CSTPR Noontime Seminar
Supraregulatory Agreements and Public Perceptions of Unconventional Energy Development in Colorado
by Jessica Smith
In the fight between state versus local control in Colorado’s unconventional energy industry, Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) signed directly between operators and local governments are becoming an increasingly popular strategy for formally integrating citizen concerns into oil and gas development. Yet little is known about how these agreements may shape public opinion of industry and local government. Using mixed methods, we investigate if and how MOUs shaped public perceptions of the industry and the town government in Erie, a politically heterogeneous suburban Colorado town home to the state’s first MOU. While public comments have become significantly more favorable toward oil and gas development over time, our research reveals that the MOU itself did not significantly change those perceptions. The more significant factor was the election of a town board committed to processes of engagement and transparency, including a meaningful revision of the original MOU.
Jessica Smith is Co-Director of Humanitarian Engineering and Assistant Professor at the Colorado School of Mines. As an anthropologist, her research interests focus around the mining and energy industries, with particular emphasis in corporate social responsibility, engineers, labor and gender. She is the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West, which was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. She is currently investigating the intersections between engineering and CSR on the NSF grant “The Ethics of Extraction: Integrating Corporate Social Responsibility into Engineering Education.” She also serves as the social science research lead of the ConocoPhillips Center for a Sustainable WE2ST, dedicated to understanding and promoting the joint sustainability of water and unconventional energy resources.