Transparency lacking in Leeds School’s REMI report on 2,500-foot setback initiative

Joel Dyer
Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

Honestly, at this point, I would have thought CU’s entire business school would be so embarrassed that everyone associated with the place would be screaming for an end to this whole REMI, oil-and-gas-spin scheme.

Guess not, because another industry-friendly “report” full of startling headlines was recently released into the click-bait universe.

The report in question is titled Colorado Oil and Gas Industry: Economic Assessment of 2,500-Foot Oil and Gas Setback Proposal and was generated, for lack of a better word, by the Business Research Division of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Sounds important.

And that my friends, is the whole point. It’s just another example of credibility-washing industry spin.

I can’t possibly rehash my entire multi-month, 10,000-word investigation into the Common Sense Policy Roundtables’ REMI operation at the Leeds School. It was called “Behind the Curtain: An inside look at the oil and gas industry/Republican ‘Redprint’ for turning Colorado from blue to red.”

So if you want all the sordid details you’ll need to revisit that piece from Sept. 17, 2015. For this most recent report, which is clearly an attempt to discredit the citizen effort to put a 2,500 setback — a buffer zone between oil and gas operations and homes, schools and hospitals — initiative on this November’s ballot, I’ll just recall a few of the high points.

REMI is the name for a particular program that is used all over the country to model regional economic data. It was developed by a company called Regional Economic Models Inc., hence the name, and has a decent reputation at doing the job it was built for. Obviously, it is only as accurate as the data fed into it. It is this potential for “garbage in, garbage out” that has led critics to claim that the program is sometimes used to create economic reports paid for by corporations who fill it with select data to create what amounts to corporate spin.

So how did REMI find its way to the Leeds School?

The Leeds School version goes like this: In 2013, three organizations who had secured the regional exclusive rights to the REMI program for a five-year period came to Leeds and contracted to pay the school $110,000 per year to run the program for them and produce reports. In addition, the school could use the program for its own projects at no cost. The three organizations were the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and Denver South Economic Development Partnership.

The last two of those are established business organizations with right-leaning tendancies. Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR) is a Republican/oil and gas industry front group run by political operatives that calls itself a conservative think tank.

When I did my original investigation, I asked Richard Wobbekind, director of the Business Research Division at Leeds School of Business, if he knew who and what CSPR really was. He told me he did not. He went so far as to claim that if CSPR alone, without the other two more established business organizations, had approached leeds with the REMI proposal, they would have been turned down.

So that’s the Leeds version of things.

Here’s the real story: CSPR alone got the exclusive rights to REMI for five years. CSPR alone signed the contract with the Leeds School. The other two entities, which are hardly pure as snow politically, basically are in a relationship where they pay dues to CSPR to be in the loop on projects. But the final say on everything, including if a report ever gets released or the timing of that release, along with what gets studied, is controlled by CSPR. And the 2,000 documents we got from a Greenpeace open records request showed clearly that Leeds knew all of this.

Despite having this clear knowledge, all REMI reports up until my earlier investigation, claimed, in the fine print, that the work had been done for all three groups which it claimed owned the REMI exclusive license together and had together contracted Leeds to do the work. It was a classic case of credibility washing.

Who would take a report generated for CSPR alone, paid for by CSPR alone and created on software owned and controlled by CSPR alone seriously?

After all, CSPR was founded by and is run by Kristin Strohm, with help from a couple of political operatives who work for her husband Josh Penry’s consulting firm, EIS Solutions. Strohm and Penry are often referred to as the power couple of fracking.

Strohm’s day job is cofounder of the Starboard Group, the most powerful fundraising/consulting entity for the Republican party in the Western United States. CSPR actually pays Starboard group to rent her as its director. You may recall Penry as the former Republican state senator who left office to become an oil and gas consultant.

Like I said, you’d have to go back to the “Behind the Curtain” investigation to get the whole story on CSPR, Strohm and Penry.

I’ll just add that CSPR works with the Koch brothers and is one of the principal drivers behind oil and gas front group Vital for Colorado. CSPR’s board is comprised of oil and gas industry insiders and Koch adherents who attend the brothers infamous annual meetings where subjects such as “how to use the university system to further Koch’s conservative agenda” are discussed. CSPR’s board members are a collection of people with ties to CRED (the powerful oil and gas front group founded and funded by Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy, see page 12 for more) and Colorado Concern.

In other words, this most recent REMI report claiming that if Initiative #78’s 2,500-foot setback were to make the ballot and pass, the sky would fall, we’d all lose our jobs and our children would go hungry, was bought and paid for by operatives of the oil and gas industry/Republican Party with a few uber-wealthy, pro-natural gas Democratic Party donors tossed in for good measure.

And like I said, the other two business groups whose names appear on this report are hardly objective outsiders to all this oil and gas industry maneuvering to stop the ballot measures.

Consider that Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation is simply an affiliate of Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which puts it under the control of political operative Kelly Brough who is a member of Colorado Concern and on the boards of oil and gas front groups CRED and Vital for Colorado, which are spending millions of dollars in an effort to keep the 2,500-foot setback and community control initiatives off the ballot.

And you may recall from my recent reporting on the oil and gas industry’s Initiative #138 that it was put forward by Brough’s chamber’s energy industry director Scott Prestridge. Initiative #138 is the oil and gas industry’s attempt to prevent community control over its activities inside city limits. It’s literally the opposite of initiative #75 that gives communities local control.

And another thing that makes this report stink, for lack of a better word, is its ridiculous examination of the issue. All of the information about the impacts of a 2,500 foot setback came from a single source, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).

Yep, that COGCC, the same oil and gas cheerleading agency whose primary job is to promote the industry. No, I’m not exaggerating. Go look at this week’s cover story on page 12. The COGCC is supposed to regulate the oil and gas industry but as shown in the recording from this week’s cover story, its members participated in a meeting where CRED explained how it is taking over city councils and spending millions to make sure ballot measures like #78 get defeated. The COGCC is as much an industry insider as CSPR.

Furthermore, the REMI report admits that statewide mapping is inadequate and so the COGCC had to do some guessing about how much area would be lost if the setback took effect.

And does anyone ever read these things? Good grief. This report is not only based mostly on an oil promoters guesstimates, it also contains this jewel. “Based on estimates provided by the COGCC, a 2,500-foot setback would curtail accessible drilling locations by 90.2%. Extrapolating this to a reduction in new production, coupled with the quickly depleting yields from existing wells, leads to deeper reductions in GDP, employment, and income compared to a baseline scenario. Assuming a 90.2% reduction in new production beginning in 2017…”

So let’s see, if 90.2 percent of surface is off limits to drilling because it’s within 2,500 feet of a home, school or hospital, then there must be a 90.2 percent loss in oil and gas production. Right?

Maybe in 1945, but not today. These wells are drilled horizontally through the tight shale formations. They can be drilled 2.5 to 3 miles in length if need be. So pushing back a well location an extra 1,500 feet doesn’t necessarily prevent production, it just means the well has to be drilled 1,500 feet longer.

Yes, some production will no doubt be lost with a 2,500-foot setback, but to claim that a 90.2 percent loss in surface area where drilling locations can be placed equals a 90.2 percent loss in production is silly.

Some wells will simply need to be longer and a bit more expensive, but that does not make them impossible to drill.

Everything about this REMI report shows it to be little more than an oil and gas industry product with about as much useful information as CRED’s TV ads, which continue to bend the truth so far my grandmother would have taken a switch to them for lying.

If you haven’t signed a petition for Initiative #78, you still have a few days but you better hurry. If you’re still searching your soul for a reason to sign it, the very fact that these guys are still pulling this REMI crap is justification enough. 

Note to CU: When you get caught, like you did with my earlier reporting, you are supposed to have the good sense to stop doing what you got caught at.

You can’t go on pretending that we don’t know the emperor has no clothes. The Leeds School and CSPR are naked, and frankly, it’s not an attractive sight.

In a normal setting, I’d predict that heads would roll over at the university. But this one is being run by a Republican oil man who happens to be a member of  Colorado Concern, the real puppeteer of Colorado politics. Hell, you Leeds guys will probably get a raise. Hope it’s worth it. This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  • pillpoppinpuppy

    Initiative 78 is a Trojan Horse. What you will find inside is virtually a complete ban on oil and gas in the state. The proponents want you to think you are doing a good thing by voting for a 2500 foot setback. What you would be voting for is a virtual ban on CO O&G, with all the loss in GDP and jobs that goes along with that. Do not sign the initiative.

  • ernie_oertle

    But, the left’s lobbyists against all energy except unicorn-loopies, are very skilled at drill/fracking the common-sense out of your brain when it comes to inexpensive-energy, or greatly reducing foreign dependence, and, they are remarkably effective at snow-jobbing you about water, or how evil Evil EVIL private profit-motive & **business** is.

  • coloradobro

    LOL most of this article is just one giant ad hominem, if I turned this in to my CU professors as a persuasive essay they would have failed me. Can you please just cut out the “OMG big oil is behind everyone and everything in the world so it must be false!” and just talk about the points raised in the article? Barring the subject matter, this article is set up like it was written directly by Donald Trump, absolutely no substance or facts on the actual issue, just name calling and attacking the opponents. If you want to be taken more seriously as a journalist, please cut out the logical fallacies and just stick with disproving the actual points of the opposing argument.

    I do love the “Just move the wells 1,500′ back! Problem solved!” line, the only brief part of the article that actually talks about the contents of the report. Seriously? Have you ever looked at a map of Greeley, or any town for that matter? Please, look at a map of Greeley and Windsor and point out all the places you can drill that aren’t within a half mile of any home or building. I can assure you, the cost of extending the well an extra mile or half mile is basically 0, in fact it is preferred to drill 2 mile wells wherever you can instead of 1 mile wells. If all companies had to do was extend their lateral 1/4 of a mile, this initiative would pass no problem at all.

  • Publius_Valerius

    What is wrong with this picture?

    1. The COGCC has no business putting out a report to the Commissioners that is not complete in its analysis and inferences.

    2. The 90% number is based on “Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission 2500’ Mandatory Setback from Oil and Gas Development GIS – based assessment of impact proposed 2016 Colorado ballot initiative #78 would have on surface lands available for new oil and gas development facilities or hydraulic fracturing operations.”

    This is refers to surface lands, NOT subsurface mineral acreage! A deliberate play on words and concepts by the COGCC?

    3. Banning 90% of the mineral acreage is a lie dependent upon the reader ASSUMING all the surface is needed to develop what is below.

    4. Any front group starting their entire pitch with a major lead-off lie deserves anything else put out taken as misleading, exaggeration or lies also.

    5. The COGCC needs chastising for being party to and setting up this deception.

    Actual surface area required to access subsurface minerals only requires about 1% of the surface to access an entire square mile of 640 acres. i.e. 6.4 acres is a very big chunk of surface for a pad. If you remove a radius of 2500 feet from the square mile, there is actually over 29% left or ~ 190 acres.

    6. What they are really bemoaning, it takes away the discretion of the State to allow pads in urban development which they should be doing anyway and haven’t. Not even with the new rules they just can’t say NO!

  • A short version of my other comment, addressed to a gal named Tami that I was arguing with over at the DeSmog Blog this evening:

    Our setbacks are 1/4 the safe distance from an uncontrolled oil or natural gas fire according to a recent peer-reviewed academic study of thermal temperature modeling, and our setbacks are 1/5th the minimum safe distance from any fracking industry chemical spill, also according to the same academic study. Furthermore, the same study also found a greatly-increased incidence of airborne cancer-causing chemical exposure within a half-mile of a fracking well too.

    Adequacy of Current State Setbacks for Directional High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus, Barnett, and Niobrara Shale Plays: Marsha Haley, Michael McCawley, Anne C. Epstein, Bob Arrington, and Elizabeth Ferrell Bjerke:

    Environmental Health Perspectives, Advance Publication: 19 February 2016:

    Author Affiliations
    1: Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
    2: School of Public Health, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA;
    3: Department of Internal Medicine, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, Lubbock, Texas, USA;
    4: Parachute, Colorado, USA;
    5: Graduate School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

    Another recent peer-reviewed academic study has found an increased incidence with a three standard deviation degree of certainty of human endocrine disorders with a half-mile of an active fracking well. The disorders include birth defects, stillbirths, infertility, and sterility.

    Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals and Oil and Natural Gas Operations: Potential Environmental Contamination and Recommendations to Assess Complex Environmental Mixtures, March, 2016, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Christopher D. Kassotis,1 Donald E. Tillitt,2 Chung-Ho Lin,3 Jane A. McElroy,4 and Susan C. Nagel5,†

    Author Affiliations:
    1Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA,
    2U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center, Columbia, Missouri, USA
    3Department of Forestry, School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA
    4Department of Family and Community Medicine, and
    5Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health, School of Medicine, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA

    Another recent peer-reviewed study has found up to a 400% increase in asthma attacks and prescription asthma inhaler use within 10 miles of an active fracking operation.

    Here is what the Denver Post had to say on July 18th, 2016 about the recent study that found a correlation between proximity to fracking and a much higher incidence of asthma inhaler use and asthma attacks:

    [Quote] Fracking may worsen asthma in children and adults who live near sites where the oil and gas drilling method is used, according to an 8-year study in Pennsylvania.

    The study found that asthma treatments were as much as four times more common in patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than those living far away. [End Quote]

    Association Between Unconventional Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Shale
    and Asthma Exacerbations, Sara G. Rasmussen, MHS1; Elizabeth L. Ogburn,
    PhD2; Meredith McCormack, MD3; Joan A. Casey, PhD4; Karen Bandeen-Roche,
    PhD2; Dione G. Mercer, BS5; Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS1,3,5

    Author Associations
    1: Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
    School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
    2: Department of Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,
    Baltimore, Maryland
    3: Department of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
    4: Robert Wood Johnson, Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program,
    University of California, San Francisco, and University of California,
    5: Center for Health Research, Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pennsylvania

    A study of 34,508 patients over 8 years.

    Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, Published online July 18, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.2436

    Another recent peer-reviewed study has found that 42 water wells in northeast Colorado are indeed polluted with fracking-source methane, which causes flaming tap water, something the industry has long-denied. Now there is plenty of proof that fracking pollutes groundwater.

    [Quote] Between 2001 and 2014 (the last year of complete data), dissolved gas that could be directly linked to deep oil- and gas-bearing formations affected 42 water wells in 32 separate incident cases, a rate of about two cases per year. That rate did not change after the introduction of horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state in
    2010. Eleven of those cases could be linked to older, vertical wells drilled before 1993. The remaining 21 cases were either settled privately with the landowner, or remain unresolved due to lack of data. [End Quote]

    Studying natural gas leakage in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin, University of Colorado, July, 2016: Groundwater methane in relation to oil and gas development and shallow coal seams in the Denver-Julesburg Basin of Colorado

    A peer-reviewed academic study from 2015 (Davies, et. al., Marine and Petroleum Geology), found that 5-6% of underground well-cementing fails under high-pressure fracking, backing-up two earlier peer-reviewed academic studies, which also found an underground well-cementing failure rate of 33-50% at a half-century in age.

    Discussion of “Oil and gas wells and their integrity: Implications for shale and unconventional resource exploitation” by R.J. Davies, S. Almond, R.S., Ward, R.B. Jackson, C. Adams, F. Worrall, L.G. Herringshaw, J.G. Gluyas and M.A. Whitehead. (Marine and Petroleum Geology 2014), Volume 59, January 2015, Pages 671-673

    Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000–2012, Anthony R. Ingraffea,a,b,1 Martin T. Wells,c Renee L. Santoro,b and Seth B. C. Shonkoffd,e Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,

    Another doctoral study (Mary Kang) found that just in Pennsylvania that several hundred thousand abandoned oil & gas wells are leaking methane, a greenhouse gas that initially traps 268 times as much heat in our lower atmosphere as C02 at its maximum heat-trapping impact.

    Abandoned Oil Wells Spouting Significant Levels of Methane:

    Study, Mary Kang, Doctoral Dissertation, 2014

    A Princeton University study has found that leaks from abandoned oil and gas wellbores pose not only a risk to groundwater, but represent a growing threat to the climate.

    Between 200,000 and 970,000 abandoned wells in the state of Pennsylvania likely account for four to seven per cent of estimated man-made methane emissions in that jurisdiction, a source previously not accounted for, the study says.

    Fracking by the Numbers: The Damage to our Water, Land, and Climate from a Decade of Dirty Drilling, Environment America, Elizabeth Ridlington and Kim Norman, Frontier Group, Rachel Richardson, Environment America Research & Policy Center, April, 2016, pdf, 53 pages

    So frankly Tami, the opposition to fracking in Colorado at distances wildly unsafe to homeowners and urban neighborhoods is based on overwhelming recent science.

    However, even if Amendment 75 and 78 pass, you rural Coloradans will still be able to frack yourselves to your heart’s content as Amendment 75 is a local control issue, whereas Amendment 78 is a minimum 2500-foot setback between drilling and both homes and schools, to replace our current terribly unsafe 500-foot setback from homes and 1000-foot setback from schools.

    You want more proof of how unsafe a 500-foot drilling setback is in-case of a blowout explosion and unrestricted fuel fire there are plenty of good videos of drill site and pipeline rupture fuel fires on You Tube.

    Remember the San Bruno, CA natural gas explosion Tami? This is exactly what will happen within 500 feet of a neighborhood of homes when a fracking well explodes like a 1000-lb. napalm bomb, Lucky only 7 people died here as if the fire had occurred at 3:00 AM rather than at 6:30 PM, 100 people or more could have died.

    This one just happened in Pennsylvania three months ago. The first house is at least 1500 feet from the natural gas explosion and the fire melted the vinyl siding right off the front of the house and the garage. The other house was about 500 feet from the fire and its owner was severely burned while his three dogs were all killed. So how far from uncontrolled high pressure natural gas fire is safe Tami?

    Video includes some live ground-level fire video from
    junction of US 22 and PA Rt. 819 three months ago.

    Fire is approximately 1/2 mile from the point where the video was filmed. So why does anyone in the oil & gas industry feel that living 1/5th this distance to a fuel fire of this size is safe?

    Anadarko, the same company that says that fracking is safe!!!

    Say Tami, what is your time in the 500-yard dash anyway? The reason I ask is because if someone has COPD or asthma they aren’t going to make it before they burn and/or suffer serious if not fatal exposure to toxic chemicals.

    What happens to elderly homeowners or even schoolkids 500 feet away when one of your wells goes off like a 1000-lb napalm bomb?

    For these reasons and many others, don’t you think that a minimum 2500-foot setback between homes, schools, and fracking wells would be much safer than a setback so close that homes, automobiles, trees, and shrubs all rapidly ignite, and exposed skin rapidly suffers 2nd and 3rd degree burns?