Anadarko vs. Donnie Darko: How to Tell Them Apart

Anadarko vs. Donnie Darko: How to Tell Them Apart
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Although it’s the largest oil and gas producer in the state, many Colorado residents had never heard of Anadarko Petroleum until this spring, when two fatal explosions in six weeks brought the company’s operations under intense scrutiny by regulators and the media. Even now, confusion persists regarding Anadarko’s mission and methods, its role in the state’s economy and its politics, and its possible links to a certain 2001 sci-fi film with a similar name, starring a young Jake Gyllenhaal, that’s become a staple of the midnight-movie circuit.

As a service to readers, Westword presents this primer in how to distinguish the enigmatic, embattled energy giant Anadarko from the enigmatic, ominous cult classic Donnie Darko.


Anadarko is a Texas-based exploration and production company with major holdings in gas and oil fields in several states and foreign countries. Formed in 1959, the company employs more than 4,000 people in pursuit of its mission, which is rooted in the idea that the key to a better future involves the exploitation of natural resources on a massive scale.

Donnie Darko is the story of a deeply disturbed adolescent who is tormented by visions of a demonic figure in a rabbit suit and feelings of apocalyptic dread. Set in the fall of 1988, the film explores the idea that the key to a better future might well depend on wormholes, time travel, and the exploitation of supernatural resources on a massive scale.


At the beginning of the movie, Donnie is sleepwalking and neglecting to take his medication. While he wanders at night, a jet engine falls from the sky and crashes through his bedroom. Mysteriously spared from this disaster — we learn much later in the film that the falling debris came from the future — Donnie embarks on a series of destructive assaults on his uptight private school and conservative community under the tutelage of his bunny-suited evil angel, Frank.

At the beginning of 2017, a blow-out at an Anadarko well leaked 28,000 gallons of oil, gas and fracking fluids at a site south of Greeley. On April 17, an explosion at a home in Firestone killed two people and seriously injured a third; the blast was blamed on an overlooked gas pipeline connected to an Anadarko drilling operation. On May 25, an explosion at an Anadarko oil tanker in Mead killed one and injured three. The series of disasters has led to well shutdowns, lawsuits, and intense rhetoric from anti-fracking activists, who regard the process of pumping vast amounts of water and sand mixed with toxic chemicals into tight shale formations to extract oil and gas as a destructive assault on the uptight and conservative communities of Weld County.  

Free Will vs. Destiny

Donnie Darko fears that the world will end in 28 days. But after studying a book on time travel and discussing with his science teacher the metaphysical quandaries it raises, he becomes convinced that he might be able to combat the dark forces amassing around him and alter the fate of his loved ones — possibly by sacrificing himself.

Anadarko fears that a harsher regulatory environment for fossil-fuel development will mean the end of the world as we know it. As detailed in a recent report by International Business Times and MapLight, the company donated more than $7.2 million to various candidates and causes in the 2016 Colorado election season, including contributions to “dark money” organizations backing GOP lawmakers, and provided substantial support to a ballot initiative that makes it more difficult to get citizen-initiated reforms of energy regulation on the ballot. According to the report, the company continued to lobby against tougher disclosure requirements for the industry after the Firestone explosion.

Plot Twists

In the world of Donnie Darko, people and situations are not always what they appear to be. For example, a moralizing motivational speaker, played by Patrick Swayze, who advocates choosing love over fear, turns out to be a prolific pedophile whose mansion contains a secret kiddie porn dungeon.

In the world of Anadarko, people and situations are not always what they appear to be. For example, a moralizing ex-Secretary of the Interior, played by Ken Salazar, who pledges to comply with federal ethics laws that prevent him from lobbying for companies he formerly regulated, turns out to have contacted Governor John Hickenlooper’s office on Anadarko’s behalf in the wake of the Firestone explosion.


Following his discovery of the planet’s impending doom and his realization that everyone dies alone, Donnie Darko is depressed.

Following news of the unfortunate incidents in Colorado, Anadarko’s stock was depressed. In recent weeks, CEO Al Walker and other company executives have tried to cheer it up by buying up more than a million dollars’ worth of shares at greatly reduced prices, according to a report on the DeSmog blog.

Critical Reception

Released just months before the 9/11 attacks, Donnie Darko got decidedly mixed reviews at first blush, with many finding its mix of plane crashes, sci-fi and social commentary unpleasant, incoherent and bewildering. Yet its murkiness has been a strength in the long run, inviting multiple interpretations and lucrative “director’s cut” editions. The film now has an 86 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has consistently given Anadarko a thumbs-up — and that’s the only review that counts.


“Anadarko’s mission is to deliver a competitive and sustainable rate of return to shareholders by developing, acquiring and exploring for oil and natural gas resources vital to the world’s health and welfare.” — Anadarko mission statement

“Destruction is a form of creation…. They just want to see what happens when they tear the world apart.” — Donnie Darko
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast