Fracking activists are the Tea Party of the Left?

Denver Post doing its part for the oil and gas industry’s disinformation campaign


Let’s recap: First, the message was the oil and gas industry equals jobs and if those who oppose fracking don’t back down, those jobs will be taken away from Colorado.

Of course people figured out this dirty industry really only accounts for a tiny 1 percent of Colorado’s jobs and that with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of hydrocarbons under our state, the industry was never going to take their jobs and go home as promised.

Then the industry and its political and media helpers told us those who were concerned about all that drilling in their neighborhoods and next to their children’s schools were just ignorant alarmists because Colorado had the toughest laws in the land when it comes to oil and gas extraction. Again, not so much.

Turns out that Colorado, like the other states, has virtually no control whatsoever over health-threatening, oil-and-gas-industry wastes because the federal government has either exempted the industry completely as in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle C or given it “special provisions” that allow it to bypass important parts of other laws designed to protect our air and water like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

So while our state regulations may be written to sound strong, they are also written to be subordinate to the federal regs that industry lobbyists managed to buy their way around years ago. The only ones Colorado oil and gas regs are tough on are those folks living next to a VOC-spewing production platform.

And that brings us to more recent times, which I’ll just refer to as the great Colorado “media buy.” It’s a term that can be read two ways and both are accurate. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent with television and newspaper companies to buy everything from the fake, pro-fracking “Energy and Environment” section in The Denver Post to the daily onslaught of deceptive TV ads that claim fracking and apple pie are really one and the same thing or more recently that people who want local control over the oil and gas industry’s industrial practices in their towns are simply stupid.

The size of this ad spend is unprecedented in Colorado history and it comes at a time when the mainstream media is otherwise struggling economically.

So let’s cut to the chase and ask the real question:

Is all this money being dumped on the state’s major media players buying what the industry hopes it is buying, namely positive press coverage of the oil and gas industry, negative coverage of activists who oppose drilling and fracking, or at the very least, a hell of a lot of silence on the subject even though it is clearly the most newsworthy story of our time? It sure seems to me that the answer is yes.

The latest illustration is a Denver Post piece by Lynn Bartels that ran July 20 in the Post and Daily Camera and who knows how many of the other 20-plus papers Digital First owns and repurposes content through.

In the Camera, the subhead of this “news” story read, “Tea Party of the Left new name for ‘fractivists.’” The gist of the article was that Colorado citizens opposed to fracking — a group that would include activists in favor of local control over the actions of the oil and gas industry — are going to split the Democratic Party and turn the state of Colorado back to red and possibly could even do the same thing to the U.S. Senate.

Pretty scary, huh? I’ve been waiting for the oil and gas industry to make this lame “Ralph Nader” argument to try to scare moderates into not voting to protect their neighborhoods from drilling and fracking as a sacrifice to keeping the dreaded boogeyman, the Republicans, from winning the political football game in November. I just thought they would wait until mid October to trot it out.

What I didn’t expect, though I probably should have, was to see this new scare tactic first delivered by the very newspaper that should be spending its time and resources to debunk, not promote, such divisive, fear-mongering industry spin.

I found it fascinating that if you search Google for all the places where people who oppose fracking are being referred to as “the Tea Party of the Left,” the only thing that comes up is this Denver Post article and the places where it has been reposted or linked. And then if you look at the article itself to see who is being quoted as saying that fractivists are the Tea Party of the Left who are going to cost Dems the election, there’s no one.

The whole concept appears to be just the creation of Bartels and/or her editors at the Post. In fact, the entire paragraph that makes up the premise of Bartels’ article is full of sensational statements attributed to no one.

“And he [anti-fracking activist Cliff Willmeng] and his like-minded allies have a new, unflattering label, the Tea Party of the Left. Also known as ‘fracktivists,’ the group, like their conservative counterparts, is sworn to certain principles — even if those beliefs cost their side of the aisle the election in November.”

Really? It seems to me that if fracktivists have a “new, unflattering label” it’s only because Bartels and the Post just pulled it out of their ass and gave it to them. But it does make a nice gift to the industry PR flacks who are now burning the midnight oil to spread this new, unflattering label and scare tactic all across the country by way of chat rooms, blogs, tweets and Facebook posts.

My favorite part of Bartels’ article is that really dramatic section about fracktivists being “sworn to certain principles — even if those beliefs cost their side of the aisle the election in November.” It gives me goose bumps the way that only good fiction can. For some reason, Bartels forgot to mention the secret tattoos that fracktivists use to recognize one another or their blood-drinking ceremonies where they swear an oath to destroy all democrats who oppose their views.

If I didn’t know better I’d swear this transparent hit job on people who oppose fracking was the work of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, but how could that be? It’s not like COGA can get their spin printed as news in a major metro newspaper owned by a hedge fund just because their industry is giving that paper a bunch of money.

If those opposed to drilling and fracking in their neighborhoods are the Tea Party of the Left as the industry… I mean Denver Post would have you believe, then where were the rabid primary candidates knocking poor Governor Hickenlooper and Senator Udall out of the race leaving the door wide open for Republicans? Where are the ads being run by the Tea Party of the Left trying to get Hick and Udall and Polis beaten in November? You don’t see them because they don’t exist.

There’s a big difference between being the Tea Party of the Left and being pissed off because your choice for governor seems to boil down to two major party candidates fighting for the privilege of being the oil and gas industry’s chief lap dog. And that’s true for Democrats and Republicans. That’s right Denver Post, breaking news: A good many people who support local control over where the oil and gas industry gets to drill and frack in their towns are Republicans and therefore, a kind of poor fit for your new made-up title of Tea Party of the Left. Do you really think that a fringe left group could have won bans and moritoriums on fracking in towns like Broomfield, Lafayette and Longmont without more than a few Republican votes?

Let’s be honest, if Hickenlooper were actually to lose to Bob Beauprez, which isn’t likely to happen, it would be because he has been a lousy governor with the exception of a few of his positions on certain social issues. A trained cockatoo could have run the state better, assuming Beauprez didn’t train the cockatoo. See, that’s sort of an endorsement.

A Hickenlooper loss will be on his head alone, not because activists who want more local control over where drilling and fracking occur are imploding the Democratic party.

Same goes for Udall. The guy takes a ton of money from the oil and gas industry, including the gas pipeline sector, and then he pushes a bill to allow exports of natural gas that all but insures that 40 states, including Colorado, will get the living hell drilled and fracked out of them over the next few years.

People who actually examine the research instead of watching TV commercials understand that the exporting of gas may well be the fuse that ignites the most destructive bomb to ever hit our environment.

Such exports will cause our own gas prices to soar as well as increasing the prices of our consumer goods. The only beneficiaries of this short-sighted export madness are the oil and gas companies and the politicians who take their money.

So it only makes sense that Udall is struggling to regain the support of some of his better-educated constituents.

But like Hick, Udall has done some good things that will be remembered this fall. Will Democrats who oppose fracking vote for Cory Gardner because Udall was lame on their issue? Of course not, Gardner has the same corporate overseers in the oil and gas industry, pushed the same gas export bill and would add to his list of dumbassness a desire to push women’s rights back into the dark ages.

Like Hickenlooper, if Udall comes up short he has only his own record to blame.

What the Denver Post and apparently the oil and gas industry don’t seem to understand is that the antifracking movement stopped being solely about a dangerous chemical process for extracting hydrocarbons from shale at least 18 months ago. It has evolved into a widespread movement that, at its core, believes that people have the right to protect themselves and their loved ones and their communities from corporations who would risk their health, their quality of life, their home values and the environment for nothing more important than a little more profit.

These people are not stupid or the one-dimensional zealots the Post story would lead you to believe. They have not “sworn to principles” that require them to sink politicians of this party or that. They are simply people looking for elected leaders who can pull the corporate influence out of their ears long enough to listen and do the right thing.

There is a seed change taking place within the Colorado electorate and in other places around the country where the oil and gas industry and other polluters have gone too far. It’s similar to what occurred in the early 1970s, a time of environmental activism that culminated in the formation of the EPA, and the bipartisan creation of much of the legislation that now protects our environment including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, laws that the oil industry now, at least partially, gets around thanks to decades of lobbying with checkbook in hand.

It’s important for people to see the Denver Post’s made-up scenario — wherein Republicans will conquer the political world unless concerned Colorado citizens back off and give the oil and gas industry everything it wants — for what it is; just the latest scare tactic brought to you by the oil and gas industry and designed to cause divisions among the Democrats, Republicans and independents who want more local control of the industry’s ability to drill, frack and otherwise contaminate and destroy the property values of their communities.



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