Big Money And Radical Activists Lurk Behind Fracking Bans Across Front Range

October 16, 2013
By
Cliff Willmeng cropped

Cliff Willmeng, seen here on Facebook expressing his views to oil and gas executives, is a key leader in a network of hyper-confrontational activists who guide the anti-fracking movement in Colorado

DENVER – The debate over the fracking bans in Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette on the November ballot has been a heated one in recent months, with plenty of media coverage of claims by opponents of fracking.

But missing from any media coverage of the ideological crusade against fracking is the checkered history of the most influential voices in the anti-fracking movement, and the underground money machine that sustains it.

The leader of an initiative to ban fracking in Lafayette, for example, has a long criminal rap sheet, and his fellow activists have well-documented stints with radical liberal causes.

One of the leading groups pushing the fracking bans in Lafayette is East Boulder County United, whose spokesman Cliff Willmeng has taken an aggressive tack against the fracking industry. Willmeng’s mother, Merrily Mazza, is running for City Council in Lafayette on an anti-oil and gas platform. Willmeng wears his hatred of the industry on his sleeve, even posting a picture on his Facebook page of him proudly flipping off an imaginary oil executive.

That in-your-face style isn’t left to his political tactics alone — such as recently accusing Governor Hickenlooper of instituting an imaginary “gag order” regarding fracking fluids during the flood — but in his personal life as well.

According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, Willmeng has a record going back until at least 1994 when he was arrested for disorderly conduct. On August 31, 2012 he was arrested for harassment, trespassing, obstructing police and resisting arrest. He was eventually convicted on the trespassing charge.

Willmeng’s aggressive political tactics were on full display during the recent floods in Colorado, with him claiming massive ecological disaster related to fracking.

“All of 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,” Willmeng wrote recently. “But as the hydrocarbons drip into the soil, the EPA shrugs its collective shoulders, and Colorado’s floodwaters carry into Nebraska and beyond, our communities will continue to fill in where government, gas, and oil leave human health and safety behind.”

In fact, there was not a single major fracking site impacted by the flood, 9News reported. After the flood, water sampling by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment found no evidence of pollution in flood waters from oil and gas activity, leading to a number of media outlets apologizing for running with the claims of fractivists in the immediate aftermath of the flood.

Nate Pearce (Facebook)

Nate Pearce (Facebook)

Radical activists have been a mainstay of the anti-fracking movement on the Front Range. In Broomfield, fractivist Nate Pearce has been a vociferous opponent of fracking, but his previous activism may not sit well with your average Broomfield resident.

Pearce, who proudly proclaims he is a “socialist anarchist” on Facebook was a leader in the radical Occupy movement, helping organize Occupy Littleton. The Occupy movement was short-lived after citizens quickly tired of the protesters defecating on public property and the concerns about widespread rape in many Occupy protest sites nationwide.

In Loveland and Fort Collins, local activist Matthew Fredricey, a painter of psychedelic art, has been a lead organizer in Frack Free Colorado and Protect Our Loveland, testifying on behalf of fracking bans and writing numerous letters to the editor of the Loveland Reporter Herald opposing fracking. Critics, however, point to some of the rather out-of-the-mainstream views he’s expressed on social media, such as the claim that “mandatory water fluoridation is making us dumb.”

Matthew Fredricey (Facebook)

Matthew Fredricey (Facebook)

Far from your regular, run-of-the-mill concerned citizen, many of the leading fractivists occupy a much more radical fringe element than is widely known. Supporters of fracking believe that if most citizens knew who was behind many of the claims against the fracking industry, they’d be less apt to believe their claims.

But many of the claims themselves don’t hold up to scrutiny.

One of the most persistent and widespread claims made by fracking activists has been that air quality has worsened along the Front Range due to the growth of fracking operations in the last few years. The truth is that air quality has improved over the last five years in Colorado and across the nation, due in large part to the increased use of natural gas over coal to generate electricity. That growth in natural gas production and usage wouldn’t be possible without fracking.

It is these wild claims, repeated often enough without scrutiny, that opponents of the fracking bans are most concerned about. Opponents are concerned the unscrutinized claims are reaching a large audience due to the significant financial support from national environmental organizations and leaders.

One of the loudest voices making claims about the dangers and harms of fracking is Gary Wockner, the Colorado Director of the national environmental organization Clean Water Action. Wockner is a long-time environmental operative with a questionable record of activism. Recently he protested the City of Fort Collins’ decision to spray to combat the spread of West Nile Virus, which has already killed a number of Coloradans this year. Over 100 others have contracted the disease, with some leading to serious hospitalizations.

Gary Wockner (Facebook)

Gary Wockner (Facebook)

Wockner’s organization, Clean Water Action, has been heavily involved in the fracking fight in Colorado. On their website they say “together with local “fractivists” and municipalities, Clean Water Action helped win new fracking regulations and local moratorium measures, including those in Fort Collins and Boulder County.”

That help, however, has been utterly lacking in transparency due to Clean Water Action being registered with the IRS as a 501(c)4 organization that doesn’t have to disclose its spending. Although the group’s name doesn’t show up on financial disclosure forms, they’ve been heavily involved in paid canvassing efforts across the state.

On their website and Craigslist, Clean Water Action has been advertising paid canvassing jobs to “mobilize community members in priority political districts at their homes.” The gigs pay $9.25 to $11.25 hour and promise “you will learn strategic communication skills and gain knowledge about environmental issues, grassroots lobbying, and organizing and fundraising.”

Nationally, Clean Water Action has deep pockets to spend on political efforts. In 2012, the organization had revenue of $9.1 million, which it spent primarily on voter outreach and lobbying.

None of that spending has appeared on campaign finance reports for proponents of the fracking bans.

Another national environmental group with deep ties to the fractivist movement in Colorado and equally deep pockets is Food and Water Watch. A recent campaign finance filing shows they have spent about $1000 on the Fort Collins ban campaign, but that is likely far from their total investment.

In 2011, the last year a filing was available, the group brought in $11.5 million, according to Form 990 filed with the IRS. Its stated purpose is to “lobby elected officials on behalf of citizens on issues of safe food and water.”

Other deep pocketed and national groups such as 350.org and WildEarth guardians, who reported raising $2.5 million in 2012, have played a major role in the fracking fights.

This extensive web of environmental organizations with hidden financial structures has made it difficult for local journalists to pinpoint where the money for the fracking fights has been coming from. But one thing is clear – the fractivists are not lacking for funding. Or confrontation.

This post was written by

Observer Staff – who has written posts on The Colorado Observer.

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20 Responses to Big Money And Radical Activists Lurk Behind Fracking Bans Across Front Range

  1. Davd
    October 17, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Well done. I think the last paragraph says it all, or rather raises the question, who is funding the fractivists? Additionally, what are their motives to make false claims? Does it go beyond the feeling that the environment is being threatened or something else?

    • October 21, 2013 at 9:11 am

      We have ZERO funding, we are attacking, wounding and causing a billion dollar industry to respond and dump millions of dollars to respond/fight us. Again, with just the truth, we don’t have funding…that’s what makes it that much sweeter!! Oh, and our reasons are simple…no amount of benzene in our children’s blood is acceptable…also, ever hear of climate change? Renewable/sustainable energy devlopement and implementation NOW.

    • Ken
      October 23, 2013 at 6:30 am

      Bingo. I’ve dealt with these libtards for 35 years in the petroleum industry and they ALWAYS have an ulterior motive. Just like the current obama regime, they want to obamacare tax web site to fail so their single-payor initiative rules the day. The website was never designed to succeed, only to crash. Libtards never give up and they stick together like snot. The ends justifies the means in the libtard manual.

  2. bob
    October 17, 2013 at 8:08 am

    the answer is simple cut off the natural gas to their homes and offices

  3. Jim
    October 17, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    It would be helpful to understand who purchases these ‘services’ and the motivations for their buying behavior.

  4. Marion Hunt
    October 17, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Mr. Willmeng is being awful hypocritical in his photo, flipping off oil and gas men all the while wearing their product on his face.

    • October 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      You should get your facts straight before attacking someone personally. . In this photo, Cliff was dressed up as an oil and gas executive for a skit. He actually (as the executive), was flipping off the people of Colorado. It seems to me that anyone claiming to be a “conservative” would be all for conservation, as in conservation of our resources, including clean air and clean water. The radicals are the ones who are destroying our environment in the name of the almighty dollar.

      • October 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm

        Ok – so he’s ostensibly posing as an oil & gas executive – flipping off the people of Colorado – while wearing the petroleum derived product on his face. Who cares who he’s flipping off – the point fractivists don’t seem to get – is that the fear is misplaced. Every plastic childhood product you ever had – was made possible by offshore oil and / or a well completion process call hydraulic fracturing 20, 30, 40+ years ago (here and abroad). So was your family vehicle, bullet proof vests, grandma’s artificial heart, contact lenses, Cliff’s sunglasses and thousands of other petroleum derivatives that make our modern life expectancy and mechanical leverage possible (including clean air and clean water).

        The energy renaissance today is happening more because of directional drilling – than hydraulic fracturing. That’s why we don’t hear about ‘peak oil’ anymore. Hydraulic Fracturing is simply a well completion process and dates back to the late 40s. But go horizontal – and you can access huge shale deposits and redraw the energy map of the world.

        Josh Fox / Gasland attacked frac’ing because drilling is used in multiple industries (harder to create emotion against) and well casing doesn’t have that activist-chant ring to it – so he mislabels it all fracking. It’s a hype cycle – and you’re along for the ride. He’s made millions getting people worked up into a frenzy, is now retiring and could care less what happens to your movement here in Colorado.

        95% of the oil & gas in this country is sourced by SMALL OIL – independents & family owned companies that live and raise their families where they drill. People get easily worked up in a frenzy because they have this caricature in their minds about who the oil & gas industry is – some silly smoke-filled room with money-grubbing fat cats in suits and top hats. Its actually the small guy – who knows more about the land than 10 ivory-tower environmentalists put together. These people are the epitome of American entrepreneurism – and the last remaining engine of true production in this sputtering economy.

  5. Sue Mick
    October 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Another organization that helped the Gasland producer/director with close connections to Robert Redford is the National Resource Defense Council. A group of highly paid lawyers with a slush fund of over $282,000,000 in their war fund to make everyone else’s life miserable if they do not agree with their agenda. Their anti-”fracking” agenda is highly suspect as they have been protecting a large area in NY State from “fracking” where many of them have their second homes, or should I say estates and mansions. Yet, they have supported fracking in the mid-west when it benefits a client. NRDC is even mentioned in the documentary, Fracknation” by the woman who claimed her water was contaminated by “fracking”, even though no “fracking” had even been done in her area. Fracknation, financed by landowners and not industry, was produced by an investigative reporter who investigates all the claims in Gasland.

  6. StillStacy
    October 18, 2013 at 8:38 am

    He has a pro-Communist post on his wall. Really tells you all you need to know.

  7. October 19, 2013 at 8:51 am

    How about the Colorado Observer go F$%K itself? Instead of talking about the issue–pumping dangerous, undisclosed chemicals thousands of feet into the ground and often also into our water tables–you are focusing efforts to assassinate the character of those involved in the protest of fracking. And as far as big money lurking behind faracking…are you f$%king kidding me!? Have you been paying any attention to what the Oil/Gas industry is–BIG MONEY!

    • Carole Mandryk
      October 20, 2013 at 2:00 am

      Thanks Kevin and Karen for standing up for Cliff. The person who wrote this “article” is clearly delusional, a paid tool of oil and gas or both. And who know what excuse the other commenters have for their ignorant misguided and blatant lies. I also like that they use the term “radical activist” like its a BAD thing. Watch out, oil and gas, watch out.

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