Some south metro-area residents are lending their faces and voices to the fracking debate, appearing on pro-fracking fliers published by Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development.
CRED, a nonprofit formed in August 2013 by publicly traded …
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CRED, a nonprofit formed in August 2013 by publicly traded Texas-based companies Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy, describes the fliers as part of a broader education effort on the widely debated practice.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique that uses pressurized liquid to fracture rock and release natural gas and oil from deep in the earth.
Among the Douglas County faces featured on the glossy mailers are Douglas County School Board member Meghann Silverthorn, Lone Tree City Councilmember Kim Monson and Colorado Business Roundtable president Jeff Wasden.
“The mission and focus is to help folks get the facts on fracking — what it is, what it isn't, and in this case, how it benefits them,” CRED spokesperson Jon Haubert said. “We find so many people have no idea that the vibrant oil-and-gas-driven economy here in Colorado does benefit them.”
Silverthorn, Monson and Wasden all say they investigated the pros and cons of fracking independently before agreeing to appear on the fliers. None received compensation for their participation.
“One thing we teach our kids to do is to look at all the information, use the scientific method and critical thinking to come to your own conclusion,” Silverthorn said, adding she did just that with fracking issues. “After weighing all the pros and cons, in my opinion, taxpayers come out ahead. (Some) of the revenue overall statewide from fracking comes back to education, so it's not an additional tax burden on the people of Douglas County.”
Silverthorn's flier cites a University of Colorado study that says the oil and gas industry “brought more than $204 million in benefits and savings into Colorado schools in just one year.”
Haubert couldn't confirm how much the Douglas County School District has received.
“I have not seen a Douglas-specific figure, though I imagine it is not record-breaking,” he wrote in an emailed response. “Funds tend to go where energy development occurs via property and severance tax (i.e. taxes paid on minerals extracted.)”
At present, fracking is not underway in Douglas County.
A map from a University of Colorado study on CRED's website of the distribution of 2012 property tax revenue from oil and natural gas activity shows Douglas County School District received no funds. School districts in Arapahoe and Elbert counties received $490,000 and $180,000 respectively.
Additional funding for education is provided indirectly to school districts from the oil and gas taxes that go into the state general fund, and are redistributed into state education funds.
Still another source of school funding is from federal mineral leases, according to the study. DCSD received about $9,600 in funds distributed from those federal mineral leases in 2014.
Parent Heather Ertl questions Silverthorn's involvement in CRED's campaign.
“I think a school board member shouldn't be promoting fracking in the manner that she is,” said Ertl, a fracking opponent. “She's an elected official who apparently holds the respect of some people in our community.
“She's making it sounds like our schools are really benefiting from fracking,” she said. "It's a twist of the truth.”
Silverthorn's largest fall 2013 campaign donation came from oil and gas man Alex Cranberg. Cranberg, chairman of Aspect Holdings LLC, gave $25,000 each to the four ultimately successful, pro-education reform candidates.
“Regardless of whether Mr. Cranberg had given (me) money or not, the oil and gas industry does benefit our schools here,” Silverthorn said. “I find it interesting that a lot of people seem to think that because he gave money to my campaign, I must owe him something. That's not the way my principles work.”
Silverthorn also said she is speaking for herself, not the rest of the school board or DCSD.
Haubert said the benefits to Douglas County go well beyond education. In 2012, the industry was directly or indirectly responsible for 774 Douglas County jobs, and almost $80 million in total labor income.
Wasden, who lives in Highlands Ranch and owns PROformance Apparel in Littleton, said the natural gas industry helps his business and others grow and create jobs.
“I think people in the metro area don't understand how important this industry is,” he said. “There are over 6,000 jobs in Arapahoe County that support or tie directly into oil or gas. It has a big, significant impact.”
Heavy equipment at Wasden's apparel shop consumes a lot of energy, he said.
“Low-cost, sustainable, reliable energy is important to our store,” Wasden said. “And certainly as an American, I like American domestic energy produced here at home that supports American jobs and families.”
Like Silverthorn, Monson speaks in support of fracking as an individual, not for the City of Lone Tree or other councilmembers.
“It's based on the idea that I think affordable and efficient, responsible energy is crucial for a robust and prosperous society where each individual can go after their hopes and dreams,” she said.
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