Colorado Protests Fail to Achieve Goals

by Tim Wigley, President and Aaron Johnson, Communications Manager on May 17, 2016 - 1:38pm

Keep It In The Ground protesterThe Keep-It-in-the-Ground’s global Break Free 2016 campaign came to Colorado last week and was disruptive as promised. Two protests around Denver coincided with other demonstrations in California, New York, Washington, Europe, South America and Australia. Colorado was a focus because western oil and natural gas production has not only made America competitive in global markets, but elevated our profile among anti-fossil fuel opponents. 

Activists escalated their campaign this spring and promoted it as “a new phase of the climate movement: courageous action that is being taken on the front lines…” Organizers called on activists to join “…a two-week global wave of escalated action to keep coal, oil + gas in the ground.”

While their website referenced peaceful action, protests proved to be anything but. Activists blockaded an oil refinery in Philadelphia and a coal port in Australia, invaded a mine in Whales and occupied a bank in New Zealand that provides financing to fossil fuel companies.

“To keep it in the ground is naive. To say we can shift to 100% renewables is naive.”
-Interior Sec. Sally Jewell

Astroturf, Not Grassroots

To build the movement organizers spent months recruiting online. hosted training sessions to teach them how to commit acts of civil unrest and get arrested. They held team-building sessions and built props. They created a rallying-cry propaganda film entitled “DISOBEDIENCE” and hosted local screenings. They rehearsed songs and chants, and used social media to share video and photos.

Closer to home, they staged a demonstration at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) lease sale in Lakewood.  The sale was purposefully moved from the local BLM office to a Holiday Inn because previous auctions had been canceled or disrupted by activists. 

At other lease sales in recent months they proved to be more than just obnoxious; they’re considered a security threat. BLM Director Neil Kornze notably equated activists to armed militiamen in congressional testimony.

A couple of hours before Thursday’s sale began, large trucks pulled up with mock oil derricks that were quickly assembled and placed on both sides of the entrance.  Soon a throng of about 250 activists with banners and signs arrived, along with megaphones, flags and a large parachute-like blanket which protesters danced around for three hours, chanting and singing.

The best prop of the day was the anti-fossil fuel protest truck that drove 1,700 miles from Maryland to Denver. Of course, the hypocrisy was completely lost on the protesters. 

Keep It In The Ground truckKeep It In The Ground protesters

What Billionaire Money Buys You

At the designated time for bidders to arrive, activists stormed through the front doors to occupy the venue’s lobby and held a standoff with Lakewood police. Because they were so unruly, BLM refused to let them in to view the auction. Bidding took place on time and $5.2 million in revenue was raised from six parcels of just under 7,000 acres, despite the protesters best efforts.

The activists were highly organized, to say the least. They had people with media badges who posed as reporters to gain access to the auction room, and were sending emails to the activists outside who would then report to the crowd.

Keep It In The Ground protestersThe vast majority of the crowd was “twenty something” as well as retirees. They all seemed to be trained to put on a show. Everyone knew all the words to the songs and chants. They danced, made lots of noise, and were passionate. It almost seemed like they were in a trance.

We spoke with many protesters and asked, “How did you get here today?” Their answer…“I drove.” But they oppose fracking. Every single person was using a smart phone. But they oppose fracking. Many if not all of their materials were fossil fuel-based. But they demand to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

We closely listened to interviews and were amazed at the exact same talking points ALL of which were completely inaccurate. They talked about “fracking rigs” or “300 studies that verify that fracking poisons water and air and children.”  They all spoke and acted like robots on the issues.

This was anything but “grassroots.” These were NOT true believers who simply activated an email or phone tree. This protest was paid for and organized by well-funded environmental groups, possibly sponsored by billionaire Tom Steyer, complete with signature gatherers for anti-oil and natural gas ballot measures in Colorado. They were “rent a riot” professionals. Many were from out of state, including California, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington DC. There was a core group of leaders that had ear buds and it was like watching the Secret Service communicate with each other. 

Do As I Say…

On Saturday, founder of Bill McKibben flew in from Vermont for what was supposed to be a climactic event. As one of the stars of the environmental movement largely credited with stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, his presence promised to be a major event. Yet he only drew a scant crowd of under 100 people, who stood around shivering in the cold as he spoke near a producing well in Thornton. After a 10-minute rant about fossil fuels, climate change, and Vermont values, his private car service picked him up and he flew to California to speak at another protest.

For months Keep-It-in-the-Ground organizers recruited and trained people. Sensational images of people being arrested in other cities were the money shots–the key element to amplify their message. Because Lakewood police didn’t give them the satisfaction of overreacting, there were no arrests at the BLM auction. Saturday was the day to achieve that goal.

The activists trespassed on the nearby well pad, climbed onto a storage tank, and hung a banner. Police were on hand and kept the situation in check, but protesters were again denied their sought after images because nobody was arrested.

Bill McKibbenKeep It In The Ground protesters

The scene in Los Angeles, where McKibben later spoke, was quite different. There were about 1,000 protesters and the contrast was quite clear. In places like Thornton where oil and natural gas contributes to the local economy, support exists among residents. But in urban centers, environmental activists are able to take advantage of a lack of understanding of where energy comes from and its role in their lives. 

Extreme & Unrealistic

This is the essence of the Keep-It-in-the-Ground movement.  They’re serious, well-funded and highly organized, even though they had mixed success in Colorado. They’re demanding all fossil fuel development be stopped so that renewables can magically take over, despite the fact that wind and solar account for just 2% of U.S. energy use.

As Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently said to an environmentalist , “To Keep It in the Ground is naive. To say we can shift to 100% renewables is naive.” We couldn’t agree more.