By Joel Dyer, Boulder Weekly, July 28, 2016
A recording made during a 2015 meeting of oil and gas industry representatives and state regulators has surfaced. We believe the information from this recording is important to Colorado voters because its contents illustrate just how far the oil and gas industry is going to protect its ability to pursue the unbridled production of fossil fuels in our state.
If you’ve been paying attention, you knew the battle over oil and gas extraction, including fracking, was going to get ugly this year. After what happened in 2014, it was inevitable.
For those of you new to Colorado or the ongoing fight over fracking, here’s a very brief history lesson.
In 2014, Colorado voters signed their names more than a quarter of a million times to petitions in an effort to put two initiatives on that year’s November ballot. One initiative would have given communities more control over oil and gas operations within their city limits, and the other would have established a 2,000-foot setback or buffer zone between oil and gas operations and occupied dwellings, schools and hospitals.
It is an understatement to say that the oil and gas industry opposed these two initiatives.
In the end, the industry used its political influence and money, and even enlisted the help of a few “Big Green” environmental groups with ties to funders supporting the use of natural gas as part of a “clean energy” strategy to make sure the signatures never made it to the Secretary of State’s Office to be counted or authenticated.
Instead, the voters’ signatures were traded away at the last second to Governor John Hickenlooper, whose enthusiastic support for the oil and gas industry is legendary in this state.
In the end, the signatures of the voters — and many would argue the entire democratic process — were traded away in exchange for a meaningless blue-ribbon task force Hickenlooper established supposedly to study fracking and make recommendations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). The COGCC is the state agency bizarrely charged with the duel tasks of both regulating and promoting the oil and gas industry. Critics argue that it does half of that job description very well.
The impotency of the Governor’s task force was a given from its inception, as he appointed oil and gas industry insiders to at least half the seats on the task force while simultaneously declaring that any recommendations must carry a two-thirds vote to be considered. Couple this with the fact the COGCC is even more stacked with Hickenlooper appointed pro-industry insiders than his task force, and you can imagine the fate of even the most watered-down task-force recommendations that managed to cross the commission’s desk.
By most accounts, the task force accomplished nothing. But as you will see shortly, when it thinks no one is listening, the industry calls it a substantial victory (see slide from CRED presentation ).
For the many who had worked tirelessly for the right to vote on fracking, the last-minute killing of the 2014 initiative signatures was the political equivalent of a mob hit on Colorado voters.
Cut to 2016
Proposed ballot Initiatives #75 and #78, which are currently gathering signatures, would, if enough voters sign up, put community control over oil and gas operations within a town’s city limits and the creation of a 2,500-foot setback or buffer zone between oil and gas operations and homes, schools and hospitals on the upcoming November ballot.
It would be more than an understatement to say that the oil and gas industry and the politicians it controls are opposed to this latest attempt to give voters a say over oil and gas operations in close proximity to their homes and neighborhoods.
As a result of this ongoing struggle over the oil and gas industry’s impact on health, property values, quality of life and the environment, a political war has erupted in Colorado this election cycle.
As anyone who lives here will tell you, this battle cannot be ignored. All of us have been inundated by tens of millions of dollars worth of TV ads, digital ads, newspaper ads, direct mailers, people at our door, people gathering signatures on petitions, newspaper editorials and letters to the editor.
By the industry’s own measure, nearly 90 percent of us are now familiar with the term fracking.
That being the case, the battle is no longer about raising awareness of fracking, but rather about shaping the public’s perception of that term and what it means for our state’s and planet’s future.
Boulder Weekly has written more extensively on the politics of this issue than any other news organization in the state. Two of our previous investigative reports now serve as primers to this issue: “Who killed the vote on fracking?” published Oct. 2, 2014 and “Behind the curtain,” published Sept. 17, 2015.
These two reports have won numerous regional and national journalism awards and represent months of investigative efforts to follow the money, organizations and political connections that have, and continue, to shape the oil and gas industry’s efforts to stop the people of Colorado from voting on ballot initiatives concerning setbacks and community control over oil and gas extraction.
I point this out only because the information found in these two BW investigations is critical to a more full understanding of the information found in several of the stories and columns published in this week’s edition, including this one.
Each of the reports mentioned is extremely long and quite complex and cannot be simply recapped here. For that reason, we hope that you will take the time to revisit these articles, as we believe they will offer valuable additional context to the information presented here.
The recording referenced above was obtained by Greenpeace at the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) conference held in September 2015.
The recording was made during a presentation by consultant Mark Truax of PAC/WEST Communications who is also Director of Operations and Coalitions for CRED, Pac/West’s largest Colorado client.
As a resource for our readers, we have published a large cache of excerpts from the recording as a sidebar to this story so voters can read them for themselves.