At a Centennial Institute debate in April, Be The Change USA activist Wes Wilson (right) compared the oil and gas industry to slavery. Video: Revealing Politics
A group of anti-energy political activists is trying to mislead Colorado’s oil and gas task force and scare pregnant women and the public by repeating discredited claims about birth defects and the emissions profile of natural gas.
Be The Change USA, which sent two operatives to the first public meeting of the task force in September, is the same “progressive” political group that compared the oil and gas industry to slavery and pro-energy campaigners to the Nazis. The campaign to pressure the task force into endorsing anti-energy policies is led by Safe Clean Colorado – a new group funded by millionaire Boulder Congressman Jared Polis – with the help of more established activist groups like Be The Change, Earthworks and Environment America.
At the Sept. 25 task force meeting, Be The Change activist Wes Wilson told the 21-member panel:
“There’s a 30 percent increase in Colorado of birth defects from residents living in natural gas communities.”
Wilson’s claim is completely out of line. He’s relying on a research paper that tried – and failed – to link birth outcomes with proximity to well sites. To quote one of the paper’s authors:
“It’s certainly not a conclusive study, and it doesn’t demonstrate that pollutants related to shale development have caused birth defects.”
In fact, the paper was so poorly conducted and so easily misrepresented that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment immediately disavowed the work of the researchers, who are famous within the “ban fracking” movement and routinely cited by anti-energy activists. State health officials swiftly issued a lengthy statement debunking the findings. The statement warned pregnant women and mothers that “a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned” and let the public know Colorado’s oil and gas rules “are the most stringent in the country when it comes to protecting public health and the environment.”
The statement was issued by the CDPHE’s executive director Dr. Larry Wolk, a practicing physician and past winner of the Colorado Pediatrician of the Year award. A few months later, Dr. Wolk debunked yet another attempt by “ban fracking” activists to scare the public about birth defects.
Wilson’s fear mongering at the task force is even more shameful because he knows exactly what Dr. Wolk and other public health officials at the CDPHE have said about those claims. That’s because Energy In Depth called Wilson out during a Centennial Institute debate in April:
EID: “Would you like to tell people what Dr. Larry Wolk said about the claim you just made?
Wilson: “Certainly, Dr. Wolk said this one study was not pivotal, and [he was] not yet alarmed.”
Besides misleading task force on health impacts during its Sept. 25 meeting, Wilson also hit the panel with more misinformation about emissions from natural gas production. Wilson disputed that natural gas is a low-carbon fuel because, he claims, “the science is quite robust in the opposite direction.”
Wilson is borrowing the discredited talking points of “ban fracking” activist Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University professor who lobbied unsuccessfully to be appointed to the task force. Ingraffea continues to claim natural gas has higher emissions than coal, even though his work has been contradicted by other Cornell academics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, among others. Even the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concurs that “emissions are reduced by one half” when natural gas is used instead of coal to generate electricity.
When Wilson told the task force “the science is quite robust” against natural gas, this claim wasn’t even close to being true. In fact, here’s what former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu – an alternative energy advocate who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics – says on this subject:
“There was a very famous Cornell report which we looked at and decided it was not as credible as it — well, we didn’t think it was credible. I’ll just put it that way.”
Wilson wasn’t alone at the Sept. 25 task force meeting. His colleague from Be The Change, Phil Doe, told the task force it must follow the lead of activist groups “if you are going to have any credibility.” Those groups had supported two anti-energy ballot measures sponsored by Congressman Polis, until he reached an agreement with Gov. John Hickenlooper to pull the initiatives from November’s statewide ballot.
But Doe is hardly in a position to lecture anyone on the topic of credibility. After all, Doe was the activist who called former state representative B.J. Nikkel – leader of the pro-energy campaign that defeated a “ban fracking” measure in Loveland this year – a “talking dog” and compared her to a Nazi. After Doe refused to apologize, the Loveland Reporter Herald stated the obvious:
“An apocryphal rule of the Internet is that if you have to resort to calling your opponent a Nazi … you need a better argument.”
Doe’s credibility problems, however, go much deeper than that. During the same debate in which Wilson compared the oil and gas industry to slavery, Doe even denied being part of the “ban fracking” campaign that wants to immediately eliminate oil and gas production across Colorado and the rest of the nation.
When former Republican State Senator Josh Penry challenged Doe and Wilson for keynoting an out-of-state fundraiser for the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, Doe fired back:
“It’s outrageous you keep talking about us as Luddites … We did not say that we want a complete ban, Josh. We never said that.”
Doe’s comments are consistent with the official position of Be The Change, which says:
“Although Be The Change does not support a state-wide fracking ban in Colorado, we do support stricter regulations on the industry…”
But the official position is simply untrue. Doe and Wilson are regular fixtures on the “ban fracking” campaign trail in Colorado and are promoted by “ban fracking” activists as experts who support their fringe views. Wilson even starred in Gasland, a “ban fracking” movie directed by anti-energy activist Josh Fox, who wants oil and gas development immediately halted in Colorado and the rest of the nation.
“Ban fracking” pledge
But what really exposes the dishonesty of Wilson and Doe is the “Pledge to Resist Hydraulic Fracturing in Colorado.” Wilson and Doe have each taken the pledge, alongside Fox and other “ban fracking” activists such as Shane Davis, the regional campaign director for Gasland. Among other things, the pledge states [emphasis added]:
“I believe … hydraulic fracturing is an accident prone, inherently dangerous industrial process … [T]hese risks cannot be properly resolved, nor can they be mitigated through regulation by any government agency or scientific body…
Governor Hickenlooper, former Governor Ritter, state legislators, state agencies, and some state environmental leaders are misguided in their information about the benefits of natural gas and the safety of hydraulic fracturing… [T]hey need to acknowledge the body of evidence and public outcry to the contrary and ban hydraulic fracturing…
If the Governor and the State Legislature continue to permit hydraulic fracturing in any part of Colorado, I pledge to join with others to engage in non-violent acts of protest…”
So much for “[w]e never said that” and “Be The Change does not support a state-wide fracking ban in Colorado.”
It takes a special kind of dishonesty to scare pregnant woman and mothers with claims you know have been discredited, to peddle debunked anti-energy talking points as “robust” science, and to deny being a “ban fracking” activist when that’s exactly what you are. But this kind of reckless disregard for the facts isn’t surprising. After all, the central claim of the Polis-backed campaign – “[c]urrent laws allow fracking anytime, anywhere in Colorado” – has been called by the Denver Post “a lie in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start.”
We can only hope the members of the task force are paying attention and doing their best to sort fact from fiction. Because the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Colorado oil and gas families will be put in jeopardy if political talking points from ideologically motivated groups trump the facts.