Evolution of a movement: story and photo essay

Anti-fracking, community-rights activists turn to civil disobedience following Colorado Supreme Court ruling

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Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

On May 2, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Longmont’s fracking ban and Fort Collins’ fracking moratorium were in conflict with state regulations and therefore invalid. It wasn’t because communities have no right to apply their own land-use and zoning ordinances to oil and gas extraction within city limits, the court upheld that right. The high court’s ruling was based on it’s claim that the “state’s goals,” when it comes to oil and gas, are to maximize production and prevent wasting any oil and gas by leaving it in the ground, and that communities can only use their own regulations if they support that goal.

While the Court’s ruling is in direct conflict with modern climate science and the desires of millions of Colorado citizens, it is, for now, the law of the land and will likely result in the end of all fracking bans and moratoriums throughout the state in the near future including those in Boulder, Boulder County and Broomfield.

So just what recourse has been left for those who oppose the industrial process of oil and gas extraction within their neighborhoods now that the court has ruled out local democracy as a solution? As a number of observers and activists have noted, there are only a couple of options remaining: amend the state constitution and civil disobedience.

There are three citizen’s initiatives that would amend the state constitution in a manner that would create more local control over energy extraction — two impacting community rights and one creating a 2,500-foot setback of oil and gas facilities from homes and schools. All three are currently gathering signatures in order to place them on the November ballot. But even this last ditch democratic process left to voters is being challenged by the oil and gas industry and its political operatives and controlled politicians.

Oil and gas industry backers have launched their own initiatives. One called “Raise the Bar” which would make it nearly impossible for Colorado citizens to ever use direct democracy to amend the constitution in the future. The campaign for this pro-oil Trojan horse is being run by the same folks BW investigated in its “Behind the Curtain” report that ran September 17, 2015.

EIS Solution’s Josh Penry and his old pal Joe Megyesy are handling the campaign. BW readers will recall Penry as the oil and gas consultant who specializes in creating fake or “Astroturf” grassroots citizen groups that appear to support more drilling for oil and gas and less regulation on the industry. He works with big oil through both Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) and Vital for Colorado.

CRED is funded by Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy and is the group that pays for many of the pro-fracking TV commercials and paid for the pro-fracking “Energy and Environment” section in The Denver Post.

Together with his wife Kristom Strohm of the Republican fundraising/consulting firm Starboard Group, Penry’s EIS Solutions helped launch the controversial, pro-oil, REMI economic modeling program at University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Megyesy, was a spokesperson for Penry during his political career. As of 2015, he is a program officer with the Gill Foundation who has ties to both Colorado Concern board member Tim Gill, one of the original four billionaires who took control of Colorado’s Democratic Party in 2002 in what is now known as the Blueprint, as well as Strohm’s Starboard Group.

The Raise the Bar initiative was supposedly born out of the public meetings being held by a group calling itself Building a Better Colorado, an organization said to be the brainchild of Dan Richie, another board member of Colorado Concern.

A close examination exposes the Raise the Bar initiative as just another effort that will prop up the oil and gas industry while further stripping the rights of Colorado citizens in order to insure the industry’s ability to continue to drill at will with ineffective state oversight. And of course, Governor Hickenlooper supports the effort along with his Republican allies.

In short, 2016 may be the last realistic chance for citizens to amend their state’s constitution, a process that gave us both legalized marijuana and TABOR. In other words, if Raise the Bar passes, both conservatives and progressives will lose their ability to have a say in Colorado’s political system which is increasingly controlled by only a handful of wealthy individuals and the oil industry.

Which brings us to the other remaining option left for those who want to protect their family’s health, their property values and their communities — namely, civil disobedience.

With the Supreme Court having removed all legal means for communities to stop drilling, and with the fight over global warming having reached a critical tipping point according to the world’s scientists, it’s a foregone conclusion that those opposed to continued unbridled oil and gas extraction would turn to civil disobedience as the next step in their struggle.

Last week, there were two separate actions in Colorado that confirmed this evolution in the movement: one at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction at a Holiday Inn in Lakewood; the other at the proposed site of one of the state’s largest drilling and production operations to date, which is located near Silver Creek Elementary School in Thornton.

The BLM protest on May 12 received a small amount of press coverage. The all-day protest in Thornton on May 14, which included an unpermitted makeshift anti-fracking festival on open space with speakers ranging from author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben to rapper Jonny 5 of the Flobots and Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton), did not receive any news coverage. This despite the protest culminating in the takeover of the well site after the warnings of 15 police officers dispatched to the location.

Apparently, there were just too many oil-and-gas-are-good-for-you commercials on TV that day for local stations to squeeze in coverage of one of the state’s biggest news stories. The Post and the state’s other chain-owned newspapers were also apparently too busy to send a reporter.

This underreporting is why Boulder Weekly felt compelled to provide our readers with a photo essay of these two important events. We believe they mark a turning point in the battle over oil and gas extraction in the state of Colorado. Civil disobedience now appears to be at the core of the anti-fracking movement, and with the recent Supreme Court ruling, we believe it will likely remain there well into the future.

We sincerely hope that the news media that is currently gorging itself on oil and gas ad dollars will soon return to reporting on these escalating tensions.

BELOW: PROTEST AT THE BLM AUCTION IN LAKEWOOD, CO. MAY 12, 2016.

At the May 12 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction held at a Lakewood Holiday Inn, protesters determined to stop the sale by blocking the entrances to the hotel and the conference room where the sale was being held, ran into a police line in the hotel’s lobby and at every entrance to the building.
At the May 12 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil and gas lease auction held at a Lakewood Holiday Inn, protesters determined to stop the sale by blocking the entrances to the hotel and the conference room where the sale was being held, ran into a police line in the hotel’s lobby and at every entrance to the building.
Despite being ordered to remain outside, protesters pushed their way into the lobby, demanding that the auction be called off.
Despite being ordered to remain outside, protesters pushed their way into the lobby, demanding that the auction be called off.
Outside, approximately 300 protesters blocked the entrance to the hotel.
Outside, approximately 300 protesters blocked the entrance to the hotel.
Eventually, eight protesters were able to make it into the hotel and block the main entrance into the conference room where the auction was to be held. However, there were several other entrances and the auction, while sparsely attended, went on as planned.
Eventually, eight protesters were able to make it into the hotel and block the main entrance into the conference room where the auction was to be held. However, there were several other entrances and the auction, while sparsely attended, went on as planned.
Despite the efforts of protestors to stop the BLM’s auction of oil and gas leases covering lands in Northwest Colorado, the auction went off as planned. Leases for the first parcel sold went for $2 an acre.

BELOW: PROTEST OVER OIL AND GAS EXTRACTION IN THORNTON, CO. MAY 14, 2016.

Bill McKibben, best-selling author and founder of 350.org, spoke in Thornton around 8 a.m. before flying on to a similar gathering in California. McKibben told the crowd that he and other oil and gas industry critics are being targeted by industry trackers with video cameras in a personal attack campaign that will cost the industry hundreds of thousands of dollars. Similarly, at an oil and gas industry gathering in Denver that began Sunday, May 15 (see page 14), industry representatives were encouraged to investigate any journalists they perceived as being particularly pesky.
Bill McKibben, best-selling author and founder of 350.org, spoke in Thornton around 8 a.m. before flying on to a similar gathering in California. McKibben told the crowd that he and other oil and gas industry critics are being targeted by industry trackers with video cameras in a personal attack campaign that will cost the industry hundreds of thousands of dollars. Similarly, at an oil and gas industry gathering in Denver that began Sunday, May 15 (see page 14), industry representatives were encouraged to investigate any journalists they perceived as being particularly pesky.
The opening of the Thornton oil and gas protest on Saturday May 14, included a Native American ceremony using chanting, sage and drumming.
The opening of the Thornton oil and gas protest on Saturday May 14, included a Native American ceremony using chanting, sage and drumming.
Paul Bassis, the man behind the Arise Festival, takes to the mic to explain why he is willing to be arrested for this cause. He told his fellow protestors, "We don't need permission from the Supreme Court to protect our children."
Paul Bassis, the man behind the Arise Festival, takes to the mic to explain why he is willing to be arrested for this cause. He told his fellow protestors, “We don’t need permission from the Supreme Court to protect our children.”
Jamie Laurie, better known as Jonny 5 of the Flobots, lead the crowd in early morning music and protest.
Jamie Laurie, better known as Jonny 5 of the Flobots, lead the crowd in early morning music and protest.
Protesters hand painted some 300 umbrellas which they used to send their opinion about oil and gas extraction via aerial photos taken by a camera-equipped drone. When assembled, the umbrellas read “Break Free CO.”
Protesters hand painted some 300 umbrellas which they used to send their opinion about oil and gas extraction via aerial photos taken by a camera-equipped drone. When assembled, the umbrellas read “Break Free CO.”
In between speakers, visits to educational booths and umbrella painting, several local bands provided entertainment for the crowd. The reggae and ska of The AlCapones proved particularly hard not to move to.
In between speakers, visits to educational booths and umbrella painting, several local bands provided entertainment for the crowd. The reggae and ska of The AlCapones proved particularly hard not to move to.
Protesters found other ways to pass the time before marching to the well site.
Protesters found other ways to pass the time before marching to the well site.
The North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy are fighting in Thornton to prevent some of the State’s largest production platforms from being located near their kid’s schools and in their neighborhoods. They have also instigated a recall campaign against Thornton City Councilwoman Jan Kulmann whom they claim has a conflict of interest because her husband is the deputy director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and she is employed in the oil and gas industry. Kulmann represents the current swing vote in favor of oil and gas extraction in Thornton, so it’s no surprise that a well-funded counter campaign to keep a recall from occurring is being supported and financed by Colorado Concern and Vital for Colorado.
The North Metro Neighbors for Safe Energy are fighting in Thornton to prevent some of the State’s largest production platforms from being located near their kid’s schools and in their neighborhoods. They have also instigated a recall campaign against Thornton City Councilwoman Jan Kulmann whom they claim has a conflict of interest because her husband is the deputy director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and she is employed in the oil and gas industry. Kulmann represents the current swing vote in favor of oil and gas extraction in Thornton, so it’s no surprise that a well-funded counter campaign to keep a recall from occurring is being supported and financed by Colorado Concern and Vital for Colorado.
Protesters left their unpermitted location on open space around 3 p.m. and marched in unison to the dirt road leading to the well site near Silver Creek Elementary School.
Protesters left their unpermitted location on open space around 3 p.m. and marched in unison to the dirt road leading to the well site near Silver Creek Elementary School.
At the staging area at the top of the dirt road leading to the well site, protesters were told that only those willing to risk arrest should continue on to the well. Approximately 40 people then continued the march to the well.
At the staging area at the top of the dirt road leading to the well site, protesters were told that only those willing to risk arrest should continue on to the well. Approximately 40 people then continued the march to the well.
Protestors willing to be arrested throw seeds as they make their way past police toward the well site.
Protestors willing to be arrested throw seeds as they make their way past police toward the well site.
As evidenced here, police who tried to stop protesters from getting to the well site were met with great resolve. She stayed at the well site until the police left.
As evidenced here, police who tried to stop protesters from getting to the well site were met with great resolve. She stayed at the well site until the police left.
Shortly after protesters pushed passed the three officers originally positioned at the well site, a total of 15 officers in unmarked cars arrived.
Shortly after protesters pushed passed the three officers originally positioned at the well site, a total of 15 officers in unmarked cars arrived.
This photo was taken by Sam Dyer: Once marchers left the pavement and started down the private dirt road towards the well site, they were told they would be arrested. They were not. After ignoring commands to stop and continuing past police to the well, the officers drew a new line in the sand. Protesters were told they would definitely be arrested if they climbed onto the spill-protection dirt embankment surrounding the tanks.
This photo was taken by Sam Dyer:
Once marchers left the pavement and started down the private dirt road towards the well site, they were told they would be arrested. They were not.
After ignoring commands to stop and continuing past police to the well, the officers drew a new line in the sand. Protesters were told they would definitely be arrested if they climbed onto the spill-protection dirt embankment surrounding the tanks.
After once again ignoring police demands, protesters unfurled their banner on top of the dirt barriers. As police backup arrived in seven unmarked cars, officers once again drew a new line in the sand, telling protesters if they crossed the barbed wire fence into the actual tank area, they would be arrested. At that point, several protesters crossed the fence while shouting and daring to police to arrest them and accusing police of being afraid to arrest them.
After once again ignoring police demands, protesters unfurled their banner on top of the dirt barriers. As police backup arrived in seven unmarked cars, officers once again drew a new line in the sand, telling protesters if they crossed the barbed wire fence into the actual tank area, they would be arrested. At that point, several protesters crossed the fence while shouting and daring to police to arrest them and accusing police of being afraid to arrest them.
At that point, all of the police got into their cars and drove away together regrouping back on the main road where the majority of protesters were still positioned. As the police were leaving, protesters climbed to the top of the tank amid cheers and attached their banner.
At that point, all of the police got into their cars and drove away together regrouping back on the main road where the majority of protesters were still positioned. As the police were leaving, protesters climbed to the top of the tank amid cheers and attached their banner.
The end of a long day.
The end of a long day.
  • Mel K.

    Joel Dyer: Noble employee and Thornton City Council member Kulmann reportedly told her City Atty that Noble owned no interests in Thornton, therefore she had no conflict of interest and the city atty took her at her word. But Thornton residents surround an unincorporated neighborhood parcel in ranch-residential Wadley Farms where Synergy Resources proposes a multiple gas well site (with related emissions) within 1,000 ft. of Thornton’s Rocky Top Middle School and a mile or less from Thornton’s new Stargate k-12 Charter School site. Kulmann’s bio at her website shows she is also president of the Board of that school too, big coincidence, eh? Think that school will object to emissions?

    Oh, and by the way, Synergy Resources announced about May 5 that it had reached a deal with Kulmann’s employer Noble to buy $505 million worth of mineral interests in Weld County. See: http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_29845342/synergy-resources-buying-noble-energy-holdings-near-greeley

    While that deal was under negotiation, Kulmann purports to provide objective expertise to the City on these matters?

  • Xavier

    This says it all…look how various media used the same headline used at Denver Business Journal first…it’s like the industry provided a prepared talking point piece for the papers to run. Come to think of it, I’ll betcha that’s exactly what happened.

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