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Boulder Weekly "Frackademia" Investigation Reveals CU Boulder Owned by Oil and Gas Industry

Boulder Weekly, a Boulder, Colorado alternative weekly newspaper, has published a 10,000 word ”frackademia” investigation in a special edition of the newspaper. 

The long-form investigation by Joel Dyer — based on thousands of documents obtained by Greenpeace USA — exposes the ongoing partnership between the University of Colorado-Boulder's Leeds School of Business and the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR), the latter an oil and gas industry front group. The investigation reveals connections to Koch IndustriesAmerican Petroleum Institute, and Encana, among others.

University of Colorado, in this case, sat in the center of a tight-knit network of Colorado movers-and-shakers with ties to the oil and gas companies and public relations firms maintaining them as clients. That network is well-displayed in the LittleSis map created below by Greenpeace USA researcher Jesse Coleman and Boulder Weekly has created seven influence maps of its own.

The story begins in April 2013, when CSPR signed an agreement with University of Colorado for the latter “to provide unbiased, third-party research” on behalf of CSPR, as seen in the proposal obtained by Coleman. While self-serving as a principle, the research ended up as anything but “unbiased.”

The “Documents…reveal that the studies were conceived of, edited and strategically used by PR firms to influence fracking policy in Colorado, yet CSPR’s financial ties to the oil and gas industry were not disclosed to the media or in the published studies,” wrote Coleman in an article piggy-backing off of the Boulder Weekly investigation. “CSPR set priorities for the researchers, prioritizing oil and gas work. The studies were aimed at politically contentious topics, like local regulation over fracking wells.”

Other topics covered in CSPR reports done with University of Colorado's stamp on them including the economic impact of a fracking ban, the economic impact of fracking in Colorado, an economic assessment of Colorado's oil and gas prices andfracking and job creation in Colorado

CSPR describes itself on its website as, “free-enterprise think tank dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy” and has a Board of Directors featuring Lem Smith, a lobbyist for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) giant Encana, a fracking company listed as a “partner” in its 2011 annual report. Smith is also on the Board of Directors of Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry front group. 

Shady MOU

Perhaps the most damning part of the Boulder Weekly deep-dive pertains to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Leeds School of Business and CSPR. It is a document that wasn't forked over under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), but eventually handed over after he hounded the University for document now published online by Greenpeace USA.

Dyer had to hound the University for the document even though it contains language reading, “This agreement is not considered confidential and is subject to disclosure under CORA.”

“What I got from CU in the original request was an old email exchange from Strohm saying the MOU was attached along with five pages of giant black squares. They were 100 percent redacted,” he explained. “Clearly there was something fishy going on. Why black out a document that actually says it is sharable under CORA? The answer is someone at CU didn’t want us to see the MOU for a reason known only to CU.”

In the case of the MOU itself, the dirt is in the fine print.

“The MOU leaves no doubt who is running the…show. Whatever management committee powers CSPR grants to its funders, in the end even those are subject to CSPR board oversight,” wrote Dyer, who also explained: 

And how about this jewel: No work product…including reports, can be disclosed by any participating member unless the management committee approves the release. Ever. Let me translate that.

CSPR and its funders can research any issue they choose, but they have no obligation to release any reports that don’t match their political purposes. CSPR and its funding partners may not be able to significantly influence the Leeds researchers’ findings, but by holding the power over what does and doesn’t get released, they still ultimately control the…project outcomes in that fashion.

The terms of the MOU, unsurprisingly, paid off in terms of the deliverables that would follow. 

 

Read the rest of this story with full images and data links here.

 

 
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