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Millions Flow To Colorado Fight Over Signatures, Oil And Gas

Leigh Paterson/Inside Energy

Taken together, ballot initiatives 75 and 78 would seriously restrict oil and gas development in Colorado. In recent weeks, millions of dollars have flowed into the fight both for and against these measures. Opposing campaigns, infused with this fresh flow of cash, are all about one thing right now: signatures.

Issue committees, groups formed to support or oppose ballot issues, need to collect and submit  98,492 signatures to the secretary of state by Aug. 8 in order to get an initiative on the November ballot. So, the race is on!

Chris Goodwin is part of that race. He wanders around Boulder, gathering signatures, repeating himself.

“Are you a Colorado voter?” he asks. “Excuse me ma’am, are you a Colorado voter?”

Chris gets a lot of “nos,” from out-of-staters, oil and gas supporters, parents whose kids are melting down, and from friends deep in conversation. You get the idea.

But when he doesn’t get brushed off immediately, Goodwin launches into his spiel, and immediately drops the F-word:

“These are to limit fracking in Colorado.”

Fracking. The word stops Deborah Larrabee in her tracks, just as she is about to cross a busy intersection. She signs both petitions.


There is, of course, more to these ballot initiatives than the F-word. One would give local governments the authority to regulate development. The other would increase the setback distance -- that’s the distance between an oil and gas facility and places like schools and parks -- from 500 feet to 2,500 feet.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission estimates that if the setback measure were to take effect, 90 percent of surface acreage in Colorado would be off-limits to new oil and gas development. That sort of limitation would, of course, affect jobs and revenue. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, about 25,000 people worked in oil and gas in Colorado.

These oil and gas ballot initiatives have attracted $15.46 million in contributions, all before they’ve even made it on the ballot.

Contributions have been lopsided: Groups opposing the ballot measures have collected more than 35 times what the groups behind the ballot measures have collected.

Here’s a breakdown of the key numbers as of July 27, based on filings with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office (click here for complete data and notes):

  • The committees behind the ballot initiatives -- Yes For Health and Safety Over Fracking and Yes for Local Control Over Oil and Gas -- have collected$424,020.85. This includes cash donations and non-monetary contributions like services and staff time.

  • Half of pro-ballot measure contributions have come from individuals. U.S. Congressman Jared Polis and his father each donated $25,000. Greenpeace, 350.org and Food and Water Watch have also made significant contributions, particularly in consulting and staffing.

  • Pro-ballot measure groups have spent$250,885.12 so far. The largest payee is signature-gathering company Localized Strategies. They’ve also spent money on legal fees, printing and advertising.

  • The issue committees opposing the ballot initiatives -- Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence (Protect Colorado); Vote No On 75/78; and Coloradans for Responsible Reform -- have collected $15,040,664.64.

  • 95 percent of that money has come from oil and gas companies: Anadarko and Noble are the single biggest contributors, donating $5.5 million and $5 million respectively. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce also contributed.

  • Ballot measure opposition groups have spent $5,059,256.45 so far; 97 percent of that money has gone to Pac/West, an Oregon-based communications firm.

Pac/West didn’t return Inside Energy’s phone calls, but Karen Crummy did. She’s the Communication Director for Protect Colorado, one the issue committees opposing the ballot measures.

Protect Colorado has paid Pac/West almost $5 million to run its campaign. Crummy said she didn’t know the specifics of how the money is being spent but said that it is the usual stuff: media, polling, outreach, etc


Credit Jason Foster/Rocky Mountain PBS
People dressed as pencils warn voters to be careful about the ballot petitions they sign.

As with the environmental groups, there is also a ground game. It includes people dressed up as gigantic pencils. They’re part of a ‘decline to sign’ campaign.

Inside Energy sent our intern, Katy Canada down to the 16th Street Mall in Denver to talk to them. The people in pencil costumes didn’t want to be interviewed and eventually complained to a nearby police officer. Instead, Karen Crummy explains their message:  “Read what you’re about to sign. Your signature is valuable.”


So why have these groups mobilized such a massive campaign against the two ballot initiatives?  


“This isn’t just trying to add a new regulation or something. This would wipe out the whole industry,” Crummy said.


Back in Boulder, Chris Goodwin asked Barbara Tyler if she would sign his petitions.


“Fracking?” she said. “Absolutely!”


Tyler lives in Colorado but is from Oklahoma, where the landscape is dotted with wells. Her dad worked in oil and gas. She is deeply worried about the environmental impacts of fracking. That is not directly what is on the ballot initiatives but it is why she signs. With a sigh, Tyler explains that she “doesn’t want to destroy stuff.”


If both initiatives get the requisite number of signatures, Colorado voters will be able to weigh in on the future of oil and gas in November.   


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