Mountain States

CU Boulder Audit Reveals Activist Researcher’s Misconduct. Will Elected Officials Keep Defending Him?

Air quality researcher Detlev Helmig could face civil and criminal prosecution for mixing funding slated for university research with his personal business pursuits, according to an audit recently released by his former employer, the University of Colorado Boulder. As the Boulder Daily Camera reports:

“An audit of former University of Colorado Boulder researcher Detlev Helmig alleges that he committed fiscal misconduct, including diverting business to his private company and costing the university more than $700,000.

“The allegations may lead to civil prosecution to recover the money and ’forwarding information to the appropriate authorities for criminal prosecution,’ according to the audit report sent to Chancellor Phil DiStefano on Thursday.”

CU Boulder’s allegations are more serious than Helmig alluded to in an interview last month, raising questions as to how elected officials will react to the news. State Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones have cited Helmig’s research on numerous occasions and both came out in defense of him since his firing. The duo even co-wrote an op-ed titled “We Stand with Detlev Helmig.”

The issue could force municipalities to reexamine their contracts with Helmig’s company, Boulder A.I.R., including Broomfield and Longmont.

Energy In Depth has followed this story since it first broke in April including Helmig’s hiring of an anti-energy activist lawyer and his first interview since he was released from the university, which happened to be with an activist news-site. In the interview, Helmig acknowledged he chose to pursue work with the City of Broomfield without approval from the university. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, according to the audit. From the Daily Camera:

“The 13-page audit report alleges years of misconduct, including that Helmig diverted contracts with Broomfield and Boulder County to his private business that would have otherwise gone to CU Boulder.

… The audit states that investigators talked to INSTAAR employees and Helmig and reviewed years of financial records before determining that Helmig committed fiscal misconduct under Board of Regents policy, including using university property for personal gain and improperly handling financial reports. The report also alleges that Helmig misreported financial information to the National Science Foundation.”

Energy In Depth has covered Helmig’s years of flawed research targeting the industry where he has ignored key context on ozone, used inaccurate measurements and inferred information to media that contradicted actual results.

Helmig’s work has been praised by Fenberg, whose conversations with Helmig informed legislation he’s introduced aimed at oil and natural gas production. Likewise, Jones has frequently sought to falsely single out oil and natural gas production as the primary cause of air pollution, even as data shows that volatile organic compounds from oil and natural gas operations fell by more than 40 percent between 2011 and 2017, all while production increased by almost 400 percent over the same period of time. The industry has made tremendous progress against pollution and the brown cloud over the years and a top state official admitted the government’s strategy targeting the industry is flawed.

As more news comes to light over this situation, the question remain: Will Fenberg and Jones continue to defend Helmig and rely on his flawed research in their campaigns against oil and natural gas production in Colorado?

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