A new approach is being floated by industry in the form of a Trojan Horse of a bill being pushed to the gate by Sen. Sonnenberg. You could call it a “if you can’t beat them, put them in prison” approach.
Sonnenberg has introduced Colorado Senate Bill 17-035. He says the bill is needed to deal with potentially death-causing tampering with equipment associated with oil and gas gathering operations. Supposedly, we need it because, one would assume, we’ve seen so many death-causing incidents attributable to such tampering. But that would be wrong because we have seen no such deadly acts of sabotage — none, zero, never happened.
Colorado already has a law making it a pretty serious crime to tamper with equipment associated with oil or gas gathering operations. If you get caught currently, you face a class 2 misdemeanor that can land you in jail for a few months and/or get you fined $250 to $1,000. In reality, most people who get caught are simply charged with criminal trespass or criminal mischief. So Sonnenberg and the industry’s point of view is that such light penalties are hardly a deterrent to activists. And they’re probably right about that.
Monkeywrenching a gathering system is considered a form of protest. The potential jail time and fine are a risk, but some people fighting for the future of the planet are clearly willing to take that risk. That is why we already have a law against such activity in place. I think a sane person not beholden to the oil and gas industry might argue that the current penalties fit the crime pretty well. And after all, that is supposed to be the goal of our justice system. We don’t cut off the hands of people who shoplift and we don’t make protesting against global warming subject to the death penalty, even though I’m sure such over-the-top punishments would put an end to such behavior.
Sonnenberg’s proposed bill would alter the wording of the existing law to enforce more draconian punishments on oil and gas activists. And a close reading of the new bill shows it to be misleading and possibly applicable to other types of peaceful protest.
If passed, Sonnenberg’s bill would turn the exact same actions from a class 2 misdemeanor into a class 6 felony, carrying up to an 18-month prison sentence and a fine of $100,000.
One would assume that if, as he claims, his primary concern is to prevent deadly accidents caused by activist tampering, Sonnenberg would make such death or injury a required tenet of the new bill, but it’s not.
The language of the existing law states, “Any person who in any manner knowingly destroys, breaks, removes, or otherwise tampers with or attempts to destroy, break, remove, or otherwise tamper with any equipment associated with oil or gas gathering operations commits a class 2 misdemeanor.” The new bill reads like this (changes in italics): “Any person who in any manner knowingly destroys, breaks, removes, or otherwise tampers with or attempts to destroy, break, remove, or otherwise tamper with any equipment associated with oil or gas gathering operations or places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury commits a class 6 felony.”
If the implied justification for this bill’s new harsher penalty were true, it would have said “AND places another in danger…” instead of “OR places another in danger…” The bill makes the crime of messing with oil and gas equipment a class 6 felony regardless of whether or not anyone was put in danger.
And it gets worse.
The original law also states, “Any person who in any manner, without the consent of the owner or operator, knowingly alters, obstructs, interrupts, or interferes with or attempts to alter, obstruct, interrupt, or interfere with the action of any equipment used or associated with oil or gas gathering operations commits a class 2 misdemeanor.”
Again, the new bill adds the words “or places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury commits a class 6 felony.” This is particularly troubling.
By definition, any truck used to carry oil or condensate, or even any vehicle that might be used to service a well or production platform, would qualify as being “associated with oil and gas gathering operations.”
And because Sonnenberg has used the word OR instead of AND, any peaceful protestor who blocks access to a well road or slows down trucks carrying oil could become subject to 18 months in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Why not just cut off our hands?
Sonnenberg’s bill is designed to kill off peaceful protests by giving the oil and gas industry and law enforcement a giant stick. It’s clearly not about saving lives. The new bill would also allow “victims” to sue individual protestors on top of the already harsh penalties being suggested. One can only assume that oil companies are the “victims” when the road to a wellsite gets blocked by protesters.
Sonnenberg’s bill will get its first hearing on Feb. 16 in front of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. It just happens Sonnenberg is the committee’s chairman.
Folks need to get involved and stop this bill before it gets in front of a bunch of politicians controlled by the oil and gas industry.