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What do state agencies do in response to citizens’ concerns about resource extraction?

Two researchers from the Center for the Study of Crime and Justice at Colorado State University have investigated the state regulatory response to citizens’ complaints about oil and gas industry in rural Colorado. The role that state agencies play in the process of energy extraction is interesting because the state has two, sometimes mutually contradictory, mandates: (1) it has to assist in industrial development by legitimising certain economic policies and interests and (2) it is charged with monitoring and limiting harmful practices.

In the context of oil and gas industry in rural Colorado, the researchers have analysed local citizens’ experiences with state response and found that the state misunderstood, displaced or diluted their concerns. State agencies misrepresented citizens’ concerns in formal documents, which precluded any effective response to the reported problems. After repeated but failed attempts to communicate their issues to regulatory agencies, some people simply gave up. This means that there may still be many untold stories about real experiences with oil and gas activities.

The article also reports that when state actors investigated harms thought to be related to oil and gas activity, their findings displaced the cause of the problem and blamed it on some other activity (naturally occurring gas or maintenance problem) rather than on oil and gas practices. Furthermore, the state officials tried to diminish the harm that the citizens experienced. All of these strategies, as the researchers claim, led to an ineffective response of the state to the reported problems with oil and gas activities in rural Colorado. Their analysis shows that state’s response was biased in favour of industrial development at the expense of citizens who were left ineffectively protected from potential risks associated with oil and gas developments in the area.


Opsal, T., & O’Connor Shelley, T. (2014). Energy Crime, Harm, and Problematic State Response in Colorado: A Case of the Fox Guarding the Hen House? Critical Criminology, 22(4), 561–577.

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