Protect Colorado running strong campaign against fractivist initiatives

Author: Kelly Sloan - May 19, 2016 - Updated: May 19, 2016


Among the persistent vexations in Colorado politics is the lingering and recurrent threat of ballot initiatives. These campaigns are often conceived by special interest groups to upend the balance of power in one area of law or another. Ask many who work in politics, and they will tell you ballot proposals often pose unintended consequences to the state.

Colorado’s oil and gas industry is a frequent, almost annual example of this phenomenon. In response, a statewide campaign involving business groups, property rights advocates, chambers, elected officials, community leaders and industry groups has emerged in the state, designed to proactively defeat anti-oil and gas initiatives — several of which are expected to appear on voter’s November ballots.

The effort, dubbed “Protect Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence,” or simply “Protect Colorado,” was forged in direct response to a number of proposed ballot initiatives aimed at upending Colorado’s oil and gas industry. These include proposals this year to increase setbacks for oil and gas equipment to what many experts contend are unreasonable distances. Another measure goes even further, giving local governments the right to ban energy development within their jurisdictions altogether.

The impacts of these measures on Colorado’s economy would be devastating, economists say. Many working leaders within Colorado knowledgeable in economic policy say these initiatives could do substantial harm to the economy by disregarding progress made in recent years toward minimizing the environmental footprint of the energy industry. These measures could even pose negative national security implications. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost, revenue to vital services like schools gone, property rights trampled and the liability to pay for these takings left with state, county and local governments — meaning the taxpayers. Experts describe these measures as litigation nightmares and expensive for taxpayers.

“The campaign is up and running, ready to defeat ballot measures aimed at restricting one of Colorado’s most vibrant industries,” said Paul Phillips, president of public affairs and communications firm Pac/West, and Protect Colorado campaign manager.

“Protect Colorado has a fully integrated campaign, using cutting edge tactics to not only respond to attacks but be proactive when it comes to addressing ballot measures,” continued Phillips.

The oil and gas industry has, in recent years, been the target of multiple attacks from well-established environmentalist groups that wish to see fossil fuels production eradicated from the state. These groups have particularly honed in on the practice of hydraulic fracturing, a procedure where a predominantly water and sand mixture is used to create small fractures in the oil or gas bearing rock formation, allowing the fossil fuel to be pumped to the surface. Although several comprehensive studies undertaken by a number of universities and government agencies have repeatedly found that the procedure, used in evolving forms for more than 60 years, poses no risk to groundwater or other environmental resources, activists have continued to campaign against it.

These attacks on the industry have brought together a broad base within Colorado to defeat them and fight against the out-of-state money supporting the measures.

This year’s ballot initiatives are seen as a serious offensive launched on the industry as well as the state’s economy, thought by many to be preemptive responses to unfavorable high court decisions. Previous attacks included attempts by a few local governments to ban energy development or hydraulic fracturing, attempts that have been found unconstitutional by the courts.

Similar ballot measures were proposed in 2014, but were withdrawn following a deal struck between Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, CD-2, an outspoken critic of fracking. While Polis has distanced himself from fractivist’s efforts this year, no similar agreements appear to be in the works either, and it is unlikely that the more-ideologically entrenched interests running the current initiatives would be amenable to a compromise anyway.

In response to the recurring threat of potentially damaging anti-development initiatives, Protect Colorado was established as a comprehensive campaign and public relations effort to both combat the ballot measures and help promote the benefits of the oil and gas industry in Colorado. And it’s got serious backing.

Pac/West, the firm managing Protect Colorado, which has its office in downtown Denver, is one of the largest and most influential public affairs and communications firms in the western U.S. Founded in 1997 by Phillips and his wife Nancy, and specializes in government relations, corporate and strategic communications, and campaign management and marketing. Pac/West has been active in Colorado’s oil and gas arena for several years, leading Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), the statewide educational effort geared towards informing the public about the state’s oil and gas industry, and Phillips sees Protect Colorado as a natural and necessary addition to that and other related efforts to protect the state’s economy.

“At Pac/West, we strive at being the leader in political campaigns on a variety of issues. Working with the Protect Colorado team has allowed us to test and explore new ways of approaching complex issues, which have been very successful,” said Phillips.

Phillips says Protect Colorado could be one of the most important campaigns in the state this year, due to the scope of the threat posed by the ballot measures, and the degree of harm that could come to Colorado should the initiatives pass. The oil and gas industry in Colorado is responsible for more than 100,000 well-paying jobs in the state, and for generating more than $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenues. Overall, the oil and gas industry contributes around $317 billion to Colorado’s economy.

According to Protect Colorado and other informational resources in the state, the proposed ballot initiatives — especially those which would effectively impose bans on oil and gas development — could cost the state billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, causing a spike in the unemployment rate and creating additional pressure on state and local government resources, while greatly reducing the revenue available for those governments.

In addition to the economic consequences, pro- oil and gas experts say the global environment could be negatively impacted as the reduction in natural gas production, effected by the ballot measures, could potentially result in increased use of “dirtier” forms of energy.

Many are also concerned that national security could be affected, by limiting domestic energy production and shifting reliance back on foreign sources of energy, including from volatile regions like the Middle East and Venezuela.

Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg basin, located north of Denver, is responsible for a considerable amount of the oil produced domestically as part of the recent shale boom responsible for dramatically increasing American oil and gas production over the past decade, reducing the need for foreign energy.

Western Colorado’s Piceance Basin is similarly responsible for producing much of the nation’s natural gas, thanks to advances in drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing.

Curtailing the industry in Colorado as many experts say the proposed ballot measures would, could have consequences that extend far past the Centennial State’s borders, and impact the entire nation; consequences which the Protect Colorado campaign is well aware of, and is seeking to prevent.

“This campaign is aimed at protecting more than 100,000 jobs, more than one billion in tax revenue for the state, and vital Colorado programs like schools, parks, and roads. If these proposals are successful, the face of Colorado will change dramatically for the worse,” said Phillips.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.