Mountain States

Fired CU Boulder Researcher Seeks Legal Help From Prominent KIITG Activist

Why would a fired University of Colorado Boulder researcher turn to the leader of a prominent activist group for legal support? Perhaps his history of flawed research and long-standing association with anti-oil and natural gas activist groups and elected leaders is part of the answer.

According to CU Boulder, Dr. Detlev Helmig was fired by the university last month after improperly using publicly-funded research in his personal business pursuits, despite pledging he would keep the two separated. In response, Helmig has sought legal representation from Colorado Rising’s executive director Joe Salazar, a “Keep It in the Ground” group that has worked to ban responsible oil and natural gas development in the state.

Corey Hutchins, a journalism instructor at Colorado College and contributor to the Colorado Independent, broke the news:

“Helmig has retained Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar as his lawyer, and Salazar says he recently sent a letter to CU telling the university to cease and desist discussing his client’s personnel matters with the press.”

Salazar has said that he wants to “sue the hell out of the fossil fuel industry,” and Colorado Rising was the group behind Prop 112 and another ballot initiative this year.

The public that helped pay for the research, activists, legislators and yes, the oil and natural gas industry, are all asking for answers following Detlev Helmig’s dismal from CU Boulder – answers that Helmig isn’t ready to share with the world if his recent choice in legal counsel is any indicator.

Helmig’s decision to retain Salazar shows that the guise is off and he’s fully embracing the anti-oil and natural gas movement, adding to the growing question over the impartiality and objectiveness of his research.

Helmig’s Long History of Anti-Oil and Natural Gas Work

Yet, Helmig using his biased, flawed research as a means to undermine Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry was evident long before he hired Salazar.

He published a study in February that was funded by activist group Earthworks and falsely blamed oil and natural gas production for poor air quality along the Front Range. The study ignored key context about the state’s challenges with ozone and relied on the faulty ethane-to-methane proxy. That study was widely covered by Colorado media and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, one of the industry’s biggest opponents, cited it as the reason for introducing new legislation. It was also praised by officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

Helmig published another study where he sought to attribute ozone pollution to the oil and natural gas industry, but then acknowledged:

“We did not do a study that would attribute ozone to particular sources.”

In a third study, he conceded that other sources besides oil and natural gas could be a major contributor to rising ethane emissions, despite laying the fault solely at the feet of industry in media interviews. He has also worked frequently with Dr. Lisa McKenzie, another CU Boulder professor with clear anti-industry biases who has published highly criticized studies.

Cities and counties along the Front Range with leaders pushing anti-industry agendas have recruited Helmig to conduct air quality work. And Helmig has coordinated with activists in the past including presenting his research to 350 Colorado and Colorado Rising has promoted his work on Facebook.

Colorado media has also frequently featured Helmig, knowing that he could be relied on to give the anti-industry perspective.

Helmig Has Received Support From Leading Anti-Industry Figures

Further undermining Helmig’s credibility is the fact that the leading industry elected officials and activist groups quickly came to his defense – clearly showing he was an ally in their campaign to force the industry out of Colorado.

350 Colorado filed an open records request with CU Boulder demanding more information, not believing the university was telling the truth about the situation:

“350 Colorado is requesting information leading to the abrupt termination by CU of renowned air pollution researcher and Associate Professor, Detlev Helmig, Ph.D. Legitimate questions and concerns that Dr. Helmig’s termination may have been spurred by interested parties outside of the University system must be resolved in the public interest.”

“Dr. Helmig was an Associate Research Professor and Research Scientist at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research (INSTAAR) at CU when his employment was terminated, allegedly because resources and research for the University were not adequately separated from that of private clients. 350 Colorado hopes that the information it seeks through the CORA request will allay its concerns that Dr. Helmig’s termination may have been sought by the oil and gas industry.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones wrote an op-ed arguing that Helmig should not have been fired for abusing publicly funded research.

While we strongly disagree with CU’s decision to part ways with Helmig, what we disagree with even more is the energy industry’s attempts to take advantage of this situation to minimize the role that their emissions play in fueling our region’s serious air quality problems.” (emphasis added)

While interested parties are still waiting to find out if there’s more to this story, hiring Joe Salazar appears to clear up one important fact: Detlev Helmig’s research on Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry was done with a biased agenda.

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