that hasn't appeased his critics. The latest broadside is a letter to Governor John Hickenlooper from 47 anti-fracking and community groups, ranging from Local Farm First to the Poudre Valley Green Party to the Save Our Snow Foundation, calling for Lepore's resignation.

The letter, accompanied by statements from public school teachers, small business owners and others who felt "insulted" by Lepore's characterization, blasts the COGCC's leadership and Lepore. For example:

"The COGCC has a sordid record when it comes to protecting Coloradans. Under Mr. Lepore's leadership, the agency has engaged in two lawsuits against the City of Longmont in order to force the placement of fracking wells next to homes and schools. Under the COGCC's watch, oil and gas have contaminated groundwater in 17 percent of the 2,078 spills over the past five years.

The COGCC has never met a well it did not like, permitting a record number of over 50,000 active fracked wells in the state, hundreds of which are located next to homes, schools and public parks. And finally, the agency also failed to meet its statutory requirement to protect the public by inspecting wells yet lobbied against hiring more inspectors."

Affluent congressman Polis can't claim to be a working stiff, but he has his own beef with the COGCC after trucks and equipment started setting up a drill rig last week adjacent to a farm he owns near Berthoud. He's filed a motion for a restraining order in Denver District Court and has an op-ed coming out in the Sunday Daily Camera about the situation; in an interview with the Camera, he explained that "I'm going public and talking about it because it's happening to a lot of other people in Colorado. This can happen to anybody."

Can a congressman's influence and resources prove any more effective in stopping the march of drilling rigs across the Front Range than the grassroots efforts? If so, then that could demonstrate how wrong Lepore's remarks were. If the fracktivists were as affluent as he claims, then those 50,000 permits never would have gotten issued in the first place.

More from our Environment archive: "Fracktivists are rich and clueless? Commission head Matt Lepore retreats after 'improper leap.'"

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