Buckle up

Oil industry says it’s being bullied by you folks

6
Mark Goodman

Recently, while perusing the Denver Business Journal, I stumbled over the headline: “We are under attack.”

I know, in 2017 those words could mean lots of things, but this was a story about the oil and gas industry so it caught my eye. It seems, according to the article, that the good citizens of Colorado have been picking on the oil and gas industry as of late. No, I’m being serious, that’s what it said. The article was chock full of some of the most sanctimonious whining I’ve ever read. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or get mad.

In the piece, Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association (COGA) was speaking in front of 600 of his fellow industry leaders at COGA’s annual meeting. There, in the comfort of Denver’s Marriott City Center, Haley proclaimed to his wealthy, politically powerful peers, “We will not be bullied.”

And he didn’t stop there.

Haley went on to tell his congregation of oil executives that their poor little industry is being picked on. He actually used the words “we are under attack.”

And that still wasn’t the end of his Bizarro World view.

“We’ve seen a rise in activism this year and we’ve seen the public discourse in Colorado take a nasty turn as the rhetoric is more inflamed,” proclaimed Haley. “They’ve disrupted public meetings, shouted down public speakers and shut down rec centers.”

No, Dan, not the rec centers. Is nothing sacred?

“I see the work that you do,” he told the crowd. “We are an industry that cares, we care about the work we do, providing energy to the world, the people we work with, our amazing state and its environment. We care about the communities where we live and work.”

The people in that room may indeed care about the gated communities where they live, but the communities where their industry works? I’d have to say not so much to that one.

Frankly, this speech was about the deepest pile of BS I’ve ever had to wade through. Bullied? Are you kidding me? Let’s do a quick reality check for Haley and his fellow oil patch execs.

There are only a handful of men and women in our state’s legislature these days who are not in the oil and gas industry’s pocket. And these same elected officials are the first to tell you that nothing makes it past the legislature and gets signed by our frack-happy governor in this state unless the oil and gas industry wants it to pass.

Let me also remind Mr. Haley that his industry is “regulated” (emphasis on the quote marks) by the same group of industry insiders — the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) — who are charged with promoting oil and gas extraction in Colorado. What a concept.

As a result of this mostly pretend oversight, his poor, picked-on industry can stick its industrial drilling sites, wells and production platforms with their dozens of tanks — each spewing approximately 2,000 pounds of dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds into the air we breath every year — right next to our homes. This industry is legally, albeit immorally, allowed to destroy our property values and not be held accountable. It can make our children sick and simply turn its back on the carnage without consequence. And when the people of Colorado and elsewhere do try to fight back, it uses its incredible wealth and political power to sue them into submission. Mr. Haley and his industry cronies even spent millions to make it nearly impossible for citizens of this state to amend their own constitution, because they knew if the public were allowed to vote on larger setbacks and other safety and health issues, their dirty industry would lose at the ballot box.

In short, the oil and gas executives wining and dining at the Marriott that day treat their rights of ingress and egress as if they are God-given instead of what they are: something bribed via a corrupt political system.

“We will not be bullied… ” Really? What a tone deaf crock of manure.

Apparently the oil industry has become like the really big kid who demands the little kid’s lunch money every day “or else.” And when the little kid finally says “no,” the bully runs off crying and tells the teacher he got picked on.

I still find it hard to believe Haley had the audacity to say, “We’ve seen a rise in activism this year and we’ve seen the public discourse in Colorado take a nasty turn as the rhetoric is more inflamed.”

You want to know what a “nasty turn” in public discourse is? It’s being subjected to a thousand dishonest “fracking is good for you” commercials on TV and the internet every time we go to the polls.

It makes me sick every time I have to watch former governors Roy Romer and Bill Owens walk down the street telling each other how good and safe fracking is for the environment and how all that natural gas it’s producing is clean energy.

Did you ever notice that commercial never mentions oil, only natural gas? Why is that, Mr. Haley? Why is it that your industry and its spin doctors at Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) only talk about natural gas? Strangely, despite the impression conveyed by these deceptive commercials, no one in this state seems to be drilling for natural gas. In fact, a headline in the Nov. 3 issue of the Denver Post read, “Drilling may never boom again.” The article was reporting about natural gas extraction on the Western slope and described how it pretty much went away a decade ago because of low prices and lack of markets and how it may never return.

The only thing the industry is drilling for these days in Colorado is oil. You remember oil don’t you, Mr. Haley? That not-so-clean fuel that is the real focus of your polluting industry. Pretending that fracking is about natural gas and clean energy in 2017 is just another bald-faced industry lie. So don’t pretend to give lessons in proper public discourse to activists fighting for their and their communities’ health and safety.

And by the way, your industry hasn’t been fracking for 60 years like the commercials claim. It’s been fracking wells for 110 years. The first fracking device was called the “time bomb” and was patented by a guy from Boulder, Colorado, who has a CU building named after him. Try doing some homework on your own industry for a change. You’d at least think you could get your propaganda right.

But maybe you guys say fracking is only 60 years old because the process changed so radically at that time and new technologies were employed and patented. But if that’s the case, then what the industry calls fracking today is, once again, a new and completely different process. Today’s hydraulic fracturing isn’t remotely the same process that you were using 60 or 110 years ago. Want proof? If it was the same process the industry was using 60 years ago then explain the recent patents covering the new process. You can’t patent something unless it never existed before. Why does the oil and gas industry feel so compelled to lie about so many things?

And speaking of doing research, Mr. Haley, if you and your pals at the Marriott would bother to read the current scientific literature instead of holding fast to the now-debunked research of the “beyond coal” era, you’d know that methane (natural gas) is 80 times as potent a green house gas as carbon dioxide and is now understood to be potentially a greater threat to global warming than coal because of your industry’s lousy leak rates. So even the thing you are lying to try to make us believe — namely that fracking is all about the natural gas — isn’t even a good thing. You guys really do need help with your messaging.

Oh yeah, and while I’m at it, do you really think Bill Owens is the best pitchman for your dirty industry? You have enough image problems without putting him front and center. You do know he sits on the board of a Russian bank (Credit Bank of Moscow) that’s helping Russian state oil companies like Rosneft drill for oil and gas. Owens’ bank is needed by Rosneft because the other Russian banks that used to provide money to drill for Putin’s oil and gas (Gazprombank and VTB) have been sanctioned by our country to impair exactly such activities. Thanks, Bill.

Owens also thinks we should be buddies with the government of South Sudan, where he lobbies on its behalf when he’s not selling his fracking snake oil to Coloradans. You remember South Sudan, the country with one of the worst human rights records on the planet according to the U.N. It’s the place where its government has killed and raped hundreds of thousands of its own people and caused 5 million others to flea their homes only to starve in refugee camps. Rumor has it there’s oil and gas under South Sudan and that some of the same oil and gas companies working in Colorado (and likely sitting in that room at the Marriott) want to drill there. Gee, I wonder if oil has any connection to Owens’ love affair with the barbaric, murderous government of South Sudan. 

You can put somebody in a suit, Mr. Haley, and make sure they don’t use profanity as the lies roll off their tongue, but that doesn’t make it proper public discourse.

And finally, let’s talk about those communities you say the industry cares so much about, the communities where you work.

I absolutely know you care about those communities, Mr. Haley. Your industry cares so much about them it will do and spend almost any amount of time and money to take political control of them so you can drill the crap out of them.

You do remember the recording from your industry’s Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission conference we reported on last year. You know, the one where CRED’s Director of Operations and Coalitions, Mark Truax, told a room full of oil industry execs along with the head of Colorado’s COGCC how the oil and gas industry was taking over city councils along the Front Range in an effort to make sure that communities couldn’t stop the industry from drilling in the middle of their neighborhoods. Let’s see… He bragged you oil guys had gotten control of Denver and Fort Collins and had actually managed to “keep municipal ballots and municipal ballot measures [regarding oil and gas extraction] off every city and county in Colorado… ” Since then, you took over Thornton. Wow, you guys really do care about the communities you contaminate… I mean work in.

But a funny thing happened this past November, didn’t it, Mr. Haley? You got picked on and bullied by all those mean moms and dads with their nasty public discourse.

After having had your way for decades, after forcing your will onto one community after another without consequence, after letting you take their lunch money time after time out of fear, the people of Colorado have started to say, “No more.”

On Nov. 7, voters overwhelmingly passed Question 301 in Broomfield, a ballot issue that gives that city more control over oil and gas extraction in its jurisdiction. Lafayette elected a council committed to fighting drilling in that community. Longmont now has a solid majority on council who were put there to, among other things, protect that community from the coming oil and gas industry invasion. The City of Boulder elected a green council and stayed on course for a municipal electric utility that will allow it to unshackle from the oil and gas industry. Hell, you oilies almost lost control of Greeley after spending as much as $150,000 on individual council races in that historically oil-friendly town. When Greeley is saying “no more,” you are in serious trouble.

Is this the bullying you speak of, Mr. Haley? Are free speech and democracy picking on your poor little industry?

Well I’ve got news for you and everyone who heard your whining speech at the Marriott: When your pals start rolling in the rigs to drill the hundreds of new wells in East Boulder County that you have already announced, wells that more than 300,000 residents of this beautiful place have made clear that they don’t want in their communities, near rural homes, next to their schools or on their open space, I suspect the public discourse will not be to your liking. Buckle up.

The oil and gas industry believes it is being attacked and bullied because people are finally saying enough is enough. For too long this industry has forced its contamination into our lives, has destroyed our property values, our health and our quality of life. It literally is our brown cloud. It has placed us in harm’s way for decades and its insistence on drilling in populated areas for no reason other than greed has even resulted in people being blown up in their own homes.

All things considered, you should be scared for your industry, Mr. Haley. The free ride is over. You can’t buy outcomes anymore.    

  • Ben

    What a rag piece.

  • jp oz

    Thank you Joel!

  • TLUF

    Fantastic writing as always!

  • christine_nyholm

    Amen! Here in Adams County we have over 500 newly permitted wells with many more flowing comfortably through the permit process. Most are adjacent to new housing developments. Seems they go hand-in-hand these days. Like Ward Petroleum’s 26 wells on its Ivey site at 152nd and York, next to E470. While hundreds of us residents sent in objections, they were silenced by Colorado’s “stringent” regulations. In a brand new neighborhood, Fairfield by Richmond Homes, the half-dozen homeowners still unloading their moving vans and laying down sod had no idea that the wells, permitted in 2015, would be across the street from their $500,000+ dream homes. They are devastated and all Adams County officials can tell them is that they have no recourse…except to move…again.
    So, thank you for being our voice. Keep up the great reporting!

    • blokely

      The “new housing developments” were approved with the knowledge that there would likely be oil and gas development around the developments, the reasons being:

      1. It was known that the developments would sit on top of a gas field
      2. It was known that Colorado law gives mineral rights owners great leeway in developing their rights

      No one should be surprised that the o&g development is occurring. If a town approved a development knowing it was likely there would be o&g development around the development, whose fault is it when the expected o&g development comes to pass?

      As for the $500,000+ dream homes, the Colorado contract for buying and selling residential property contains very clear language about the distinction between surface and mineral rights and the rights granted to the owners of the mineral rights.

      (See https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B1VD36mBqe1EfnJaMGl3MVBxX0Zva3RVbEY2amVuc1Y4SFh2X3JDZTVHeGxUUVRzaGdDMVU
      sections 8.7.1 through 8.7.4)

      The tensions between o&g development and residential development have existed for decades. If the people considering spending $500,000+ for their dream home had read the contract and done their due diligence they would have known it was possible there would be o&g development across the street, at which point they could have made an informed decision. Again, whose fault is it when the expected o&g development comes to pass?

      I’m not a shill for the o&g industry but I do think the problem, and what would be an equitable resolution, is more nuanced than Dyer’s simplistic viewpoint.

      • christine_nyholm

        Yet people ARE surprised. At this point, I would check into it, but most people don’t. Too trusting? Perhaps, and you have to admit it takes a bit of inveastigative ability to garner the facts.