VOGE: 'Anti-fracking goons' and the right way to protest

2012-12-16T11:45:00Z VOGE: 'Anti-fracking goons' and the right way to protestBy ADAM VOGE Star-Tribune energy reporter Casper Star-Tribune Online
December 16, 2012 11:45 am  • 

There's a link bouncing around among energy reporters across the country.

Such Internet virality is normally reserved for videos of a dancing bird or singing dog, but what's going around is much more serious -- and something of interest to anyone who's ever attended a meeting where corporations bring their case to the public.

The link I'm referring leads to a Dec. 7 article by Denver Post writer Vincent Carroll titled "The anti-fracking goons in Boulder."

What Carroll outlines in the piece, presented as a column, is frightening. It tells a tale of intimidation and fear through the eyes of Wendy Wiedenbeck, an employee of Encana Oil & Gas -- a company with significant Wyoming interests -- who'd come to Boulder to share her company's views on proposed regulations in the area at a public meeting.

Wiedenbeck said she and her colleagues were blocked in hallways and heckled during their presentation. When the time came to leave, she asked for a security escort back to her car. Activists opposed to Encana's stance hurled insults at her. Carroll quoted her saying one person called her a 'killer.'

Once in her car, Wiedenbeck said she and a colleague were blocked in the parking lot by activists opposing their message. They eventually called 911 for a police escort.

Wiedenbeck -- a seasoned employee who was also present when energy development led to tension in Pennsylvania -- told Carroll her previous experience "pales in comparison with what I experienced Tuesday evening."

Oil and gas development -- and hydraulic fracturing, lately -- concern many both directly and indirectly affected. I've heard people wonder aloud about the industry's effects on the livability of their towns, the condition of their road systems and how their long-term health could be affected by emissions and other forms of pollution.

In Wyoming, there are already a couple of nationally relevant controversies centering around groundwater and air pollution that only intensify the debates in our state, and I've seen people get animated discussing some of them. But I've never seen anything like what happened in Boulder.

I believe I can speak on behalf of a vast majority of reporters who have attended public meetings on divisive topics when I say this -- there is a right way to lodge a complaint or oppose a movement, and there is a wrong way. Most journalists I've spoken with admit they've seen the wrong way on display more times than they'd prefer, but nothing like this.

Fact is, there's never a reason to sink that low. Activists employing such measures to get their points across probably think they're sending a message -- we're here, and we're serious. Or maybe they're not thinking at all.

Either way, the message is cheapened. The cheap, occasionally immature tactics employed are what make headlines. And both the person committing the acts and possible victims -- like Wiedenbeck -- lose as a result.

I was at a meeting recently that could have easily turned into what happened in Boulder. Chesapeake Energy -- which is drilling more and more in Converse County -- invited members of the public, contractors and government officials to hear about their regional operations, which have bothered some residents.

It would have been easy to stain the night's rhetoric with ad hominem attacks and unfounded accusations. Some residents spoke more pointedly than others during a question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting, but few took an accusatory tone, none threatened Chesapeake representatives and no one disrupted the progress of the meeting.

And for the 30 minutes or so I waited around after the meeting, I saw no confrontations, only calm discussions. Some felt their questions weren't answered, but they left peacefully, still determined to make a difference.

I'm not certain of the most effective way to protest, complain or otherwise oppose a cause, but I do know that informed, calm discussion can go a much longer way to make a difference than threats of violence and name-calling.

It's hard enough to consider ideas different from your own when information is presented calmly and logically. But when those same ideas are presented in a confrontational or immature manner?

It's hard to even listen.

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561, or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom or follow him on Twitter @vogeCST.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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