The oil and gas industry raised a massive war chest last year in anticipation of a showdown over anti-fracking ballot initiatives that failed to materialize -- and then spent freely on advertising, contributions to PACs and candidate committees, as well as general promotion of the industry's issues and causes across a wide spectrum of Colorado state races, according to a new report by Colorado Ethics Watch.
How significant is the industry's investment in fracking in Colorado? CEW's analysis pegs the overall oil-and-gas spending on statewide offices in 2014 at $11.79 million, compared to around $400,000 in each of the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. The figures don't include United States Senate or congressional elections.
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The bulk of the money was collected by an issue committee, Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy & Energy Independence, which was formed specifically to battle an array of proposed citizen initiatives seeking to impose greater restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking -- the process of pumping vast amounts of water and sand mixed with toxic chemicals into tight shale formations to extract oil and gas. PCEEEI raised more than $11.5 million, almost entirely from sixteen oil and gas companies, led by Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy. Those two companies, which have extensive drilling operations in the state, contributed more than $4 million each.
PCEEEI spent $5.8 million of that stash on consultants, public opinion research, signature gathering and other strategic expenditures in the months leading up to the election. But last August Governor John Hickenlooper, Representative Jared Polis and others brokered an eleventh-hour compromise that took the anti-fracking initiatives off the ballot. According to the CEW report, that didn't deter PCEEEI from finding other uses for the cash on hand; more than $3.5 million was spent on additional marketing, research, advertising and other promotional efforts after the compromise was announced, with another $1.2 million spent on "canvassing."
But even apart from the issue committee's massive cash infusion, the industry's contributions to individual candidates, PACs, 527s and political parties in 2014 came to around $914,000, more than double what it was in each of the two previous election cycles. State lawmakers of both major parties -- including Morgan Carroll, Frank McNulty, Bill Cadman and Lucia Guzman -- were beneficiaries of the industry's largesse. As part of the compromise deal, Hickenlooper has appointed a special task force to review fracking regs and come up with recommendations for legislation; but any new laws on the issue will have to go through many of the same lawmakers whose leadership PACS are on the list of recipients of industry contributions. Read the full report for more details.
Hickenlooper's task force will hold its final public meeting on Thursday in Greeley. To mark the occasion, the Center for Western Priorities released the 2014 version of its Toxic Release Tracker, which tracks data on reported spills from oil and gas operations across the state. There were 712 spills reported last year, close to two a day -- and significantly higher than the 495 spills logged in 2013 and 402 in 2012. "The spike in spills from oil and gas operations in Colorado can be attributed to a lower spills reporting threshold, which took effect during the summer of 2013, and to increased oil and gas activity," notes a statement from the center announcing the new data.