Colorado ‘fracking’ protesters booted from Winter X Games

ASPEN — A revolt against hydraulic fracturing in Colorado went worldwide Sunday night as a group of self-described “fractivists” flashed anti-drilling signs along the superpipe of the Winter X Games.

About a dozen local twenty-somethings waved signs reading “Keep Our Water Pure,” “Rig Free For You And Me” and “Stop Frac’ing Colo” that television cameras carried live when Shaun White twisted and tumbled through the air on his way to his fifth-consecutive men’s snowboard superpipe victory.

Anti-drilling demonstrators make a statement as snowboarder Shaun White flies by. (Photo by Eric Allen)

The ESPN Winter X Games provided an ideal venue, the activists said, to educate an extremely large and youthful crowd about fracking — a method of extracting natural gas and oil by breaking rocks with a pressurized mixture of fluids. The protestors specifically sought to raise awareness of the threat of drilling in the nearby roadless area of Thompson Divide and energy plays on the other side of the Elk Mountains in the North Fork Valley.

The mission went off without a hitch until about 15 minutes before the superpipe finals came to an end. That’s when private security tried to shut the demonstration down.

“ESPN said they ‘couldn’t’ air footage with our signs. They were told to make us stop, but they really couldn’t do anything about it,” said Nick DeVore, a professional telemarker who grew up in Aspen.

More than once, private security guards tried to physically remove DeVore and his signs from Buttermilk Mountain, where the Winter X Games were held, but he stood his ground. After the competition was over and the awards ceremony began, Pitkin County sheriff’s deputies approached DeVore, informed him that he was on private property and that he could avoid arrest if he left the grounds immediately. He did. But not before lifting his “Don’t Frac It Up” sign high for all to see.

The crackdown on environmental activism put ESPN in a curious spot as Winter X Games athletes such as Gretchen Bleiler and Seth Wescott regularly use their fame to educate fans about climate change, recycling and sustainable living. Bleiler and several other pro riders even visited Capitol Hill last fall to defend the Environmental Protection Agency. The Winter X Games protest came just three days before today’s House sub-committee hearing on the EPA’s hydraulic fracturing research.

“ESPN does not allow advocacy signage regardless of message,” ESPN spokesman Danny Chi said.

In the end, the peaceful demonstrators succeeded in not only getting their anti-drilling signs television exposure, but news organizations captured their messages in still images splashed on the Internet and in newspapers from coast to coast. It was such a success some of the same activists plan on picketing U.S. Bureau of Land Management offices along the Western Slope beginning next week.

Untitled from Eric Allen on Vimeo.

Troy Hooper covers environmental policy for the American Independent News Network. His work has been published in The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Huffington Post, San Francisco Weekly, Playboy, New York Post, People and dozens of other publications. Hooper has covered the Winter Olympics in Italy, an extreme ski camp in South America and gone behind the scenes with Hunter S. Thompson on election night in 2004. Born and raised in Boulder, Hooper has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara.