Falsehoods and Insults From Anti-Energy Activists At COGCC Hearing
Anti-energy activists rehashed the same old falsehoods and tossed around insults during a recent series of Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission public hearings in yet another attempt to undermine responsible oil and natural gas development in the state.
The COGCC is undertaking a week-long series of public hearings as part of the rulemaking process under SB 181 – the law passed last year to overhaul industry regulations. As Energy In Depth previously reported, last week commissioners stated their goals of “collaboration” and “certainty” for all stakeholders and on Monday, industry representatives, elected officials, and community leaders touted the economic and tax benefits of oil and natural gas production.
Despite SB 181 clearly allowing responsible development of oil and natural gas and supporters outlining the importance of the industry, yet again biased researchers and activists banded together to push “Keep It In The Ground” policies in Colorado.
Here are the biggest falsehoods and myths claimed by activists during the COGCC hearing:
Infamous Researcher Lisa McKenzie Again Cited Her Flawed Birth Defect Study
The University of Colorado Boulder’s Dr. Lisa McKenzie has a clear bias against oil and natural gas and a history of publishing flawed studies that gin up scary media headlines before public health officials are forced to correct her work. This routine has been well documented by Energy In Depth. But that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to promote her misleading findings.
During this COGCC hearing, McKenzie cited her flawed study linking oil and natural gas production with an increased likelihood of congenital heart defects in newborns. That study published last year did not take any actual measurements, used only limited information from birth certificates, and mischaracterized existing research.
McKenzie then recalled her study connecting childhood leukemia with oil and natural gas development in rural Colorado. That’s the same study that Larry Wolk, the state’s then-chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, publicly criticized in 2017, calling it “misleading”:
“They didn’t look at a lot of other risk factors that we know are important. You can’t just look at oil and gas wells in isolation. You have to look at all the other potential environmental causes and toxins — they didn’t look at any of them.”
That wasn’t the first time Wolk criticized McKenzie’s work. For instance, in 2014, he took issue with another of her studies on birth defects:
“As Chief Medical Officer, I would tell pregnant women and mothers who live, or who at-the-time-of-their-pregnancy lived, in proximity to a gas well not to rely on this study as an explanation of why one of their children might have had a birth defect. Many factors known to contribute to birth defects were ignored in this study.”
Activists Want To Ban Fracking Despite Environmental Benefits and Community Support
In several instances during their presentations, activists called on the COGCC and other arms of state government to place an outright ban on responsible oil and natural gas production in Colorado and move entirely to renewable energy.
Micah Parkin, the executive director of 350 Colorado, testified that her fringe “Keep It In The Ground” group wants the state to “stop fracking and shift to 100 percent renewable energy.”
New Yorker Dr. Sandra Steingraber of Physicians for Social Responsibility and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking – the same “absolutely objective” activist research who called female oil and natural gas workers “prostitutes” – mentioned her home state’s decision to ban fracking and said that stopping the practice in Colorado is the “necessary and sufficient action.”
But these activists who want to ban responsible oil and natural gas production are firmly in the minority in Colorado. According to a recent American Petroleum Institute poll conducted by the independent media outlet Morning Consult, 87 percent of respondents in Colorado said they get value from oil and natural gas and 68 percent believe the fuels will play a role a significant role in meeting America’s energy needs 20 years from now.
Another 57 percent of voters are more likely to back a candidate that support oil and natural gas development.
Furthermore, oil and natural gas positively complement renewable energy sources by providing dispatchable power when wind and solar resources go offline, as the Washington Post, and many others have noted. According to the International Gas Union (IGU), natural gas helps renewables by filling in the gaps where they tend to fall short:
“Natural gas is clearly the most effective partner for green energy, merely one of a number of qualities of natural gas that make it a pivotal element of the global energy mix today and tomorrow.”
Natural gas also brings major climate benefits. It’s been the top fuel in reducing carbon emissions in the United States and has helped our country become the global leader in emissions reductions.
Activists Support Increased Setbacks – An Issue Already Rejected Voters
A collection of environmental groups participating in the hearing definitively told the COGCC that the state should increase the setback distance of oil and natural operations from homes, schools, water sources, and other locations. The distance proposed by Katherine Merlin, an environmental lawyer representing 350 Colorado, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Lookout Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and Colorado Environmental Advocates, and 350 Colorado’s Parkin – 2,000 to 2,500 feet – is in reality a de facto ban on development and something Coloradans previously rejected in 2018 when they voted against Proposition 112.
Renewed efforts to introduce a similar ballot measure in 2020 were rejected multiple times. House Speaker KC Becker said new “ballot initiatives weren’t needed” and the focus should be on implementing SB 181 – the whole point of these COGCC hearings.
Two different activist groups attempted to carry on anyway before calling it quits after realizing they would never be able to collect the required signatures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, Gov. Polis announced an agreement between industry and mainstream environmental groups to stop all ballot measures through the 2022 election.
These days, it seems like the only people talking about increased setbacks and ballot measures are fringe activist groups.
Colorado Rising Insults Rural Coloradans
Joe Salazar, the executive director of activist group Colorado, decided to use his public testimony to insult rural Coloradans and the hardworking men and women in the oil and natural gas industry.
Salazar insulted the rural way of life and the oil and natural gas workers who live there:
“The industry in some rural counties would you have believe that they know what’s good for their respective interests, but we are in a climate mess because pro-industry foxes have been guarding the climate hen house for far too long. .. It’s not your problem that some counties have placed all their financial eggs in the oil and gas basket. It’s not your responsibility to diversify their workforce or industry.”
He then told rural communities and the industry to stop complaining when government officials on the Front Range make their life harder while enjoying the energy produced in rural Colorado.
“Additionally, rural county commissioners are the same people who will complain when the Front Range is taking their water or taking up too many other resources. And guess what, they’re right in their criticism. But their decisions on oil and gas are having disastrous effects on us all. So, they should stop their hypocritical and hyperbolic bellyaching.”
Finally, Salazar mocked oil and natural gas workers for providing the energy that we all use every day, thinking we can magically power our economy with renewables starting right now:
“This industry is not more important to our economy than say the tourism industry, which prays for environmental consistency, or our agriculture industry which needs water to survive. Heck, the oil and gas industry doesn’t even crack the top five industries of Colorado. So why are we letting them adversely effect the rest of our industry sectors? Oh, let’s not accept the argument that they provide energy across the industry sectors. We’re fully capable of receiving our energy from clean, green sources.”
In other words, rather than work collaboratively with regulators, the oil and natural gas industry and other stakeholders, these activists yet again chose to use the state’s public hearings as a platform to push debunked narratives that only fringe voices in Colorado support.