Fracking & friendship: Dan Haley made my nephew’s day

Erin Cummings, who teaches science at Skinner Middle School in Denver, and her student, Maxwell Bungum, my nephew. (Skinner photo)

One day when cleaning out my Google account I saw an e-mail from my nephew Maxwell Bungum that I had missed. I opened it up to find an invitation to edit his fracking homework.

Fracking! Editing! I was too busy to inquire what was going on, but Max called several days later to say, “Did you get my e-mail? You’re supposed to forward it.” Then he hung up and headed for school.

I still didn’t know what the whole thing was about but I forwarded his report to Dan Haley, the president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. What happened next made a 12-year-old happy, his parents very proud and his sixth-grade science teacher at Skinner Middle School ecstatic.

“A CEO actually took the time to write a full blown letter,” teacher Erin Cummings said. “We need more CEOs to do that. I was shocked when Max showed me the letter.”

Haley told Max his paper was “fantastic.”

“We need more people like you who take the time to research a controversial topic, in this case hydraulic fracturing,” Haley said, “and then draw your own conclusion based on science and facts, rather than what your friends or social media might be saying.”

A gas well fracking site outside of Parachute. (Rocky Mountain News/Denver Public Library/Western Genealogy Collection)

It turns out that three sixth-grade science classes at Skinner in north Denver studied fracking as part of a four-week project that began in late January. The hot-button issue has dominated Colorado politics in recent years. Hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is a procedure in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground to extract oil and gas.

Supporters say the procedure is safe, while critics fear its impact on homes, schools and residents near the drilling sites. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper — a former geologist — in 2014 managing to pull off a stunning compromise between environmentalists and energy producers over proposed ballot measures to limit fracking. But only two years later environmentalists were back, trying again at the ballot box.

The students were allowed to choose whether their report was pro or con on fracking, and most students opposed the issue, Mrs. Cummings said. Max told me he first did some background research, decided natural gas was preferable to coal and so supported fracking.

Dan Haley, second from let, is the president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. L. to r.: Jeff Wasden, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, Haley, Secretary of State Wayne Williams and lobbyist Jim Cole at a recent energy forum in Denver. (SOS photo)

“Fracking is better for the environment, provides more jobs, and is one of the cleanest burning non-renewable energy sources,” Maxwell wrote. “If we could rely on fracking we could preserve our beautiful state for generations to come.”

Two of the three science teachers instructed their students to send their report to someone. Mrs. Cummings said Max asked if he could send his paper to me because “my aunt’s in politics and she knows of lot of people.”

When I saw that Max had defended fracking, I immediately thought of my friend Dan Haley, a former journalist who now heads the oil-and-gas association or COGA. (If Max had opposed fracking, I probably would have sent his paper to Rep. Mike Foote, a Lafayette Democrat who believes Coloradans should have a greater say about drilling operations in their backyard. )

Skinner Middle School in north Denver. (DPS photo)

Haley sent me an email March 2. “I have accessed Maxwell’s fracking report, and love it. I think I’m supposed to grade it but not sure how. Will send him a letter to his school. He goes to Skinner?”

I expected Maxwell to get a brief, “nice job,” but not a full-page response. Max received the letter Monday and showed it to his friends and then his teacher.

“Max is a very bright young man,” Mrs. Cummings said. “He would be a great engineer. He loves math and science.”

Who knows. Haley did conclude in his letter to Max: “You should consider a career in oil and natural gas. We always need engineers and geologists to help build and create the new innovations that make our industry smarter, cleaner and more efficient.”

“If that doesn’t work out, you can always take my job.”