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Energy Crime, Harm, and Problematic State Response in Colorado: A Case of the Fox Guarding the Hen House?


Crime related to energy extraction is an emerging area of interest among green and critical criminologists. This paper contributes to that developing work by examining the political economy of harm and crime associated with the oil and natural gas industry in rural Colorado. Specifically, we examine problematic state regulatory response to citizens’ complaints regarding a range of harms caused by private industry (e.g., water pollution, adverse human health consequences, and domestic livestock death). In this paper, we draw on content analysis of formal complaints filed by citizens to the state, ethnographic work, and intensive interviews with citizens seeking relief from problematic or abusive industry practices. Our analysis illuminates how the state documents these practices, how citizens experience them, and how the state dilutes and deflects the externalities of energy extraction to produce additional harm.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. A split estate is when property ownership is divided between the surface owner and those who own the rights to minerals/natural gas located beneath the surface (Bryner 2003 and Davis 2012).

  2. Similar to Chiricos we conceptualize ideology using a two part understanding whereby ideology: (1) is a form of partisan discourse that pursues interests and (2) distorts reality as a means to pursue/achieve those interests.

  3. This participant would not consent to a recorded interview because he was in business with the oil and gas industry and feared backlash.

  4. Flaring involves the burning off of natural gas during the extraction process.


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Correspondence to Tara Opsal.

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

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  • State Response
  • Moral Panic
  • Environmental Crime
  • Critical Criminologist
  • Green Criminologist