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Colorado’s oil and gas industry tells voters it’s a friend

Author: Joey Bunch - June 12, 2018 - Updated: June 28, 2018

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Workers labor on a drilling rig near Greeley. (Photo courtesy of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health via Wikimedia Commons)

Colorado’s oil and gas industry needs all the friendly voters it can get in the next few weeks, so the avalanche of positive spin generated this week by its allies and affiliates is no coincidence.

In the June primary, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, the industry’s favorite political bad guy, is leading the field of four Democratic candidates  for governor. He makes no secret of his plan to wean the state off fossil fuels. Four years ago he was driving force, politically and financially, on a detoured effort to give communities more local control over oil and gas operations, including 2,000-foot setbacks from homes, via ballot measures that he later withdrew.

It’s against that backdrop that, on Monday, the Colorado Petroleum Council released a glowing report about the industry it represents. “(The) natural gas and oil industry actively contributes to Colorado’s quality of life, education, health and economy, says new report,” stated the headline of its press release.

The release boasts of the industry “contributing to educational funds, supporting the expansion of available medical facilities, and lowering emissions” that’s “essential to creating jobs and generating much needed revenue for our government.”

That same day, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association — another group representing the state’s energy sector — said that companies voluntarily plugged about 4,000 wells this year and last year to cut emissions.

“Colorado’s oil and natural gas companies, and their employees, are working hard to serve the communities in which they live and work,” said Dan Haley, the president and CEO of the industry trade group. “Local energy development keeps costs low for homeowners and businesses, it helps provide the products we utilize and enjoy every day, and we know it can be done in a responsible manner that protects our environment.”

Then, Tuesday, the state’s voters heard from the Colorado Association of Mineral and Royalty Owners (CAMRO), with a reminder that there’s a lot of money at stake.

It released a study saying Colorado is sitting on a nearly $180 billion windfall from energy development in northern Colorado’s Wattenberg Field — with $26 billion in royalties.

They suggested cities and towns that impose bans and put those minerals out of reach could have to cover those lost royalties.

“If the seizure of private property rights in Colorado is codified through the local control initiatives or statewide ballot measures, all property rights throughout the state are under attack,” said Neil Ray, president of CAMRO.

“Not only do these estimates represent a staggering value that could be taken without compensation from mineral owners by proposed ballot initiatives, but they represent funds taken from tax coffers that fund schools, roads and other community services that we all value.”

In April Democrats, who control the state House, killed Senate Bill 192, which would have required cities, towns and counties that ban or put moratoriums on oil-and-gas activities to compensate operators, mineral-interest holders and royalty owners for their losses.

Now, petition gatherers are in the field trying to collect at least 98,492 signatures before Aug. 6 to get on the November ballot for each of four proposed measures.

Two would hurt the industry: a 2,500-foot setback from homes and a hike in the severance tax paid by oil-and-gas operators. Two proposed ballot questions help the industry. One clarifies the state, not local communities, is in charge of regulating oil and gas operations. Another would compensate property owners if regulations prevent them from collecting royalties.

Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado Petroleum Council reminded the press about its partnership with One Colorado, the state’s largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer Coloradans.

The two are putting on the third annual Pride in the Natural Gas and Oil Industry event on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Tracks nightclub in Denver.

“The event will feature a happy hour followed by a robust panel discussion covering the LGBTQ+ community and the importance of inclusion and diversity in Colorado’s natural gas and oil industry’s workforce,” the announcement states. “The industry in Colorado contributes nearly $32 billion to the state’s economy and supports over 232,900 jobs.”

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, said the industry knows how to play politics. (So does Conservation Colorado, one of the most prominent advocacy organizations at the Capitol with more than 35,000 members.)

“The oil and gas industry has a stranglehold on Colorado politics,” said spokesman Jace Woodrum. “They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying at the state Capitol just this year to fight common-sense legislation that would have provided a small measure of protection against the harmful impacts of oil and gas drilling.”

He pointed to the millions the industry will raise and spend to pass ballot measures, as well as the “near-constant advertising trying to convince voters in an Orwellian style that fracking is safe.”

“While we all understand that the oil and gas industry is a part of our economy,” Woodrum said, “we cannot sit back and allow oil and gas companies to spend millions on politics and spin while at the same time cutting corners on public health and safety, obstructing reasonable regulations, siting industrial oil and gas operations in resistant neighborhoods, ignoring their obligation to inspect unsafe infrastructure and buying influence.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.