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Coverage of energy that moves beyond polarized arguments and emotional debate to explore the points of tension, the tradeoffs and opportunities, and the very human consequences of energy policy, production, use and innovation.Inside Energy is a collaboration of seven public media outlets in the nation's energy epicenter: Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Colorado At The Epicenter Of A Political Fracking Fight

Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development
Screencap of an ad by the industry-funded group Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development.

Colorado is quickly becoming ground zero for a political war over the future of hydraulic fracturing. Political spending both for and against potential anti-fracking ballot measures is already washing over the state.

Drill operations are pushing deeper into populated areas and some local governments and activists are supporting ballot measures that would give communities greater control over the industry.

To avoid a political battle in November, Governor John Hickenlooper is rushing to craft a compromise bill right now that could be passed by a special session of the state Legislature. If that doesn’t happen, a showdown for public opinion will be unleashed over the airwaves, the Internet, billboards, and pretty much everywhere else.

An organization called Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development was formed by two of the biggest oil and gas companies operating in Colorado – Anadarko and Noble, both of which are based out of state. CRED Communications Director Jon Haubert said widespread misrepresentations of fracking need correction from industry.

“They are the ones in the best position to say ‘hey, we’re the ones being demonized. Can you take just a minute to hear our perspective?’” Haubert said.

CRED’s status as a nonprofit educational organization means their ads cannot come right out and push for people to vote against the ballot measures. But, Anadarko and Noble are giving to another group to do just that; Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence – otherwise known as Protect Colorado.

“It is political speech, it is advocating,” said spokeswoman Karen Crummy of Protect Colorado. “Our job is to... really defeat these initiatives that we think are bad for the people of Colorado.”

Protect Colorado has to report how much money it’s bringing in and spending. State records show they’ve raised about $3 million so far.

CRED, however, doesn’t have to report much of anything financially. The Colorado-based Center for Western Priorities is trying to track them and estimated CRED has already spent about $2.4 million on pro-fracking educational ads.

The strategy can work.

In 2008, Coloradans considered Initiative 58, which would have increased taxes for oil and gas.

“I thought the stars were well-positioned for it,” said Floyd Cirulli, an independent pollster in Colorado.

But, the measure eventually failed, in part because of big industry bucks.

Credit National Institute on Money in State Politics
Figures from the National Institute on Money in State Politics showing oil and gas political spending in Colorado from 1996-2014.

The nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics said companies like Conoco, Chevron, Exxon, BP, Noble and Anadarko poured in $12 million in spending against Initiative 58 – a state record.

Cirulli predicts this time the industry will be willing to spend up to three times as much to protect fracking.

“I would say you could multiply $12 million by 3 to get to that figure,” Cirulli said.

The difference this time, the anti-fracking crowd will be well-funded too.

Editor’s Note: Full disclosure, Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development is an underwriter of KUNC programming.

Dan Boyce moved to the Inside Energy team at Rocky Mountain PBS in 2014, after five years of television and radio reporting in his home state of Montana. In his most recent role as Montana Public Radio’s Capitol Bureau Chief, Dan produced daily stories on state politics and government.
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