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Film documents environmental battle with Colorado oil, gas industry

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Mark Richardson

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(Colorado News Connection) A new film documents the 2018 battle between Colorado environmentalists and the oil and gas industry over proposed fracking regulations.

The film also documents a grassroots effort by Colorado Rising to pass a ballot initiative which would create a 2,500-foot setback for all hydraulic fracturing wells in the state, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

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Sarah Schulte, organizing committee member of GreenFaith Boulder County, which recently previewed the film for about 100 members, said the film has a strong message.

"What probably makes the film pretty dramatic and kind of shocking is the length to which oil and natural gas industries in Colorado set out to thwart them," Schulte pointed out. "Not only with some of the tactics you might expect, but also some kind of more nefarious tactics sabotaging their signature gathering, for example."

In the end, the petroleum industry defeated the measure after a $50 million campaign opposing it. Schulte acknowledged Colorado Rising raised only $1 million for its campaign. After the election, the state adopted a 1,000-foot drilling setback from schools and residential property lines.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, involves drillers injecting a mixture of chemicals underground to break up the shale and free the oil. The chemicals used in the process, which are sometimes toxic, can pollute groundwater and make the surrounding land unstable.

Schulte emphasized the movie had a powerful effect on the group's members.

"I think most people were pretty angry and maybe even a little sad after seeing how these kinds of politics play out in Colorado," Schulte observed. "They asked questions like what can we do next? How do you keep going when it's so difficult to fight such a big and powerful industry?"

The film, Fracking the System: Colorado's Oil and Gas Wars, is currently being previewed by select audiences. It has won the "Spirit of Activism" award at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival

and the "Environmental Award" at the 2024 DOCUTAH International Film Festival.