WELD COUNTY — Jamie Rhodes grew up hating the oil and gas industry. But now Rhodes — and hundreds of others — are paying it forward with total strangers in hopes of enlightening them to the positive economic impact of oil and gas workers through what’s known as “Tip the Bill.”
“I used to be one of those people. I had no clue. In my mind, they didn’t support me, I didn’t support them. I didn’t care about it,” Rhodes said, explaining she grew up in the agriculture industry and watched as oil and gas moved in on her family’s farm land and believed the rhetoric she was told by environmentalist groups.
“There was a time that my lack of knowledge and understanding was taken advantage of by the misrepresentation and skewed facts of anti-petroleum groups,” she said.
Then without knowing what he did for a living, Rhodes began dating the man who is her now husband.
“As I began to learn about him and what he did, I began to see flaws in what I had been told by the save the earth people,” she said. “I began to research and found (the oil and gas industry) was not as harmful as I was told, and it supports me more than I had thought.”
“Tip the Bill” is a random act of kindness being played out by oil and gas employees who tip service industry employees 100 percent of the cost of their bill. Many, like Rhodes, have expanded that to paying the ticket for other customers at restaurants and nightclubs, even utility bills.
“I was at the Comcast store exchanging my cable boxes and an older couple (70’s maybe) next to me had their service cut off due to a past due bill,” one person posted on the Energy Strong Facebook page said. “The woman was crying and only had $100 to her name. So, I told her to keep her money for groceries and I covered the past due amount. #paythebill?”
Others have left surprises for Redbox renters, leaving $20 bills in movie cases with a note that says, “get some snacks for your movie.”
In all cases, the surprise donation comes with the phrase “brought to you by oil and gas employees,” with the hashtags #energystrong and #tipthebill included.
The idea originated as the result of a newly formed non-profit, Energy Strong, which is designed to bring together oil and gas employees and their families to help fight resistance to the industry and support each other as the results of Senate Bill 181 become known.
SB 181, which makes sweeping, and highly restrictive, changes to how oil and gas development is regulated in Colorado, was recently signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis.
“We proudly educate others about he benefits of promoting the advancement of natural resource exploration and extraction in Colorado,” said Sarah Hunt, founding board member and director of strategic communications for the group.
Energy Strong officially began with a Facebook group created in November 2018 by its President Dustin Case. Today the page includes more than 8,500 industry professionals, families, and supporters and has expanded to two other pages, Energy Strong Texas and Energy Strong Wyoming.
New member requests continue to pour in, and engagement and shares of posts have surpassed 300,000.
“If we don’t harness this enthusiasm to unify and advance the industry in Colorado, then shame on us,” Case said in a news release. “It’s a noble mission and I have no intention of slowing down.”
Hunt said she is not surprised the industry has reacted the way it has.
“Energy workers contribute more to their communities than most people realize,” Hunt said. “We wanted to show our friends and neighbors that oil and gas professionals are committed to their communities, and that they contribute far-reaching social and economic impacts benefiting us all.”
Hunt added the response to “Tip the Bill” has been overwhelming and rewarding.
“It has brought unity within the industry, and unity between industry workers and their communities,” she said.
In fact, the effort is beginning to reach outside of Colorado.
“I love watching this #tipthebill, #payitforward movement going on in CO,” one poster from Texas wrote with a picture of his contribution. “This should be a thing in all (oil and gas) markets, not just CO. It is time to change the narrative to the truth! Keep on rocking in CO! #energystrongcolorado #energystrongtexas #energystrong”