Toxic influence: Colorado’s “frackopoly”

August 4, 2016

Colorado, oil & gas industry

An oil and gas worker feeds pipe on a rig in Erie, Colorado on January 15, 2015. [Source: Denver Post]

An oil and gas worker feeds pipe on a rig in Erie, Colorado on January 15, 2015. [Source: Denver Post]

This week I reviewed Wenonah Hauter’s book Frackopoly, in which she chronicles how the oil & gas industry amassed geopolitical dominance and became the most powerful and unregulated industry in the world. The industry accomplished this through financial donations, lobbying efforts, and generally cozying up with politicians and government officials, thus making government, corporations and banking into a partnership.

What about Colorado’s “frackopoly”?

For the past 2 years, Boulder Weekly report Joel Dyer has been gradually exposing Colorado’s homegrown “frackopoly” through a series of articles. This type of research is painstaking and so much of it depends on luck, which explains why it’s sort of like Game of Thrones, there’s a long time between installments. Each installment is intriguing and well worth waiting for.

The latest article, third in the series, was released last week, just ahead of the August 8 deadline for signatures on the petitions for ballot initiatives #75 and #78. This article includes transcripts of recorded discussions at the IOGCC (Interstate Oil & Gas Compact Commission) Conference at the end of September 2015, in Oklahoma City, OK.

The recording came from a panel titled “Taking Back the Fracking Debate: Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development,” presented by Mark Truax, director of operations and coalitions, at Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED). The transcription was given to Boulder Weekly by Greenpeace.

Along with a host of other revelations, the transcript exposes the disturbingly chummy relationship between the oil & gas industry and the COGCC.

As Dyer states in his article: “If there was ever any question as to whether the relationship between the COGCC and the oil and gas industry has become so inappropriate as to disqualify the Commission from its charge as industry regulator, this recording has answered that question.”

Go. Read.

Behind closed doors

Recording from oil-and-gas gathering sheds light on industry efforts to defeat ballot measures, take over city councils and stop the anti-fracking movement

A recording made during a 2015 meeting of oil and gas industry representatives and state regulators has surfaced. We believe the information from this recording is important to Colorado voters because its contents illustrate just how far the oil and gas industry is going to protect its ability to pursue the unbridled production of fossil fuels in our state.

If you’ve been paying attention, you knew the battle over oil and gas extraction, including fracking, was going to get ugly this year. After what happened in 2014, it was inevitable …

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If you would like to catch up on the previous two articles in the series — or just revisit the old battlegrounds — those links are provided below.

The first article in the series was written in 2014, a couple months after Hickenlooper and Polis shut down the grassroots democratic ballot initiatives process in favor of a late night bargain to form a task force to address setbacks and local control. It’s kind of fun to rehash now that we know what an epic fail the task force was.

10/2/2014
Who killed the vote on fracking?
Why Colorado’s anti-fracking measures were not supported by Democrats and environmental groups

At first glance, determining who to blame for the fact that Colorado voters will not get their chance to decide for themselves who controls oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in their neighborhoods seems simple enough. On Monday, Aug. 4, as the result of a political compromise with Colorado’s Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) agreed to withdraw his support for the citizen initiative process that could have placed two anti-drilling/fracking initiatives (Amendments 88 and 89) on the November ballot. The initiatives, which had each garnered well in excess of the 86,105 signatures needed to be placed on the ballot (provided the signatures held up), would have amended the state constitution to give more control over drilling and fracking to local communities and/or establish a 2,000-foot setback from occupied structures for oil and gas drilling operations.

Because Polis was funding the organization charged with getting the ballot measures before voters (Safe. Clean. Colorado.) he appears to have had the final say that day as to whether citizens would get to vote on fracking in November or instead, whether he would pull the measures as part of a compromise with Gov. Hickenlooper. The logic here is that if Polis didn’t have the final say on pulling the measures, then how could he be negotiating with the governor using the measures as his trading chip?

As Colorado and the rest of the country where the oil and gas industry operate now know, Polis chose the latter and pulled the measures at the last minute. He did so in exchange for several concessions from the governor including the appointment of a 21-member taskforce made up of oil and gas industry insiders, mainstays of the Democratic Party loyal to the governor and citizens or representatives of environmental groups who support more regulation of the oil and gas industry and fracking but who have publically not endorsed bans and moratoriums.

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Boulder Weekly and Greenpeace also teamed up for this investigation they dubbed “frackademia,” which revealed an ongoing partnership between the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR). Turns out CSPR is a front group with connections to Koch Industries, American Petroleum Institute, Encana, and others.

The University of Colorado placed itself in the middle of a syndicate of Colorado power brokers heavily tied to oil and gas companies, the PR firms representing them, and fake grassroots organizations — “astroturf groups” — gotta love that term.

9/17/2015
Behind the curtain
An inside look at the oil & gas industry/Republican ‘REDPRINT’ for turning Colorado from Blue to Red

… In Colorado, I like to imagine this political slight of hand as a massive network of loudspeakers mounted on poles in every community across the state. Every few minutes the same message blares out over the speakers: “oil and gas and fracking are good for you because jobs, economy, freedom, American flag, natural gas is the new green, Middle East terrorists … blah, blah, blah.” The only thing that changes, in my imagined scenario, is who’s delivering the message, as nearly every blast appears to come from a brand new grassroots organization. Most of us assume these grassroots groups are made up of thousands of folks just like us. And besides, they have really intriguing names like “Citizens for the Environment Who Like Shale Oil,” or the “Clean Air Coalition for Freedom From Terrorists,” or “Mothers for Tar Sands.” You get the point.

Next, I imagine that all the wires coming from all the poles holding the loudspeakers form a giant interconnected web that covers the state like lace, but ultimately, all those wires lead back to just one small room in an office building in Denver. Inside that room, a handful of political operatives take turns at the mic pretending to be a member of the next new group who just has to tell you how much shale oil means to them while throwing in a bunch of facts and figures from seemingly credible sources, which, in the hands of these professional twisters of the truth, scare us into thinking the sky will fall, the economy will collapse and most children will go hungry if oil companies can’t stick rigs in the middle of our neighborhoods.

And that’s where this investigation comes in, because that room, or some wall-less facsimile thereof, does exist. So who is in that room, where do they get their facts and, more importantly, who pays for the whole operation are very real, very important questions …

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