Colorado

Meet The Couple Behind Pro-Fracking Front Groups in Colorado

  • Posted on: 21 October 2014
  • By: JesseColeman

 

A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered close ties between a Colorado political couple and at least six oil and gas industry front groups that have been fighting  state regulations designed to protect the health of its citizens and the environment.

The husband and wife team are ex-state senator and onetime Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Josh Penry and his wife, founder of republican PR and fundraising firm Starboard Group, Kristin Strohm. Colorado has emerged as a key battleground in the national debate over shale drilling and fracking. The state’s oil and gas industry has over 50,000 hydraulically fractured wells, and plans to drill many thousands more every year into the foreseeable future. These wells have caused severe water and air pollution problems, and have sparked a grassroots movement against drilling and fracking across the state. Concern over pollution from fracking culminated in a series of local laws to ban or regulate fracking, efforts that sent shockwaves through the shale industry. To combat the growing threat of local control over drilling practices, the shale industry began funding political strategies to undermine local action against drilling. Enter Penry and Strohm, who who helped develop the shale industry’s sophisticated astroturf campaign strategy that was created in concert with legal strategies to override popularly-supported local drilling restrictions. (Astroturf is a term used to describe fake “grassroots” groups that are conceived and paid for by corporations or public relations firms to advance a business or political interest.)

 

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Josh Penry

Josh Penry has strong connections to both Colorado politics and the oil and gas industry. He became the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate in 2006. While a state senator, he sponsored and passed legislation designed to benefit the drilling industry by boosting the use of gas-fired electric power plants. His biggest achievement was HB 1365, a bill designed to help Xcel Energy build gas-fired power plants. The bill was called the ”Clean Air Clean Jobs Bill,” and sold as a boon for the environment because it eased the transition from coal fired power to gas fired power. However, Penry made the intentions behind the legislation clear by promising a 15% increase in gas drilling in the state if the bill was passed. Josh Penry is apparently unconcerned about the enormous contribution that gas extraction and combustion makes to climate change, explaining during a debate that it doesn’t "keep [him] up at night." However, studies of highly fracked areas in Colorado raise alarms for the climate. One recent study of the Front Range drilling area in Colorado found a methane leakage rate of 19.3 tons per hour. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, at least 86 times as powerful as CO2 at disrupting the climate. After surprising his staff and supporters by backing out of the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2009 and serving out his time as State Senator, Penry became Vice President of EIS Solutions, a public relations and political strategy consulting firm that specializes in “grassroots coalition building.” The group has been a key cog in the fracking industry’s pushback against community resistance and the state of Colorado’s gas regulations. EIS advertises their ability to create a “path to advocacy.” In practical terms, this means EIS will create non-profit and fake grassroots groups to give the illusion of widespread public support for oil and gas drilling. EIS has been criticized for repeatedly stepping outside of respectable practices, including one case in 2013 when they were caught faking signatures on an anti-regulation petition. EIS has long standing contracts with the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the leading industry lobbying group in the state. A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered the following non-profit front groups tied to EIS solutions: Colorado Liberty Alliance - shares a phone number with EIS phone, and advocates against local control. Environmentally Conscious Consumers for Oil Shale - shares an address with EIS solutions and promotes drilling. Grow Our Western Economy - has an EIS Solutions phone number and the chairman is former EIS Solutions employee, now president of the Koch Brothers front group Americans for Prosperity, Justin Zvonek. The group attacks people who promote local control over drilling. The groups listed above represents only those created by EIS employees that have registered as non-profits. EIS also creates groups that have not registered as tax-exempt non-profits, thereby avoiding reporting requirements.

 Vital for Colorado

One such group is Vital for Colorado, a well-funded and highly active pro-fracking front group. While the Vital for Colorado website makes no direct mention of Penry, he serves as spokesman and strategist for the group, and coordinates messaging with other anti-regulation groups through Vital for Colorado. In September, Penry attended a meeting in Denver where he spoke to an audience of State Policy Network groups from around the country about the industry’s strategy to fight oil and gas drilling restrictions in Colorado. Josh Penry’s ties to Vital for Colorado run deep. Both EIS employee Dan Haley and Penry’s wife Kristin Strohm sit on the Advisory board of Vital for Colorado. Vital for Colorado’s website is registered to Charity Meinhart, a web developer that works for both EIS Solutions and Starboard Group according to her LinkdIn account.

. Strohm photo

Kristin Strohm

Kristin Strohm is the managing partner at her own pubic relations firm, Starboard Group. Strohm, who is an advisor for Vital for Colorado, has also set up other front groups that work in concert with Vital for Colorado to oppose drilling regulations. The Western Colorado Jobs Alliance and The Common Sense Policy Roundtable Forum  were created by Starboard Group to oppose local control over shale drilling and fracking. Both groups also publicly support Vital for Colorado, creating a seemingly independent network of reinforcing voices that oppose fracking regulations, while being centrally coordinated by Strohm and Penry. Strohm worked for Penry in his run for State Senate in 2006. Penry and Strohm married in 2012, shortly after his divorce from his wife, whom he had married in 1999.

Ties to the Koch Brothers

The Penry and Strohm team both have connections to the national effort to reduce regulation on the oil industry through the creation of front groups, bottom-lined by oil and gas billionaires Charles and David Koch. Kristin Strohm has successfully solicited major funding from the Kochs. While Strohm was the finance director for Mike Coffman’s congressional campaign, Coffman benefited from ads run by Americans for Prosperity supporting his campaign. Through Strohm, he also received the maximum possible donation allowed by law from David Koch. Starboard Group’s website boasts of working for the Koch Brothers' flagship front group, Americans for Prosperity. Strohm has also hired former Koch Interns to the Starboard Group. A former director of the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a front group created by Strohm, attended the secretive 2010 Koch strategy meeting in Aspen. Penry’s EIS Solutions also has close ties to the Koch network. The director for Colorado’s Americans For Prosperity chapter is a former EIS Solutions employee, Dustin Zvonek. Like the other front groups in Penry’s orbit, Zvonek and AFP have been consistently working against local control of drilling regulations.

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The Fracking Industry's Attack on Colorado Democracy Revealed

  • Posted on: 4 August 2016
  • By: JesseColeman

Pencil hired by KAren Crummy of Cred

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a pawn in the oil and gas industry’s political ambitions? This pencil, hired by oil and gas front group Protect Colorado, summed it up:

"It feels like shit to fucking wear this thing, but it’s 25 bucks an hour."

And there are a lot of people taking the oil and gas industry’s money in Colorado these days.

Anadarko Petroleum and a group of fracking companies, most from outside Colorado, have pumped more than $75 million into PR firms and front groups in the state since 2014. These millions are primarily aimed at preventing Coloradans from voting for two ballot measures that would regulate the oil and gas industry. $75 million is a serious amount of money, even in a state that -- according the Brennan Center -- has one of the highest levels of secret political spending in the nation.

The largest single recipient of the fracking industry’s war chest is a PR firm called Pac/West Communications. Pac/West, known for creating independent-sounding groups on behalf of large corporate clients, netted nearly $30 million from oil and gas companies in 2014 alone. In return for the fracking cash, Pac/West built perhaps the best funded and most formidable political advocacy operations in any state.

Strategy of Fracking Industry Revealed

Mark Truax, a vice president of Pac/West Communications, revealed the depth and breadth of the oil and gas industry’s political strategy in a transcript released by Greenpeace and printed in full by the Boulder Weekly.

Mr. Truax’s presentation outlines a sophisticated plan to counter the popular cry for fracking regulations with a gusher of oil cash.

Here are some of the strategies Mark Truax outlines:

Take over city councils:

“We then also elected a pro city council, a pro-energy city council 7-6 on the conservative count, my count is like 9-4 in our favor for Denver City Council. To try and push something through there, which the opposition was trying to do, is now very difficult.”

Spend tens of millions of dollars to gather information on Colorado voters so it can manipulate election outcomes and keep setback and community rights initiatives off the ballot:

“We have scored 3.9 million Colorado voters in our databases, on their opinion of fracking. Everything we do then gets fed back in to this database. So that we can use it at a later time. We’ve knocked on 1.7 million doors, we’ve done 9 statewide surveys, we have done extensive phone research, and mail research, all of that information if I ever have contact it’s fed back in to that file.”

The transcript, which can be found in full here, also details Pac/West’s plans to change the constitution so citizens will no longer be able to put forward ballot measures in the future.

To accomplish these political goals, Pac/West Communications, with funding from Anadarko Petroleum, created two tax exempt “charitable” groups, Protect Colorado and Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED).

It was Protect Colorado that hired the pencil. As the following video shows, these industry front groups are focused on scare tactics and spreading misinformation about fracking regulations, not “education,” as front group spokesperson Karen Crummy often claims.

 

 

On July 28, the Denver Business Post reported that Protect Colorado has a budget of $25 million for its 2016 effort.

Industry Funded Harassment

The oil and gas strategy to control the ballot process in Colorado does not stop with the plan Truax outlined in his 2015 talk.

In recent weeks, Coloradans have experienced an truly unprecedented attempt to stop a ballot measure from coming to a vote at all. Unlike normal ballot campaigns, where voters must decide whether to support or oppose a measure on election day, in Colorado the fracking industry is trying to strip voters of the right to decide altogether. The effort is called “decline to sign” and the aim is to prevent regulations from appearing on the ballot, by preventing organizers from gathering enough preliminary signatures.

The effort includes more than just TV ads and pencils trying to scare people about regulations. The oil and gas industry has also unleashed an army of paid harassers, who have targeted volunteers trying to gather signatures for the ballot. As one signature gatherer describes, men surrounded an elderly signature gatherer and scared off people trying to sign their name.

The fight over fracking ballot measures in Colorado illustrates the lengths that corporations are willing to go to control politics. Will the fracking industry buy its preferred regulatory environment in Colorado? Will Coloradans be stripped of their right to vote on these ballot measures? While signatures for the ballot measure are due August 8, the questions about the role of fracking money in Colorado are likely to linger.

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ALEC is Pushing Climate Denial to Kids in Three More States

  • Posted on: 30 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Science education is a problem in the United States. Studies consistently show the U.S. ranking poor in science education testing in industrialized countries.

Exxon, Koch Industries, Duke Energy and other profiteers of global warming inaction are not helping. Through the American Legislative Exchange Council, these companies are working to ensure that in certain states, children and young adults will be taught that certain myths are scientifically credible. Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog broke the ALEC connection:

January hasn't even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" - which mandates a "balanced" teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year. 

In the past five years since 2008, among the hottest years in U.S. history, ALEC has introduced its "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act" in 11 states, or over one-fifth of the statehouses nationwide. The bill has passed in four states, an undeniable form of "big government" this "free market" organization decries in its own literature.

Each of the three new bills were sponsored by paying ALEC-member legislators - the Arizona bill was exclusively co-sponsored by six ALEC politicians.

The three states considering ALEC's climate denial law are already struggling to teach quality science. While Colorado scores an "average" ranking among states in science education, both Arizona and Oklahoma score "far below average," according to a 2011 ranking by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics.

Unfortunately, as this attack on science education is considered in Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, there at least four states that already passed the ALEC bill. From DeSmogBlog last March:

First it was Louisiana, back in 2009, then Texas in 2009, South Dakota in 2010 and now Tennessee has joined the club, bringing the total to four U.S. states that have mandated climate change denial in K-12 "science" education. 

It's unfortunate that these students won't be told how much scientific literature concludes that human-induced global warming is occurring:

 

ALEC and the Heartland Institute: Selling Doubt to Students

The Heartland Institute and American Legislative Exchange Council have long been buddy-buddy on rejecting climate science. Heartland is driving much of ALEC's interference policies on climate change with support from other members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force. An oil industry apologist with ties to both ALEC and Heartland named Sandy Liddy Bourne facilitated the creation of the "Environmental Literacy Improvement Act." DeSmogBlog refreshes our memories:

ALEC's Natural Resources Task Force, now known as its Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force, adopted this model at a time when the Task Force was headed by Sandy Liddy Bourne. Bourne, who served in this capacity from 1999-2004, would eventually ascend to the role of Director of Legislation and Policy for ALEC in 2004. 

Upon leaving ALEC in 2006, Bourne become Heartland's Vice President for Policy Strategy. Today she serves as Executive Director of the American Energy Freedom Center, an outfit she co-heads with Arthur G. Randol. Randol is a longtime lobbyist and PR flack for ExxonMobil, a corporation which endowed the climate change denial machine for years.

Heartland's website still lists Bourne as one of its "experts," stating that "Under her leadership, 20 percent of ALEC model bills were enacted by one state or more, up from 11 percent." 

ALEC and Heartland's focus on injecting fossil fuel public relations into science curriculum is picking up where another front group left off. A disbanded organization called the Environmental Literacy Council, set up by the Koch- and Exxon-funded George C. Marshall Institute, was established to be a resource for any teachers willing to misinform their students on climate science.

Unfortunately, Koch, Exxon and ALEC's other supporters seems less interested in maintaining a habitable planet for the upcoming generation and more interested in profiting from their ignorance.

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DeSmogBlog: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

  • Posted on: 17 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO. 

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."

 

From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link

The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky. 

"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote

AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP

As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.

Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP

Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources. 

It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,

Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.

Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."

"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.

"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study 

Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process. 

Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."

Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision

Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:

It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.

There's also a tragic human side to this tale. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."

Photo CreditShutterStock | Aaron Amat

ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid "Disclosure" Model Bill Failing By Design

  • Posted on: 4 December 2012
  • By: Connor Gibson

Written by Steve Horn, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") chemical fluid disclosure "model bill" was passed by both the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to "disclosure."

That was by design, thanks to the bill's chief author, ExxonMobil

Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration's Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept "clueless" as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.

"Truck-Sized" Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design 

"Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August," explained Bloomberg. "Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms."

For close observers of this issue, it's no surprise that the model bills contain "truck-sized" loopholes

"A close reading of the bill...reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets," The New York Times explained back in April.

Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry

The model bill that's passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocus, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video

The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigation by Bloomberg

"Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year," wrote Bloomberg. "The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy."

This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term "disclosure."

"FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure," she said.

"Fig leaf" is one way of putting it.

Another way of putting it is "public relations ploy." As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled "FracUNfocusED," FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.

Hippauf revealed that FracFocus' domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation - a front group for Chesapeake Energy. 

Given the situation, it's not surprising then that "companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time," according to Bloomberg's analysis of FracFocus data for 18 states.

Put another way, the ExxonMobil's bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.

Image Credit: ShutterStockbillyhoiler

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