September 3, 2021 | LIFE | By Isabel Hicks | Photo by Tamar Crump

I remember coming to Colorado College’s admitted students day as a senior in high school several years ago. CC was liberal with their free giveaways: I got a shirt, a water bottle, and a colorful poster of the mountains reading “State of the Rockies Project 2013.” When I got back to my home in Denver, I hung the poster on my bedroom door. It’s still there to this day. 

Now, I am an actual State of the Rockies Research Fellow, not just a poster recipient. It’s truly mind-boggling to think about how much I’ve grown since my 18-year-old self stepped onto CC’s campus for the first time, unaware of all the opportunities waiting patiently for me. 

The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project is an ongoing student-faculty research collaboration that focuses on environmental issues impacting the Rocky Mountain West. This year, CC appointed Associate Professor Katrina Miller-Stevens as the new director of the project. 

I worked alongside Miller-Stevens and four other CC students to research the policy debates about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the Colorado state legislature. We also were able to collaborate with Jonathan Pierce, an academic and professor with experience in environmental consulting. 

The bulk of our summer research focused on SB19-181, a bill that passed the Colorado House and Senate that Gov. Polis signed into law in 2019. In the most basic terms, the bill changed the mission of Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory body from “fostering” oil and gas development to “regulating” it. It also gave local governments more power to control the industry themselves instead of being preempted by the state. 

The bill was a victory for environmentalists and a blow to the oil and gas industry. The win was considerable given that a ballot proposition to set fracking wells back a mandatory 2,500 ft from any human-occupied buildings failed just the year before, in 2018. 

Our research aimed to answer a simple question: this time, why did the environmentalists win?

To answer this question, the Rockies fellows spent most of June and July digging through the some 50 hours of spoken testimony and over 100 written testimonies about SB19-181. Various stakeholders supporting and opposing the bill delivered testimony in the Finance, Transportation, Energy and Environment committees of the state House and Senate. 

Miller-Stevens and Pierce taught us how to analyze the testimonies through qualitative coding. For example, if a speaker mentioned a recurring theme or argument, we coded “1” for its presence (and “0” if it was missing). We also coded for emotions of the speaker — like anger, fear, and empathy — and characterizations of other stakeholders (i.e. if someone was villainizing the oil and gas industry or government overreach). In total, our codebook had about 30 variables that we looked for in each testimony. 

The project started in March with an adjunct course blocks 7 and 8, and there are additional adjunct blocks 1 and 2 where we will analyze the findings of our research. Though the spring adjunct and summer work were both remote, the adjunct is planned to be in-person for the research fellows on campus. 

During the adjunct we will create a poster to present at the Student Summer Research Symposium, which will happen on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022 from 3:30-5 p.m. (location on campus TBD). There you can learn more about the State of the Rockies Project in general and our findings on why SB19-181 succeeded. 

The fellows will also have a chance to present their research with Miller-Stevens and Pierce at the 79th Annual Midwest Political Science Conference. The conference will be held in Chicago from April 7 to April 10, 2022, but there is also flexibility for researchers to present virtually.

Applications for the 2022 State of the Rockies Project open in Block 5. 

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