Oil and Gas Groups Spending Big on Ads Opposing Reform Bill

Oil and Gas Groups Spending Big on Ads Opposing Reform Bill
American Petroleum Institute / YouTube

Shortly after Colorado oil and gas companies spent nearly $40 million to defeat Proposition 112 last November, the industry did something unexpected: Rather than bask in its victory, it expressed a willingness to compromise.

“We recognize the defeat of Proposition 112 is not a lasting referendum,” said Al Walker, CEO of Anadarko Petroleum, in a statement issued the morning after Election Day. “We will work with the newly elected officials and those continuing in office to find a better equilibrium to reduce the concerns associated with the rapidly growing population and oil and gas activity in Colorado.”

“We’re willing to talk with any reasonable entity,” said Tracee Bentley, then the executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, the local chapter of the American Petroleum Institute. “What we’re willing to do is sit down and have thoughtful discussions.”

That attitude didn’t last long. The oil and gas lobby has vehemently opposed Senate Bill 181, Democrats’ package of oil and gas reforms, since it was announced last month — and as the bill makes its way through the legislature, industry groups are spending heavily on misleading attack ads that accuse Democrats of seeking to overturn the will of the voters.

The American Petroleum Institute has spent at least $667,652 on TV and radio ads opposing the bill since the beginning of March, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Communications Commission. That figure is partial, and likely to rise substantially as local stations and TV providers file additional FCC disclosures in the coming days and weeks. Several major Denver affiliates, including KUSA and KCNC, have disclosed that they aired ads from API but have not yet reported spending figures.

The oil and gas industry has objected to the speed with which Democrats have advanced SB 181 and alleged that lawmakers didn't engage in a traditional "stakeholder process" to solicit feedback from industry groups. Responding to those claims at the bill's first committee hearing earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg said that leadership met with dozens of interest groups on both sides of the issue in the process of drafting the legislation, including API, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and major operators like Anadarko and Noble Energy.

A spokesperson for API, a major oil and gas lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., did not return a request for comment on the group's total spending in opposition to the reform bill.

As was the case during the 2018 election and the ballot fight over Proposition 112, the fossil-fuel industry is outspending proponents of SB 181 by more than a 15-to-1 margin. Groups like LOGIC Action and the Environmental Defense Action Fund have spent $43,482 on TV and radio ads supporting the bill, according to FCC reports.

The TV ad funded by API contains several false and misleading claims. The ad accuses “a handful of politicians” of trying to “pass a law in the middle of the night”; that’s a deceptive way to describe the bill’s first committee hearing, which lasted until 2 a.m. on March 6 because lawmakers heard more than twelve hours of testimony from opponents and supporters alike. The ad also alleges that SB 181 would “shut down energy production in Colorado”; the bill would do no such thing.

Beyond TV and radio ads, industry groups are spending heavily on Internet outreach and other lobbying efforts in their attempt to defeat Democrats' reform bill. Facebook's Ad Archive, a tool that tracks and discloses political advertising on the social media platform, lists dozens of sponsored posts from astroturf groups like "Energy Citizens" and "Energy Nation" opposing SB 181 over the last few weeks, all of which were paid for by the American Petroleum Institute. The ads recorded millions of impressions and totaled tens of thousands of dollars in spending, according to Facebook estimates.

Meanwhile, the bill has been approved by the state Senate and sent to the House, where it passed out of the Energy and Environment Committee early this morning, after another twelve hours of testimony from the public. The bill is scheduled for two more hearings in the House Finance Committee and Appropriations Committee before advancing to the full chamber later this month.

This post has been updated to include the most recent FCC filings.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff