Well and truly fracked

If nobody mentions that the fossil-fuel industry is responsible for the Boulder firestorm, it's not too likely they'll be held responsible.


The Colorado urban firestorm, via Nathan Schneider:

“Imagine if a group of foreign conspirators, by piloting a humming drone armada, dropped incendiary bombs on an American neighborhood. Somewhere between 500 and 1000 homes were destroyed. The smoke plumed over a major city, and flames threatened to stir up the radioactive particles in the soil of a nearby retired nuclear facility. Thousands of people, in a matter of hours, saw their communities burned to rubble.

Minus the drones and shady foreigners, that was what happened on December 30 in Boulder County, where I live.”

“The morning after, when the governor and other officials spoke, they danced around the causes,” Schneider continues. “Why would we so unhesitatingly point fingers at the foreign drones but not at the agents of climate change?”

Why indeed.


On September 19, 2019, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes at a climate town hall that he was as committed to fracking as he was in 2015, when he said, “Colorado has led the way in demonstrating we can produce natural gas safely.” Bennet’s top career contributor is the League of Conservation Voters.1

In October 2019, former oil and gas geologist Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) reiterated his commitment to fracking Colorado:

You can’t stop it. If we stopped it here, it’s like trying to put your finger in a dike that has a thousand holes.”

Hickenlooper was governor of Colorado when Boulder was struck by catastrophic floods that killed eight in September 2013. As governor, Hickenlooper presided over a record fracking boom.

Boulder, Colorado, September 18, 2013

On July 24, 2020, Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) announced a deal with his state’s frackers to keep any initiatives restricting the industry off the ballot through 2022, saying,

“I’m very proud to report that we have a path before us to make those divisive oil and gas ballot fights a thing of the past.”

Polis and Hickenlooper had announced a similar deal to avoid fracking ballot measures back in 2014.

Polis in 2020 also “threatened to veto any plans that gave state agencies power to set and enforce strict carbon targets,” calling that power “dictatorial.”

So, as you might guess, the Democratic leadership of the state of Colorado did not treat the firestorm as a wake-up call to take on the fracking industry. Instead:

  • “This fire is not so much a question of resources,” Polis said. “This fire is frankly a force of nature.”

  • Bennet too blamed nature: “In Colorado, we are not unfamiliar with natural disasters that tear through our communities and disrupt our everyday lives.”

  • On January 2, Hickenlooper posted a video claiming last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes billions in direct subsidies for the natural gas industry, is the “biggest climate change bill ever.” (It is not.)


Much of the Fourth Estate did not do much better.

The Boulder Daily Camera splashed Polis’ “A force of nature” quote as their headline. No mention of climate change at all.

The Denver Post’s “Marshall Fire Explained” article spent over 1000 words on wind dynamics but didn’t even mention climate change; their shorter article on the fire and climate change somehow managed not to mention that climate change is caused by people burning fossil fuels. Likewise, the generally excellent Boulder Reporting Lab had a long climate explainer that didn’t mention fossil-fuel pollution or human agency. The New York Times, Axios, and The Washington Post similarly managed to fail to mention that global warming is fossil-fueled. Even Democracy Now! used euphemisms like “climate change-fueled.”

Compare to Denver weathercaster Mike Nelson:

Nelson explains climate change clearly: “Humans are burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.”

And New York’s David Wallace-Wells conducted a must-read interview with climate scientist Daniel Swain, a Boulder resident. (Much of the nation’s climate braintrust lives in the Boulder area.) Swain relates:

This was something that we didn’t really have to think about for most of the 20th century, in relatively wealthy nations, with well-developed modern firefighting. Really the only major 20th-century urban fires in those settings that occurred were the intentional ones during World War II, the fire bombings of Dresden and Japan. We just didn’t really have to think about that much, especially happening accidentally, in the latter half of the 20th century.

But now we’re seeing it again in the early part of the 21st century.2

“If there was any form of deliberate or accidental arson, I fully expect any of those responsible will be held fully responsible under the law for the utter devastation that was caused,” Gov. Polis said on Sunday.

I’m confident he did not mean Colorado’s frackers.

Since I’m still playing catch up with the new year: On New Year’s Eve, West Virginia granted a key permit for the construction of the natural-gas Mountain Valley Pipeline. On New Year’s Day, severe storms and floods hit Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. Deadly floods swamp Iran, Malaysia, Brazil, Kurdistan.

When the corona-snow days end in DC (i.e., kids are able to attend school), you can again expect Hill Heat to show up in the mornings when you subscribe. I’ve been wanting to get this out for a few days now, so I’m not going to wait to hit send.

P.S. More important snow day coverage:

1. Not the best return on investment there, I’d say.

2. And yet even this interview did not mention fossil-fuel pollution.

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