Mountain States

Colorado Activist Group Misleads Task Force with Denial of Anti-Energy Agenda

The San Juan Citizens Alliance denies being an “anti-energy” group. But in this 2010 video, the group called its campaign against the oil and gas industry a “street fight,” endorsed “bans on drilling,” and urged other activist groups to “put up as many obstacles … to make it as difficult as possible to develop” oil and gas.

An activist organization based in Western Colorado has joined the growing list of fringe environmental groups trying to mislead the state’s new oil and gas task force.

This time, in public testimony to the task force, the San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) portrayed itself as a moderate environmental group that wants tighter regulations – not bans – on oil and gas development. The SJCA went further and specifically denied being an “anti-energy” group.

But this is completely untrue. The SJCA actively supports drilling bans and has even called the campaign against the oil and gas industry a “bar fight,” “street fight” and “back-alley fight.” The SJCA also works closely with fringe groups such as WildEarth Guardians and Global Community Monitor (GCM), which want to wipe out drilling by banning hydraulic fracturing – a brief but essential step in developing almost every active oil and gas well in the U.S. today. For example, WildEarth Guardians is campaigning for a “frack-free West” while GCM says hydraulic fracturing must be banned because “no regulations can make fracking safe.”

This is part of a bigger trend in anti-energy activism in Colorado. “Ban fracking” groups such as Food & Water Watch and Water Defense, who want to eliminate Colorado’s oil and gas industry, are cloaking their real agenda with calls for increased statewide regulation and the legalization of local energy bans. The most visible example is millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, who actually claimed two anti-energy ballot measures were meant to “ensure the continued growth and development of the energy industry.”

But when the Congressman’s fellow Democrats and business leaders called out the ballot initiatives as “extreme measures that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado,” Polis pulled them down in exchange for the creation of the oil and gas task force. Now, the Polis-funded campaign – Safe Clean Colorado – is teaming up with groups like the SJCA, Earthworks, Environment America, Sierra Club and the Center for Western Priorities to lobby and mislead the task force into endorsing the same extreme measures activists were pushing for the statewide ballot this year.

Concealing an anti-drilling agenda

On Oct. 9, the oil and gas task force held a meeting in Durango, where the SJCA is headquartered. During the public comment period, SJCA executive director Dan Olson said:

“Oftentimes in polarized discussions we get framed as the people who are anti-energy development … We’re not advocating for the destruction of the oil and gas industry. This is an important part of our community, but we also think that stricter regulations would benefit all of us in the long run.”

Compare this denial of the “anti-energy” agenda to what the SJCA told an Earthworks conference of anti-energy activists in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 2010:

“A lot of you are at the beginning of this fight. And I think that you realize that this is going to be a bar fight. This is a street fight. This is a back-alley fight. And you’ve got to fight it any way you can, any tool you can use. Whether it’s bans on drilling, whether it’s local regulations, whether it’s severance taxes, you have got to put up as many obstacles, you have to make it as difficult as possible to develop.”

So the SJCA isn’t trying to improve the way oil and gas is developed by lobbying for new regulations. In reality, it’s just another anti-energy group trying to block oil and gas from being developed at all.

Ties to national “ban fracking” groups

For example, the SJCA is a member of the Stop the Frack Attack Network, alongside national anti-energy groups including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity and fringe environmental activist Bill McKibben’s Shortly after it was launched in 2012, Stop the Frack Attack even organized a march on Washington, D.C. to demand a national ban on hydraulic fracturing. Such a ban would effectively eliminate oil and gas drilling in the U.S. because more than 90 percent of wells must be fractured in order to produce meaningful amounts of energy.

To accomplish this national oil and gas ban, activist groups have been lobbying Washington for decades to take the permitting of hydraulic fracturing away from state regulators – who have overseen the safe use of this technology since it was pioneered more than 65 years ago – and put federal regulators in charge. Once the permitting process is federalized, the activists believe they can prevent any permits from being issued, just as they have done for more than six years in New York.

However, a federal takeover of the permitting process has been strongly opposed by state-level regulators and rejected by senior environmental officials in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. But the anti-energy activists haven’t given up and continue to push a bill in Congress called the FRAC Act, which would lay the foundation for an outright or de facto national ban on hydraulic fracturing. As Food & Water Watch says, the FRAC Act is a “necessary measure” for anti-energy activists “until we can ban the process altogether.”

Just as the SJCA works with national anti-energy groups through the Stop the Frack Attack Network, it’s also joined Food & Water Watch, and the Sierra Club in lobbying Congress to pass the FRAC Act. The SJCA has also praised the de facto ban on shale gas development in New York and a series of unlawful local energy bans on Colorado’s Front Range:

“While Gov. Frackenlooper and his industry cronies don’t like this trend, it is commonly seen as a rational move for several reasons.”

Partnership for a “frack-free West”

Another anti-energy partnership of the SJCA involves working with Santa Fe, N.M-based WildEarth Guardians to block oil and gas development on federal lands. True to the SJCA’s “street fight” strategy, WildEarth Guardians uses petitions and lawsuits against federal agencies to put up as many obstacles as possible to oil and gas development. In fact, in a recent statement about its work with the SJCA, WildEarth Guardians said:

“[O]ur aim is a frack-free West. One victory at a time, we are doing it.”

Elsewhere, WildEarth Guardians even explains why anti-energy groups like SJCA misrepresent themselves as reasonable critics who want new regulations that still allow the oil and gas industry to stay in business:

“[I]t’s not enough to make oil and gas development cleaner or safer. For the sake of our health, our quality of life, and our future, it simply has to be stopped…

In some cases, we can stop it cold, like our recent victory in keeping oil and gas leases from being sold near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. In other cases, we can raise the cost of drilling to make it economically infeasible. In Colorado, we’re working closely with partners to ensure more stringent and costly clean air rules are adopted to limit methane and smog-forming pollution from fracking.

To win, we have to make it as difficult as possible for the oil and gas industry to frack … [W]e can turn the tide and keep fracking out of America’s backyard.”

Bringing in the “Bucket Brigade”

Besides working closely with WildEarth Guardians, the SJCA also teamed up with Global Community Monitor (GCM) to make a series of alarmist and highly misleading claims about air quality near a Durango elementary school. GCM, based just outside San Francisco, runs the “Bucket Brigade” program, in which activists take air samples in buckets lined with plastic bags.

As Energy In Depth noted more than two years ago, the claims of SJCA and GCM activists were debunked by state and federal environmental regulators and by the school district’s own follow-up research. EID also revealed that GCM, by its own admission, is an anti-energy group that specializes in producing skewed test results that advance political, not scientific, goals. As GCM executive director Denny Larson wrote in a handbook for anti-energy activists:

“The Bucket Brigade is not a scientific experiment. Our focus is on organizing. We use science, but only in the service of organizing.”

In case that’s not clear enough, GCM has openly called for hydraulic fracturing to be banned in the group’s home state of California. This position is so extreme it’s been rejected by California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown – one of the nation’s most celebrated environmentalists – and the vast majority of legislators in the deepest of deep-blue states. According to GCM:

“[W]e oppose fracking in California and want to see it banned…

The most important flaw in Governor Brown’s fracking regulations is that they allow fracking. There are no regulations that can make fracking safe.”

Pro-energy words don’t match anti-energy actions

At the end of the day, the SJCA faces the same predicament as Congressman Jared Polis, whose Safe Clean Colorado campaign is leading other anti-energy groups to lobby and mislead the oil and gas task force. Congressman Polis is trying to use pro-energy rhetoric to mask his record of working with anti-energy activists like Gasland director Josh Fox. Likewise, the SJCA wants people to believe it’s a middle-of-the-road environmental group, when it’s actually throwing punch after punch at the oil and gas industry in a “back-alley fight” against energy development and the tens of thousands of Colorado jobs it supports.

The SJCA can deny its anti-energy agenda over and over again, but in the end, actions speak much louder than words.


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