Inscribed on the walls of the downtown Denver Hyatt Regency hotel is a poem by John Ruskin titled “O’ Truth of the Earth.” The poem is an ode to mountains, fitting for a building with a pristine view of the Rocky Mountains. It reads:
“Mountains are the bones of the earth, their highest peaks are invariably those parts of its anatomy which in the plains lie buried under five and twenty thousand feet of solid thickness of superincumbent soil, and which spring up in the mountain ranges in vast pyramids or wedges, flinging their garment of earth away from them on each side. The masses of the lower hills are laid over and against their sides, like the masses of lateral masonry against the skeleton arch of an unfinished bridge, except that they slope up to and lean against the central ridge: and, finally upon the slopes of these lower hills are strewed the level beds of sprinkled gravel, sand and clay; which form the extent of the champaign. Here then is another grand principle of the truth of earth, that the mountains must come from under all, and be the support of all; and that everything else must be laid in their arms, heap above heap, the plains being the uppermost.”
Tonight, inside that hotel, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), an oil-and-gas member group that describes itself as the “voice of the industry in the west,” hosted a casino-themed gala to honor oil and gas wildcatters who double as philanthropists. The WEA represents 200 independent oil-and-gas producing companies with an average of 14 employees each.
A Colorado environmental advocacy group, Colorado Rising, staged a protest at the entrance to the hotel to call out the WEA for its part in creating the climate crisis and for “greenwashing,” according to a press release from the organization.
“R.I.P. Mother Earth, fracked to death,” read one tombstone-shaped sign at the protest.
“HEY OIL AND GAS, STOP F**CKING MY MOM,” stated another sign, alongside a picture of the Earth
The protesters chanted at gala attendees, both at the entrance to the hotel and through hotel windows once the attendees were in the lobby.
“You’re a dirty fracking liar, thanks to you our planet’s on fire!” chanted the protesters. “Chevron, Exxon, BP, Shell — take your fracking straight to hell!”
One protester, Camila Melo, brought along her 12-year-old daughter to the event hoping to show her the value of standing up for one’s beliefs.
“I’m here to support the cause and to show my daughter how important it is to show up for causes you believe in,” Melo said. “Otherwise you might not have a voice. You don’t want the world to collapse and to have not done anything about it.”
Melo hopes to see actual change in the oil and gas industry as a result of the protest.
“I hope the people in there think about what they do to the Earth,” Melo said, nodding to the hotel. “I hope we can convince them to do something about climate change. I hope we can start to invest in renewable resources rather than fossil fuels.”
Colorado Rising executive director and former state Rep. Joe Salazar said the group wanted to emphasize how dire of a situation the climate crisis is.
“We’re protesting today to highlight the 60 years of lies the oil and gas industry has perpetrated through organizations like Western Energy Alliance,” Salazar said. “They are literally taking a page out of the tobacco playbook to try and fool people into believing that their product doesn’t harm people or the planet. They’ve known about this for 60 years, that their activities would ultimately result in the climate crisis we’re facing today.”
Inside the Hotel
While protesters pushed their signs against the window of the Hyatt lobby, attendees of the 36th annual Wildcatter Gala seemed unconcerned with the rally.
“Wow did you guys know we’re the devil,” one attendee laughed to his party while he walked past the protesters toward the hotel entrance.
“They don’t even know me,” another said. “They don’t know what I do.”
One couple confronted the protesters as they walked in, taking a video and dancing while protesters chanted.
“You all need an education!” the woman said as she walked in. “You all need to get educated! You need a couple more PhDs.”
One WEA member who declined to give a name pointed out that Salazar had recently filed to run for state senate.
“Nice campaign event out there for Joe, huh?” he said.
While the Colorado Times Recorder was not allowed entrance into the casino-themed gala, WEA president Kathleen Sgamma agreed to an interview outside the entrance. When asked how the protest was making her feel, Sgamma was nonplussed.
“I couldn’t care less,” Sgamma said.
Sgamma brushed the question off when asked about signs such as “Stop f**cking my mom!”
“That kind of radical rhetoric is not concerning to me at all,” Sgamma said.
Sgamma said she viewed renewable resources such as wind and solar power as having their use — she explained that many oil well sites use solar power to run monitoring equipment — she doesn’t view them as a viable alternative to oil and gas.
“Sure I see the need for research and development for renewable energy sources,” Sgamma explained. “If we could find sources of energy that do not emit carbon — like nuclear — that are actually reliable, 24/7, then that’s where money should be spent. It shouldn’t be spent on commercializing wind and solar which only works when the wind blows and the sun shines.”
Sgamma was confident in her assertion that WEA and other oil and gas producers were doing the right thing in relation to the climate crisis.
“Without oil and natural gas humanity would be worse off,” Sgamma said. “We get people to work so they can provide for their families; we get people to school to better their lives. We heat their homes in the winter. We cool their homes in the summer. We make sure there is 24/7 electricity when they flip the switch or go to charge their cell phones. The whole information technology sector would not exist without oil and natural gas because the petrol chemicals we create go into your phones, your servers, infrastructure to support the internet. Can you imagine life without any of those things? An ICU unit would not be possible without oil and natural gas.”
“So until there is another energy source that does everything that oil and natural gas does we’re very proud and very confident that we are benefitting humanity,” Sgamma continued. “And if we were to listen to the protesters out there and shut it all down tomorrow, humanity would be worse off.”
Fighting a Climate Crisis
Salazar took issue with Sgamma’s argument, pointing out that technological advancements have led to alternative energy resources.
“We know we can have better energy sources like solar and wind energy, not to mention hemp, green hydrogen, and biofuels,” Salazar said. “We have the capabilities to tap into these resources, but the oil and gas industry is just lazy and greedy. [Kathleen Sgamma] is never going to admit to that, but that’s why they continue to do what they’re doing. It’s because they’re making money on killing our planet and on harming our communities and they don’t want to change. And that’s why their argument is lazy.”
“I don’t buy into what ‘scamming Sgamma’ is saying,” Salazar continued. “And I want you to quote that. She is a scammer. The industry is a bunch of liars. And they are lazy, and they are greedy. And none of us should believe anything they’re saying anymore.”
Salazar explained that his reason for protesting today went deeper than just being the head of the organization or because of his state senate campaign.
“Personally, I’m out here because we’re in a climate crisis,” Salazar said. “I know the families who have spontaneous nosebleeds because fracking is happening right in their backyard. I know people who are suffering from asthma, headaches, and other respiratory illnesses that they’ve never had before oil and gas activities started up in their neighborhood. That’s why I’m here, I’m here for them, those who don’t have a voice.”
Salazar also said he was hoping to put pressure on the administration of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, something he has done before, to put stricter regulations on oil and gas producers. Salazar criticized Polis and the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission for not enforcing state legislation and abandoning those most affected by oil and gas methane or greenhouse gas emissions.
Salazar says he plans to organize more protests to put pressure on the oil and gas industry.
“We’re going to keep doing this,” Salazar said. “We are going to keep highlighting how much the industry has been lying to us. We’ll keep doing it through every legal means necessary.”