Lepore under fire for fractivist criticism
Nearly 50 citizen groups, businesses and other entities asked Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday to seek Matt Lepore’s resignation as director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after Lepore’s recent criticism of anti-drilling activists.
However, Hickenlooper is continuing to back Lepore after he voiced regret for his remarks.
The Fort Collins Coloradoan reported that Lepore had said at an event last week that opponents of hydraulic fracturing who “storm city hall” and demand protection of “their health, safety and welfare armed with misinformation” fail to recognize that banning fracking would increase the costs of utilities. Lepore reportedly said many anti-fracking activists generally are affluent enough not to be concerned by such costs.
The letter to Hickenlooper says Lepore’s comments were insulting and mischaracterized ordinary Coloradans who oppose putting hydraulically fractured wells near their homes and schools.
“Indeed, this unfortunate attempt to discredit the tens-of-thousands of hard-working Coloradans who want to protect their families, health and property from the negative impacts of fracking was disgraceful,” the letter says.
It said the oil and gas commission recently approved 67 wells in a working-class Greeley neighborhood.
“Mr. Lepore has done nothing to address the increased drilling that is encroaching on lower-income communities and communities of color that hold little political power to protect their interests,” the letter said.
Lepore backed off the remarks, according to a Durango Herald story Friday in which he said they were an improper overgeneralization.
“Matt has apologized for his inappropriate comments. He continues to have our support,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said Thursday in an emailed statement. “We are confident our team will continue taking the steps necessary to ensure energy development is conducted safely and with respect for all Coloradans.”
Lepore could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Among western Colorado groups that signed the letter were Citizens for a Healthy Community in Delta County, Holy Terror Farm in Paonia, the Garfield Transparency Initiative in Garfield County, the Roaring Fork Food Council, Paonia Posterworks and Delicious Orchards in Hotchkiss.
Some others signing the letter were Protect Our Colorado, Colorado Clean Water Action, Frack Free Colorado, Save Our Snow Foundation and Wild-Earth Guardians.
Hickenlooper himself has come under fire from drilling critics for his position on oil and gas drilling. Having once worked as a petroleum geologist, he believes fracking is safe and that the industry is well-regulated in Colorado under rules his administration has helped implement.
The Lepore critics said in their letter, “A new COGCC director is necessary in order to prove to Coloradans across the state that your first priority as Governor is protecting people’s health and livelihoods from the impacts of fracking, not serving as that industry’s spokesperson.”
The letter criticizes Lepore’s role in the commission engaging in litigation with Longmont over oversight of oil and gas development in that city, and cites more than 2,000 oil and gas spills that have occurred in the state over the past five years, 17 percent of which reportedly contaminated groundwater.
Lepore was appointed director last August after having once served as the agency’s lead counsel as an assistant attorney general. He has also worked in natural resource and environmental law in the private sector — with clients including oil and gas companies, his critics note.
Last year, Wyoming’s lead oil and gas regulator, Tom Doll, resigned with the support of Gov. Matt Mead days after saying residents in Pavillion, Wyo., may have been driven by greed and the desire to obtain compensation when they voiced concerns about possible water impacts from drilling.