Mountain States

Partisan ‘News’ Outlet Colorado Newsline Criticizes Oil And Natural Gas Industry Without Evidence

The newly formed outlet Colorado Newsline, that’s funded and supported by political donors and part of a larger national network of other partisan “news” websites, published a story over the weekend accusing the oil and natural gas industry of presenting flawed research to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as it considers additional regulations related to statewide setbacks. Yet the outlet offered up no actual evidence to support its claims.

Instead, the story merely complains about a supposed conflict of interest regarding the common practice of oil and natural gas companies working with contractors to study health and safety issues, and cites a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment study that’s not the bombshell the reporter thinks it is.

The story amounts to ironic criticism since Colorado Newsline uses a similar strategy by working with anti-fossil fuel special interests specifically to publish stories that undermine responsible energy production.

Story Offers No Evidence

The Colorado Newsline story focuses on extensive hearings held by the COGCC as a part of its rulemaking process for SB-181, specifically on the issues of setbacks and health and public safety.

During an industry presentation, Tami McMullin, the former state toxicologist for the CDPHE, discussed her public health and safety findings. McMullin now works for the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), a private firm hired by the industry to conduct this analysis. Colorado Newsline argues that because she was hired by the industry – a common practice – McMullin’s finding that extending setbacks are unnecessary is immediately flawed.

To back this up, the writer only offers up that CTEH’s study “differs starkly from the conclusions reached in CDPHE’s multi-year, peer-reviewed study, which found risks from benzene and multiple other toxic chemicals that can be emitted by industry operations.”

But even that’s not correct. When Gov. Jared Polis announced the study last year, he attempted to portray the research as stating that oil and natural gas development was dangerous threat to the public, but as Energy In Depth noted at the time, his misdirection was called out by the media.

The truth is that only in very specific and rare circumstances are there low health risks for certain groups of people, as other media pointed out:

Furthermore, CDPHE noted the following about its study:

“The study is not based on actual health impacts people have reported from oil and gas operations or on measured concentrations in the air surrounding the well pad.”

This was affirmed again by CDPHE during last week’s hearing when Kristy Richardson, the current state toxicologist, said there just isn’t enough evidence to support those claims against the industry:

“These studies are really difficult for us to use in a risk setting because you can’t control a person the way you can control an animal in a lab setting. People are exposed to many different things…all of those different lifestyle factors and dietary factors and genetics all play into the sorts of health outcomes we experience.

“When we think about how we regulate air pollution, we look at the mass per year that you release and for a long-term exposure that’s fine. We can do a lot with that. But when you start trying to think about these acute exposures thinking about how one hour, one day or a couple days of exposure can lead to a health impact, we really don’t have that data in terms of the data we collect from a regulatory perspective.” (emphasis added)

Setbacks have been a hot topic in Colorado the past few years with a failed ballot measure in 2018 that would have increased the distance from all buildings and similar ballot initiatives that crumbled in 2020. Yet among all that, there has been positive collaboration among industry, government, and stakeholders to provide additional safety for schools. Denver 7 reported in 2018:

“The rule change means that new oil and gas sites will have to be at least 1,000 feet away from school property such as playgrounds and athletic fields. The rule change redefined what a school facility and childcare center meant under COGCC rules. Before the change, the sites had to be 1,000 feet away from the school buildings themselves.”

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association, API Colorado, and environmental group Conservation Colorado all praised the collaborative effort. Now the COGCC is debating additional setbacks to protect schools (see graphic below), while “Keep It In The Ground” activist groups like Colorado Rising and 350 Colorado want universal setbacks of 2,000-2,5000 feet despite that proposals already being rejected by voters.

Politically Funded ‘Fake News’

Colorado Newsline’s slant in this story comes as no surprise considering who funds and supports the project.

While it claims on its website to be an “nonpartisan and independent” news organization and says it is “supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers,” the reality is much more complicated.

The site discloses that is part of States Newsroom – a collection of similar state-focused websites – but thanks to reporters not beholden to special interests, we know that States Newsroom was started by the Hopewell Fund.

OpenSecrets reported on what it calls “fake news sites” supported by “dark money.”

“In June 2019, the IRS granted tax-exempt status to the States Newsroom, which functions as an umbrella organization for multiple state-focused news outlets. But the Hopewell Fund registered to use the names of multiple outlets affiliated with the States Newsroom as its own legal aliases.

… However, multiple States Newsroom affiliates fail to meet ‘basic standards of credibility and transparency’ according to NewsGuard … a group launched in 2018 by Steven Brill and Louis Gordon Crovitz that rates the reliability of online news sources.” (emphasis added)

The Hopewell Fund is one of several left-leaning groups managed by Washington, D.C.-based Arabella Advisers which manages other “sister” groups including New Venture Fund and Sixteen Thirteen Fund. According to OpenSecrets, those two groups in turn underwrite “sponsored social media pages and digital operations for five pseudo local news outlets” and Courier Newsroom – another fake news operation:

“Websites affiliated with Courier Newsroom that appear to be free-standing local news outlets are actually part of a coordinated effort with deep ties to Democratic political operatives.”

OpenSecrets also reports that the Hopewell Fund, while supporting Colorado Newsline through States Newsroom, “shares resources” with the New Venture Fund and Sixteen Thirty Fund, both of which are connected to Democratic PACs, including American Bridge and Priorities USA.

Influence Watch, a watchdog website, sheds more light on the Hopewell Fund, which while supporting Colorado Newsline, is also engaged in overt political action:

The Hopewell Fund manages a number of left-of-center single-issue advocacy groups, including the Economic Security Project and pro-Obamacare Get America Covered.”

Politico reported that the Sixteen Thirty Fund was spending millions of dollars during the 2018 campaign to support left-leaning politicians causes in Colorado:

“More than $10 million flowed from the Sixteen Thirty Fund into Colorado alone, to organizations supporting Democrats in state legislative races and campaigns for statewide office, as well as several more focused on expensive ballot measure campaigns.”

Washington Examiner reported that the New Venture Fund has also been active in Colorado throughout the 2010s including support for the Center for Western Priorities – an activist group that works to undermine oil and natural gas development:

“The phantom engagement center we will track first has a name, a website and social media pages, but no address, phone or IRS tax-status recognition: It’s the Center for Western Priorities. The CWP’s executive director is a former Senate staffer and campaign communication director, Trevor Kincaid. Its fiscal sponsor is the New Venture Fund (2011 revenue $36.5 million), whose president is philanthropy strategist Eric Kessler.

“The NVF provides fiscal sponsorship for new project ideas inspired by philanthropists and foundations. Kessler also gives millions to stop Canada’s oil sands production and is the founder and managing director of Arabella Advisors, a strategic management firm for nonprofits.”

It’s all a murky web, but one thing is clear: Colorado Newsline is not the “nonpartisan and independent” news organization it claims to be. Instead, it’s funded and supported by a collection of left-leaning political groups intent on undermining energy production and boosting politicians that oppose the industry.

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