Fracking bans: Industry cash raised to fight them tops $600,000

Last week, we reported that the oil and gas industry has already donated enough cash in opposition to a proposed five-year moratorium on new drilling in Boulder to outspend backers of the measure 30-1. As the November election draws nearer and more campaign finance reports trickle in, it turns out the Boulder ballot issue is one of several that fracking interests are spending freely to defeat. In just four of the Front Range battles over local control of drilling, the industry has ponied up sums totaling more than $600,000.

Last month, as noted previously, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association donated $110,237 to Boulder Citizens for Rational Energy Decisions, the group opposing the five-year moratorium. COGA is also the principal supporter of the Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy, having forked over a whopping $254,134 to defeat a proposal for a five-year suspension of new drilling activities in that city. By contrast, as noted in this report in the Fort Collins Coloradan, supporters of the Fort Collins moratorium have raised less than $4000.

And on the other side of Boulder, COGA is the primary donor to the Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition ($156,238) and It's Our Broomfield, Too! ($15,000), the two issue committees formed to oppose a moratorium there. Add to that the $66,974 the trade group has donated to the Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice in an effort to squelch Question 300, which would ban oil and gas drilling in Lafayette. All told, COGA has cut checks amounting to $602,684 in an effort to persuade voters in those four cities that multiyear bans on fracking -- the hydraulic fracturing technique that utilizes water mixed with toxic chemicals to extract oil and gas from tight shale formations thousands of feet below the surface -- are injurious to the economy and unnecessary.

While it's too early to call the elections, the big winner in this war-chest sweepstakes so far is iKue Strategies, a Denver-based consulting firm that appears to be orchestrating the upcoming media blitz against the moratoria. Despite iKue's ethereal, leave-no-footprint kind of web presence, four of the five issue committees mentioned above have funneled nearly $400,000 of their COGA money to iKue for its services.

Doug Flanders, COGA's policy director, responded to questions about the organization's role in the local campaigns with an e-mailed statement: "On behalf of the 100,000 Colorado families who have an enormous stake in the outcome of these ballot initiatives, we are financially supporting the local groups who oppose the bans. Banning a product we all use every day is damaging to the Colorado brand of compromise and reasonableness. These bans are not an energy plan."

Critics of the fracking industry have been quick to point out the paucity of local donors to the "local groups" COGA is supporting. Food & Water Watch regional director Sam Schabacker notes that in the effort to defeat Longmont's ban on fracking last year, oil and gas companies donated hefty sums (totaling close to half a million dollars) directly rather than through COGA, but there was an absence of local donors to the opposition in that election, too.

Continue for more about industry cash to fight local fracking bans. "They are deeply out of touch with ordinary Coloradans who want to protect their health, safety and property from fracking," Schabacker says.

"The oil and gas industry is trying to intimidate voters by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy this election," adds Laura Fronckieweicz, campaign manager for the pro-moratorium group Our Broomfield.

"Our approach to regulation is not to stand and fight, but to engage, and to engage politically in a nonpartisan way," COGA president Tisha Schuller told me when I interviewed her a few months ago for our cover story "The Insider." The trade organization has been particularly involved in trying to keep local governments from following Longmont's lead and seeking an outright ban on fracking -- and clearly, if you're trying to get your opponents' attention, few tools are as engaging as a check with six or more digits in it.

But Ray Martinez, the former Fort Collins mayor who's heading up the Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy, says it would be wrong to characterize the opposition to the moratorium as simply industry-driven. "There's definitely local opposition," he insists. "That's the reason I started this. The Chamber of Commerce is opposing this. The city council voted against it. I've talked to many people in the business community who oppose it."

Martinez suggests it's a difficult climate for any kind of political contributions right now -- but his group isn't exactly hurting for cash due to COGA's largesse.

Similarly, Rick Fernandez, a founding member of It's Our Broomfield, Too!, describes the core of his group as longtime Broomfield residents who have a different perspective on energy development than Fronckieweicz and some of the other relative newcomers to town who are key backers of the moratorium.

"I've lived in Broomfield for forty years," says Fernandez, who works for a telecom software company. "To suggest our group got started by COGA is not accurate. We asked COGA to get involved because we knew this was going to be an uphill educational battle."

More from our Environment archive: "Oil and gas industry poised to outspend fracktivists 30-1 on Boulder moratorium."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast