David v. Goliath in Colorado

David v. Goliath in Colorado

Community-led movements for moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") have the Front Range buzzing this election season.

Written by Sean Stewart

Community-led movements for moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) have the Front Range buzzing this election season. Fracking bans are on the ballot in Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield, and Fort Collins. The issue pits grassroots efforts by local residents against a flood of corporate financing from oil and gas companies. Already, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) has donated over $600,000 to issue committees opposing the local measures. COGA is the trade association for the oil and gas industry in Colorado.

In Boulder, the most recent campaign finance filings show that COGA donated $110,337 to Boulder Citizens for Rational Energy Decisions, an issue committee organized to oppose Question 2H, which would extend Boulder’s moratorium on fracking from one year to five years. $17,043 had been spent by the group, all on consulting services with iKue Strategies in Denver. Meanwhile, a group in support of the measure, Yes on 2H, had raised just $3,802, all from individuals, and spent only $2,818 on food and printing.

In an article written last week in the Daily Camera, Robert Duffy, a Colorado State University political science professor: “It strikes me as a very big amount of money in its own right, considering it’s a municipal election,” he said. “The imbalance of funds is so enormous, regardless of how you feel about the issue.”

A similar situation is forming in Broomfield, where COGA has contributed a total of $171,238 to oppose Question 300, which would ban fracking in Broomfield for 5 years. $156,238 was contributed to the Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition and $15,000 to It’s Our Broomfield, Too, two groups opposing the measure. The Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition has spent over $154,000 on consulting fees to iKue Strategies and other companies, and It’s Our Broomfield, Too has spent over $5,000 on property rental, printing, fliers, and donation envelopes. The lone issue committee supporting Question 300, Our Broomfield, has raised just under $5,000 and spent a little over $2,000 on yard signs, t-shirts, legal fees, and food and materials for staff.

Meanwhile, the Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice reported contributions of $67,074 to oppose the proposed fracking moratorium there, Question 300, all but $100 of which was donated by COGA. In comparison, East Boulder County United, which supports the ban, had only raised $1,762. Moreover, Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice had spent almost $14,000 in fees to iKue Strategies for consulting, mailings, and brochures, and thus far outspent East Boulder County United, which spent over $2,000 for yard signs, printing, and volunteer training.

This week, The Boulder Daily Camera quoted Marrily Mazza, a candidate for City Council and supporter of Question 300, as saying “[i]t’s hard to believe that while we’re getting small contributions and have had people who actually live here knocking on doors and walking the streets, [COGA-supported Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice is] buying outside people to tell them what to do in this community … We’re up against consultants in Denver.”

Fort Collins’ Issue 2A would put a 5-year moratorium on fracking in the city. Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins, in support of Issue 2A, had raised $3,778 from a number of individuals, and spent $2,886, mostly on food, printing, legal fees, and signs as of the last filing deadline, 21 days prior to the election. The money COGA contributed to an opposing issue committee, Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy, which totaled $256,134, dwarfed that raised by the anti-fracking activists. Over $230,000 of that amount had been spent on canvassers, consulting fees, and other expenditures.

In response to the influx of COGA money, the Huffington Post quoted Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action as asking “[c]an the richest and most powerful industry on the planet”which pollutes our air, water, land and neighborhoods”also buy and pollute our local democracy in Fort Collins? We’ll find out.”

To make matters worse, local communities have to fight their own Governor. A citywide fracking ban much like those proposed in Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield, and Fort Collins was passed by Longmont voters in November of 2012, triggering a warning from Governor Hickenlooper that the ban would likely result in a lawsuit against the City brought by the state. The state, working through the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission (COGCC), a state governmental agency charged with both regulating oil and gas and promoting the industry in the state, has consistently claimed that the COGCC has exclusive power to create regulations controlling oil and gas development in Colorado. In the state’s view, the fracking ban in Longmont is preempted by the state’s control of the regulatory field, a view that limits the power of municipal governments to determine how oil and gas companies operate within their borders. COGA brought a lawsuit against Longmont shortly after the ban was passed, and the COGCC joined the suit against Longmont in July. In addition to fighting against the influx of money contributed by COGA, proponents of fracking bans in Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield, and Fort Collins would likely face similar legal battles brought by COGA if the laws are passed.

These communities have to fight with everything they have against Big Money to ensure their communities are safe. Oil and gas companies can certainly be allowed a voice in the process, but they should not be permitted to use the full strength of their growing industry to drown out the voice of residents in these cities. Community debates should be driven by ideas, not big money.

One thing you can do is contact Congressman Jared Polis and ask him to support a constitutional amendment that would allow us to limit money in politics. 16 states are on board; 1/3 of U.S. House members, and 1/3 of U.S. Senators have also stated support. Voters in Rep. Polis’s district have voted for this amendment, many of them twice — once with a 2011 measure (2H) and again last fall with Amendment 65.