Mountain States

*UPDATE II* Boulder Congressman: A ‘Poster Boy’ for Hypocrisy

UPDATE II (8/12/2013; 3:34pm ET) Turns out we weren’t alone in taking issue with the recent antics of Rep. Jared Polis. After an interview with the Boulder Congressman, the Denver Post’s editorial page editor, Vincent Carroll, wrote a column entitled “Breaking down Rep. Jared Polis’ anti-fracking rhetoric.” Rep. Polis told the Post that he “doesn’t want to ban all drilling with hydraulic fracturing” and “even compared those who do to fringe groups seeking to outlaw fluoride in water.”

But, as Carroll noted, the Congressman sure has a funny way of showing it, especially when you examine the claims made in a fundraising e-mail Polis sent to supporters recently.

A few highlights from Carroll’s piece:

[H]is rhetoric elsewhere — including written columns and a video linked in a fund-raising e-mail — has too often been the sort you hear from the most strident drilling opponents.

Melodramatic overstatement. “I, for one, would never have bought a weekend getaway next to a smelly, ugly, potentially dangerous drilling rig,” Polis says on his video, later adding, “It’s over. This part of our Colorado dream is over.”

Seriously? His 50-acre weekend retreat is forever despoiled by a few weeks of drilling on an adjacent property?

Sundance CEO Eric McCrady tells me the drilling of three wells will wind up this week, after less than 20 days. The wells will be fracked later — about four hours needed for each. And then trees will be planted around the infrastructure, which will be less than 10 feet high.

If Polis can live with junked cars on his property (which he extols in his video), surely he can tolerate a well pad next door.

Hyping fear of chemicals. “Who knows what kinds of chemicals are in all those drums we can see … .”

It’s safe to say they’re the kind you don’t want to ingest or to spill, just like the chemicals in every other industrial process — as well as the ones under your sink and in your garage.

Conflating drilling and fracking. “I was fracked.”

No, the derrick that provoked Polis’ lawsuit (soon withdrawn) was engaged in drilling.

— —

UPDATE (7/31/2013; 3:59pm EST): Another day, another hypocritical twist in Congressman Polis’ publicity tour against domestic energy production.

To recap, Congressman Polis owns a vacation home with 50 acres of land in Weld County, and last week he filed a lawsuit to stop his neighbor and an oil and gas company from drilling wells across the road from his property. The lawsuit claimed the drilling operation was too loud and complained of noxious odors that made the air around the Congressman’s vacation home “unfit to breathe.”

But Polis dropped the lawsuit almost immediately, after an inspection report from the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) told a different story: No fumes besides engine exhaust, and the operator was voluntarily installing sound barriers, even though wind conditions prevented noise tests from being carried out. Despite his decision to drop the lawsuit, Polis “dismissed the findings” of the COGCC inspection, according to a Friday, July 26, article in the Boulder Daily Camera.

But then, in opinion pieces published over the weekend, Polis attacked the COGCC by falsely claiming the regulatory body has a “majority of representatives from the oil and gas industry.” The truth? There are nine members of the COGCC, and only three have backgrounds in the oil and gas industry. The majority of the commission is comprised of officials with expertise in local government, agriculture, soil conservation and environment and wildlife protection, as well as the heads of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

So, after the Congressman worked so hard to discredit the COGCC’s work, we were surprised to learn he’s now trying to take credit for the COGCC’s work. According to the Daily Camera’s latest story, after finding no evidence to support the Congressman’s complaints about fumes and noise, the COGCC continued to investigate and found the operator may have been using a drilling rig that’s too tall for the location. Rigs come in different shapes and sizes, and Colorado law requires that wells being drilled and structures like roads and power lines be separated by a distance of 1.5 times the total rig height. The story reports the COGCC hasn’t made any final decisions, but the operator will move the location of two subsequent wells to increase the distance between the drilling rig, roads and power lines.

So, did Polis dismiss the findings of the COGCC this time around? Why, no, of course not. The Congressman told the Daily Camera: “I had to hire lawyers and file a complaint with the COGCC to uncover these violations.”

So, in the course of just a few days, Congressman Polis has attacked the COGCC’s work, embraced the COGCC’s work, and now taken credit for the COGCC’s work. And what’s the purpose of all of this contorted logic and political spin? To defend a lawsuit that he even refused to defend in court, to justify his decision to sue people and start pitching stories to the news media before asking state regulators to conduct a substantive investigation, and to suggest all this maneuvering was motivated by a higher purpose than simply generating press coverage for the Congressman.

—Original Post 7/30/2013—

In the span of a little over a week, U.S. Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.) heard about oil and gas operations near his vacation home, sued his neighbor and an oil and gas company, dropped said suit because he was called out for lack of evidence, and declared that the “universe has selected me to be a poster boy for reining in out-of-control fracking.” Whoa. It was a whirlwind publicity tour that solidified the fact that the Boulder-based representative could only be considered the poster boy for attention-grabbing antics and hypocrisy.

The Backstory

Congressman Polis owns a vacation home in unincorporated Weld County, Colorado. He uses the home, and attached farm land, when he needs to get away from “doing the business of his constituents in the 2nd Congressional District.” The father and sister of his partner also live on the 50-acre property. On July 18th, his family noticed construction of oil and gas operations on a nearby neighbor’s property. Shortly thereafter, Polis claimed his family was disturbed by strong fumes and loud noises.

Instead of reaching out to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which oversees oil and gas operations and complaints, or reaching out to the operator directly, Polis went straight to the press and the courts. He filed a lawsuit against the operator and his neighbor to prohibit operations near his property, and then apparently started calling news reporters.

The problem? Polis didn’t have any facts to back up his claims. So, the operator in question, Sundance Energy, filed a motion to have the case dismissed. Polis, who must have recognized that simply complaining for the sake of complaining doesn’t hold up in any courts, dismissed his suit before the courts could have their say.

Additionally, once the COGCC was finally alerted to the complaint, they sent an inspector out to Polis’ property to investigate the situation. The complaint alleged “a guest working on my property … was suffocated by a horrible, pungent odor.” But here’s what the inspector’s preliminary report found: “No odors were identified except engine exhaust.” The inspection report also noted that Sundance Energy was installing noise-reducing walls, utilize water trucks to reduce dust, and review the positions of their lights. Not exactly the dramatic scene portrayed by Polis.

A Soapbox of Misinformation

Even after dismissing his suit, Congressman Polis continued his media tour. He authored guest commentaries for the Boulder Daily Camera and the Colorado Pols website where he made numerous bold, but false, claims about hydraulic fracturing. It would take days to get through all of the dramatic prose, but let’s take a look at the most egregious claim.

CLAIM: “The unknown effects off [sic] fracking have been a grave concern to me – that we don’t know the impact this intense industrial process is having on people’s health, water, and property values.”

FACT 1: Hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe, proven and regulated technology that has been used for over 60 years, and has been subjected to tests and studies on every step of the process. Anti-oil and gas activists are fond of claiming that these studies don’t exist. The truth is that the State of Colorado has conducted multiple air quality studies along the Front Range – including in Erie, which straddles Weld and Boulder County – and found that the risks of any health effects over a lifetime are low. My colleague, Simon Lomax, fully debunked this talking point here, if you want to read more.

FACT 2: As for the water, this one couldn’t be simpler. There has never been a confirmed case of ground water contamination due to the hydraulic fracturing process, despite this technology being used more than a million times over the past six decades. Just ask the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators from across the country, or academics like Mark Zoback, a Stanford University geophysicist and adviser to the Department of Energy.

FACT 3: Polis has also got it wrong on property values. According to NBC News, Colorado has the fifth-strongest housing market in the country and “was not badly damaged when the housing bubble broke.” In Weld County, which is the site of Polis’ home and over 19,000 oil and gas wells, median home prices rose by 12% last year. In fact, local news outlets reported that “[t]he area’s oil and gas drilling boom has pumped up the county’s assessed property value to $7.1 billion” and “[t]he value of agricultural property also increased 18 percent from a year ago.”

FRAC Act. Void When It Comes to NIMBY-ism?

Now here’s a twist – Congressman Polis, who has introduced legislation numerous times in Congress to overthrow the existing state-based regulation of hydraulic fracturing and federalize the permitting process, is now clamoring for local authority. In his Daily Camera piece, the Congressman lauds the city of Boulder for passing a local fracking ban. He also claims that “local control should be respected” in the Colorado Pols version. Yet, in a 2011 press release introducing his FRAC Act bill, Representative Polis said he would prefer federal control, or as he calls it, a “national safety-net.” Now, in circumstances like these, mere mortals have to make a choice. But Polis – who was, after all, chosen by the Universe – can demand federal control when it suits him, and insist upon local control when it’s convenient. It’s called the doctrine of “whatever it takes to get my own way.”

Poster Boy for Hypocrisy?

For all of the Congressman’s public concerns about natural gas development, there is another side of the story, one that shows his own personal stake in oil and gas development. One look into Polis’ financial disclosure forms will tell you that Polis himself has invested potentially millions of dollars in oil and gas investment companies. The conservative political website Colorado Peak Politics did the math and found that in 2011 Polis has between $1 million and $5 million invested in the oil and gas industry through a private equity investment firm called Bow River Capital Funds. EID had a look at his records since then and found that Polis has continued to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in the same firm.

In his ColoradoPols piece, Polis states, “Thankfully I have done well enough that we can afford to move our family” – apparently, that’s partly due to his investments in oil and gas. Yet Polis wants to deny those same rights to others who wish to lease their land and who may really need the money? Sounds like he’s more of a “poster boy” for hypocrisy than anything else.

By now it should be crystal clear that Representative Polis actions were more about generating press clips and scoring political points than actually addressing any legitimate concerns. Now that the facts are out, we will be watching to see if Representative Polis continues to use this adventure in his crusade against natural gas development. If he does, we will be there to provide the facts.

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