Who is Behind Colorado’s Latest Ban-Fracking Campaign?
Anti-energy activists are increasingly dropping hints that a coordinated campaign targeting Colorado shale development with a state ballot initiative is in the works. And the reemergence of a key operative with ties to celebrity funded anti-fracking organizations, along with the involvement of activists connected to San Francisco-based Sierra Club and Washington D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, suggests that national organizations are once again playing a large behind the scenes role under the guise of “grassroots” movements.
Yet, as reporters begin to raise fresh questions about who is funding the initiatives, activists are again attempting to mislead the public and news media into believing they are a poorly-funded grassroots coalition. As in previous campaigns, evidence is mounting that the latest efforts enjoy the backing of fringe national environmental groups who see Colorado as a key state in their campaign against shale development. A look at the familiar faces that are involved may provide an indication as to who is bankrolling this latest effort.
Are Yoko Ono and Mark Ruffalo Back?
Actor Mark Ruffalo Demands a Moratorium on Fracking in Pennsylvania, October 2015
The recent Stop the Frack Attack march on downtown Denver brought the reemergence of Russell Mendell, Campaign Director with Earth Guardians, who led the march in chants throughout the city. And, in a further sign of his involvement, shortly after the rally, Mendell posted a recap of the march in what is apparently his first post on the Alternet site, associating himself with Frack Free Colorado (FFC).
Russell Mendell Source
As Energy In Depth highlighted in 2013, Mendell, a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement, was sent to Colorado from New York City by Water Defense, which is actor Mark Ruffalo’s activist group. Water Defense joined with Yoko Ono’s Artists Against Fracking and Food & Water Watch to create FFC. But after it was pointed out that national environmental groups were heavily involved in local campaigns against shale development, Mendell denied the charge to the media and subsequently deleted all references to Water Defense and other national connections to the “local campaigns” from the FFC website. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mendell’s reappearance comes as his previous boss, Mark Ruffalo, is actively escalating his campaign against hydraulic fracturing.
Colorado has long been a focus of the actor who penned a 2012 Denver Post op-ed targeting shale development in the state. Even more recently, Ruffalo made Colorado politics a focus of an April, 2014 guest column he authored with Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, denouncing liquefied natural gas exports. He even used his personal Facebook page to target Weld County oil and gas production in March of this year:
Mark Ruffalo, March 2015 Facebook post
Now it appears that Mendell is back. And these recent moves raise questions as to whether the celebrities he works for have a renewed interest in funding anti-fracking initiatives in the state. Perhaps more importantly, it reminds us who is really behind the “ban fracking” campaign in Colorado – national groups like Water Defense and political operatives from extreme anti-business campaigns like Occupy Wall Street.
Hints that a Coordinated Campaign by National Activist Organizations is Underway
Mendell and Frack Free Colorado’s reemergence came alongside the launch of yet another statewide coalition, Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED). CREED launched as activists from around the country gathered in Denver for the Stop the Frack Attack summit with an announcement that they will be “moving forward with ballot measures aimed at protecting Colorado from the dangers associated with fracking operations.”
In a sign that CREED is part of a coordinated effort, the announcement was heralded by Coloradans Against Fracking, an organization that was created earlier this year by Food & Water Watch. In a subsequent post, Coloradans Against Fracking took the connection one step further by implying that they are working together as part of a cohesive strategy:
Starting with Longmont in 2012, EID has pointed out that Food & Water Watch has a long history of coordinating anti-fracking campaigns in Colorado. Others have noticed as well, including The Colorado Statesman, which called the group one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement” describing them as having “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities.”
Food & Water Watch was also a key player in the creation of Frack Free Colorado, Protect Our Colorado and Local Control Colorado as part of the national activists’ attempts to put a local face on their agenda. Now it appears that they are once again taking a leadership role in the state’s campaign against shale development.
Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch Activists Join Forces
Despite billing itself as a “grassroots organization,” CREED’s ties to Food & Water Watch are even more evident from their choice of staff. Cited as CREED’s executive director, Tricia Olson is often quoted in Coloradans Against Fracking communications. But Olson also has ties to Food & Water Watch through her her association with Boulder County Citizens for Community Rights (BCCCR). Not only is BCCCR listed as a member of the Coloradans Against Fracking steering committee, but Food & Water Watch even cites the group’s association with them in fundraising appeals for their efforts to ban fracking.
A look at others who are publicly involved in CREED shows ties to another prominent national organization. At least one of the CREED’s founders has deep ties to national ‘ban-fracking’ organization, the Sierra Club. Their involvement may be signaled with the inclusion of Lauren Swain, who has even been quoted in media reports as “communications coordinator for the Beyond Oil and Gas Team of the Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter,” and is a member of the group’s national “hydrofracking grassroots team.”
After both Food & Water Watch and the Sierra Club attempted to persuade the governor’s oil and gas task force to adopt bans on drilling in Colorado last year, this new group may show a renewed cooperation from the organizations. But perhaps the best evidence that they are working together comes via a post from Swain recapping her experiences at the Stop the Frack Attack Summit. Swain writes:
“And I feel pain when I observe that, sometimes, the hidden agendas of organizations or individuals purporting to serve the people and planet work to dilute or distort these messages, co-opting activists’ energy for their own political or financial gain. But despite this ever-present pitfall, we all must move forward together, taking the reins of power with our talk, our walk, our resources, and our time.
The Stop the Frack Attack March is one of best examples I’ve seen of this cooperative and energizing work, and I look forward to helping replicate and magnify this example both locally and nationwide until we break free of fossil fuels for good.”
Gov. Hickenlooper called last year’s initiatives “radical” and “extreme measures that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado.” If last year’s measures were considered “radical” and “extreme” by a bipartisan coalition led by the governor, that should tell Coloradans something about the fringe ideology that fuels the campaigns these national organizations have been running in our state for years.
With activists promising more information on their ballot push in the coming months, EID expects that more and more questions will be raised about who is really behind this latest ballot push. But given the early indications, it is likely that we already know.