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Colorado Flooding Triggers More Oil and Gas Spills

Energy
Colorado Flooding Triggers More Oil and Gas Spills

Cliff Willmeng

The crisis for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) that last week’s floods created is now, thanks to community members and their cameras, set firmly onto the world stage. For the last seven days international media attention saw the immensity of the Weld County disaster, and those terrifying images of flood water colliding with oil and gas infrastructure are now the property of history.

Photo credit: Cliff Willmeng

The industry and state government will now engage in damage control, and attempt to reassure the public and investors that it is in command, and every effort is being made to assess, contain and mitigate the catastrophic damage. COGA spokeswoman, Tisha Schulller, is making daily statements to this effect, and Colorado’s Gov. Hickenlooper spent at least part of his day Saturday tweeting about the cantaloupe he was eating, confident that, “... the several small spills that we've had have been very small, relative to the huge flow of water."

Anadarko, a multinational petroleum corporation with annual revenue of more than $14 billion and the owner of some of the first major official spills into the South Platte River, volunteered $300,000 toward flood relief efforts. In the meantime, chemicals from leaking oil and gas wells continue to contaminate the environment of Weld County and beyond. Prior to even minimal environmental assessment, Canadian energy producer Encana Corp said Wednesday that 150 flooded wells due to flooding in Colorado had been returned to service, 245 remain shutdown.

Photo credit: Cliff Willmeng

After assessing roughly 30 percent of the impacted area, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) said in a statement, that 24 oil and gas storage tanks toppled in the flood bringing the total to more than 22,000 gallons of oil contaminating Colorado's South Platte River valley.

According to the statement:

COGCC is tracking five notable releases, with volume amounts confirmed for four of those. Those include releases of 323 barrels and 125 barrels from Anadarko locations. Two additional releases of 56 barrels at an Anadarko location and 21 barrels at a Bayswater Exploration and Production location have also been confirmed. Both of the latter two locations are along the South Platte River near Evans.

Those four releases represent about 22,000 gallons of oil. An additional release has been reported by Anadarko, but the volume is unknown at this time.

 

The COGCC’s aerial survey Thursday revealed as many as two dozen tanks overturned. Releases from these tanks have not been confirmed but are certainly a possibility. In addition we are tracking 11 locations with visible evidence of a release, such as a sheen. No estimates of product losses are available for those sites.

The industry that regularly pollutes our beautiful state will now expect the people of Weld County and Colorado to believe that it is a credible source of information. And while the people of Colorado wait for the industry and government to clean up this mess, five Colorado communities that are attempting to assert some degree of democratic control over oil and gas operations on the ballot this November, will continue to be harassed by industrial public relations groups and corporate law firms.

Photo credit: Cliff Willmeng

The COGA and COGCC have refused to drop their lawsuit against the people of Longmont for voting to ban fracking in 2012 and removing the gag order preventing medical professionals and first responders to disclose the composition of fracking fluids in the event of human contamination.

This is the direct result of the colonization of our lands by the oil and gas industry, and a government that acts as its political arm. But as the hydrocarbons drip into the soil, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shrugs its collective shoulders, and Colorado’s contaminated floodwaters carry into Nebraska and beyond.

Our communities will continue to fill in where government, and the gas and oil industry, leave human health and safety behind. The tragedy we are all a part of asks us to strengthen our resolve on every level. When it comes to the discussion of mineral rights versus public safety and democratic control, the reality of these floods will not escape the industry, the people of Colorado or Gov. Hickenlooper. Colorado will be changed by these enormous events, and it will be the incredible efforts of the people that will place us all on higher ground.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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