Cover the Protest, But Don’t Miss the Bigger Story
The timing was rather ironic. And perhaps another example of why Western Wire is so needed in this current media landscape.
On Monday morning, anti-fracking activists associated with national environmental groups took the opportunity to score headlines by disrupting a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission meeting. Outlets from CBS and KDVR to the Denver Post and E&E News covered the activist stunts, even though their slogans and chants had long become tired, stale – and debunked. But for the activists’ purposes, facts don’t matter – headlines do.
As news was breaking about the protests, Western Wire posted a lengthy news story about the Bureau of Land Management’s new approach to auctions: eBay-style online bidding. Thanks to technological developments, there was no longer a need for federal agencies to host lease auctions in government buildings or hotel conference rooms, where a limited number of people can attend and bid. The ability to hold auctions online also means robbing activists of the opportunity to disrupt proceedings in an attempt to shut down lease sales.
As Colorado has witnessed at BLM lease sales in Lakewood in recent years, activists opposed to oil and natural gas development frequently used auctions as media stunts. In 2015, a protester representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Rainforest Action Network went so far as to claim being hit by an auctioneer in his vehicle in an attempt to use “violence and intimidation to retaliate against members of the public for the exercise of their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly.” Local police discovered that the incident was in fact “staged” – the protester pretended to have been hit by the vehicle – and dropped the investigation. Activists in other Western states have succeeded in postponing BLM lease auctions, moving them to different locations, or using false bids to subvert the process.
It is no wonder, then, that activists don’t like the idea of the federal government moving into the twenty-first century and using this technology that increases transparency and participation. One of the “Keep it in the Ground” allies in Washington, D.C., House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), even tried to stop these online auctions out of supposed concerns that “foreign or domestic actors could manipulate online lease sales to their own benefit and to the detriment of the American people.” Odd that his concern refers to a theoretical case involving the agency, and not protestors who have actually disrupted and manipulated in-person sales in the past.
Now back to the free press attention gained by the activists disrupting these events. Is it any wonder, given these stunts pulled by national anti-fossil fuel groups, that oil and gas supporters need to respond and correct the record? As this week shows, activists were given plenty of ink and the airtime to make their false claims, but oil and gas supporters were not given the opportunity to respond. This brings us to the Denver Post’s coverage earlier this month about the money that the oil and natural gas industry spends in Colorado. Refuting claims by well-funded national environmental groups who are given free air time costs money. But the industry has taken on the task and demonstrated time and time again that it is willing to provide the facts, despite the media.
Meanwhile, reporters are out giving free attention to anti-oil and gas protesters, there is another side of the story not getting told. Thanks to online lease sales, there is an increased amount of revenue coming in to federal and state governments, according to the BLM and EnergyNet, the online auctioneer. This is a win for taxpayers, but not nearly as fun for the press to report.
So while many news outlets in town were out covering another anti-fossil fuel protest, Western Wire was covering something that no one else is doing: covering an example of how the government is using technology to improve its services and help save taxpayers money.