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Anti-fracking activism

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Mr Governor, We wish you would pay attention to the fact that the voices you are hearing the loudest are a vocal, well funded, likely non resident minority. The landowners are the silent suffering group that your actions have hurt! JLCpulse
By Wendy Wiedenbeck Posted:   12/29/2012 01:00:00 AM MST in Dailycamera

Earlier this month, I attended a hearing of the Boulder County commission about oil and gas regulations. I went there to speak for my employer, Encana Oil & Gas, and the 1,150 men and women who work for the company in Colorado. Activists who want to ban oil and gas production hijacked the meeting, chanted slogans and yelled insults at county commissioners Cindy Domenico, Deb Gardner and Will Toor.

When I spoke, I was heckled and threatened. Afterwards, activists followed me and one of my colleagues into the street, continued to threaten us and attempted to block our car. After driving several blocks we parked the car to -- breathe. Things took a strange and even scarier turn when we were blocked in by a large SUV and realized a man had followed our vehicle on foot. This man ultimately caught up with us and pounded on the car window. In the end, we needed a police escort back to my vehicle and ultimately out of town.

It's been more than two weeks since that meeting, and since the Boulder County commissioners denounced the activists for "mob harassment" and "shutting out voices through intimidation and fear." Albeit naive, I have been waiting for some sign, however small, that the activists involved have any sense of regret. But there have been no signs of regret from the activists, or from the out-of-state pressure groups -- such as Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C. -- that encourage their behavior, train and fund them.

Instead, the activists have doubled down. A Boulder County activist wrote a letter to the Daily Camera arguing that I'm not an "innocent victim" -- in other words, I had it coming. In another letter, a different activist declared "civil discourse is not an option" because the debate over oil and gas development is a "war." According to this activist, it's OK to threaten oil and gas workers because we're just like Nazis, rapists and murderers. One activist website defended the harassment of oil and gas workers and their supporters by hysterically claiming our industry has "run amok, wreaking havoc on our planet, poisoning our children's very life support systems and decimating communities in which they operate."

I'm guessing this means the activists don't know that Boulder is home to one of the oldest continuous producing oil wells in the West -- the McKenzie well -- the 1902 discovery well for the Denver Oil Basin also known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin. I'm also guessing that they don't know that hydraulic fracturing has been taking place in Boulder since the 1950s.

Industry has not run amok, nor would I characterize Boulder as a decimated community. Most community members do realize that tens of thousands of Colorado families depend on the paychecks our industry provides, that Colorado is home to the most stringent regulations in the nation and that affordable, domestic and -- better yet -- locally produced energy supports our economy, not to mention our way of life.

I've received many calls and e-mails of support from people who were shocked and angered by what happened in Boulder. Almost everyone who contacted me said something like "these people don't speak for the silent majority." As someone who has worked in community relations across the state, I can say with confidence that there is a silent majority on this issue. While the recent incident got plenty of media attention, it's not an isolated incident. Heckling, cursing, name calling and other confrontational tactics are now regular features of meetings about oil and gas regulation across Colorado.

These tactics don't represent the sensible, reasonable citizens of Colorado nor do they lead to change or transformation. These are tactics that extremists and fringe groups use to scare people -- to silence people. These tactics allow activists to become the only voice in the room.

The Boulder County commissioners are now taking action to curb these abuses and "ensure a safe and democratic process for everyone" by increasing security at future hearings. I appreciate the move, but it's a sad indictment on the state of the oil and gas debate in Colorado. It also raises a much bigger question for elected officials and regulators across the state to ponder: If you need extra security to protect the public from the activists at a public meeting does it really represent a "democratic process for everyone?"

Wendy Wiedenbeck is the community relations advisor for Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc.

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