Two More Fracking Ballot Measures Approved; Industry Hardliners Still Won’t Bend

Fracking compromise in Colorado

Um, you know these cards don’t make a useful hand, right?

As we've written about before in this space, a potential legislative compromise agreement on fracking safety, led by Gov. John Hickenlooper, is still being held up by business and oil and gas hardliners who seem content to try to bluff with a hand of mismatched cards.

As the Denver Post reports today, that bluff just keeps looking weaker and weaker:

Two more ballot initiatives that could limit oil and gas drilling have been approved for gathering of petition signatures by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Initiative 88 would require new oil and gas wells to be located at least 2,000 feet from the nearest occupied structure. Current state law establishes well setbacks at 500 feet.

Initiative 92 would give local governments the authority to limit or prohibit oil and gas development within their jurisdictions. The measure proposes that if state and local laws conflict, the more restrictive laws would govern drilling.

Both Initiative 88 and Initiative 92 have received substantial financial backing from Rep. Jared Polis, who has dealt firsthand with fracking on his property in Weld County. Despite having a very personal stake in this issue, Polis has made it clear that he is willing to support a legislative agreement. "Despite the draft not being perfect I stand ready and willing to support the compromise and I appreciate all the work that has been done to craft this bill," Polis said in a statement.

Though no official agreement has been reached that would remove all fracking-related measures from the November ballot, Hickenlooper has managed to bring several key players into the fold. Three of the largest oil and gas companies operating in Colorado — Anadarko, Noble Energy, and PDC — have agreed with Polis to cooperate on a legislative solution. But any potential deal continues to be blocked by groups such as the Colorado Petroleum Association and the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, as well as a handful of some of the smaller oil and gas operations in Colorado. You read that correctly — many of the companies that still oppose any sort of compromise deal aren't even that active in Colorado drilling.

Check out this data on active wells through 2013, via the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR):

O&G Companies Percent of Wells in Colorado Position on Compromise
Anadarko, Noble Energy, PDC 34% SUPPORT
Conoco/Phillips 7% OPPOSE
BP/Chevron/XTO 6.8% OPPOSE

As you can see, the oil and gas companies with the largest stake in Colorado drilling operations are all supportive of a legislative compromise. What's the deal here? Did Anadarko and Noble Energy forget to pay their annual dues to the Colorado Petroleum Association?

Regardless of your opinion on the issue, it's curious that a potential agreement on fracking is still being held up by a handful of hardliners who don't seem to understand that local control is a winning issue. There has been plenty of saber-rattling by industry folks threatening to spend gajillions of dollars to defeat any potential ballot measure this fall, but this appears to be one of those issues that can't just be defeated with a checkbook. Put it this way: if a local control measure makes the ballot in November, would you really bet against its passage? Remember that the Colorado Oil and Gas Association spent nearly $1 million last fall to defeat four local ballot measures…and couldn't prevent any of them from passing. If they couldn't defeat local ballot measures in an off-year election with a crapload of cash, why would anybody think that their odds would improve in 2014?

12 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. mamajama55mamajama55 says:

    Initiative 92 looks pretty good to me- specific, anyway. No provisions for funding – inspections, enforcement, fines for noncompliance – but I guess that if it gets on the ballot and voters pass it, those details have to be worked out. If both 

    That is interesting that the smaller O&G companies are opposed to any compromise. Perhaps some of the knowledgeable O&G folk on here would speculate.  Smaller profit margins, less opportunity for speculation, limiting already-small market share?

    • Old Time Dem says:

      The opposed companies–BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Conoco–are all "supermajors."  Their operations in Colorado are rounding errors in their worldwide operations, and they probably just don't care.

      • mamajama55mamajama55 says:

        So they're probably most worried about Colorado setting precedents that other states will copy.

        • Tom says:

          I would also suspect that many of the supermajors have historical investments in mineral rights that they aren't currently exploiting. Holding a portfolio that might lose some of its notional value rather than dealing with on-the-ground operations that would be eased by clear-cut local guidelines lends a different perspective.

        • Old Time Dem says:

          The supermajors are not as invested in production along the Front Range.  They probably don't expect the rural communities they operate will restrict their activities.

  2. BlueCat says:

    And local control is an especially time honored winning issue with grassroots rightie voters. After all, they've been trained for decades to be against Big Government (Reagan's most terrifying words and all) and have been strong supporters of local control, as opposed to statewide or, God forbid, nationwide standards, where their local schools are concerned. They don't want anyone telling their town councils whether they can have Christian prayer or not. Hate being forced to stop discriminating against gays in their own towns and institutions.

    I think it could be a similar situation to Cantor spending forty or fifty times what his opponent spent and still getting beat. The very same folks who love Palin and hate gun control will see the words "local" and "control" and vote for it. So will progressives. This is the kind of situation where the GOTP's phony attempts at Main Street populism collide with their real agenda to make things a little messy for them. 

    Rs and and their allies ought to go for the legislative compromise just as they should have gone for the redistricting compromise they could have had and that was a better deal then what they wound up getting from the court. Seems like another game of chicken the right is going to lose and they used to win them all. So saddevil.

    • Colorado PolsColorado Pols says:

      Excellent point, BC. It will certainly be hard to convince longtime Republican voters that "local control is bad."

      • BoulderDem says:

        Except that when the campaign actually happens, it won't be about "local control." It will be about jobs, and Democrats will be front and center in opposing it (Hick, Salazar). One of the things $30m or whatever amount buys you is the ability to determine the terms of the debate. The only times you will hear the words "local control" will be when the proponents get on TV, and they'll be swamped by tear jerking stories of families afraid of losing their jobs.

        The enviros need to get on board the compromise train, quickly.

        • Duke CoxDuke Cox says:

          The environmental organizations I have been associated with are supporting the legislative effort, primarily because there are thousands of Coloradans already affected that need protection. Most of the blowback that I have seen is coming from organizations on the front range that have formed in the past two years.

          The same kind of disagreement is going on within the industry. This is getting interesting…

        • BlueCat says:

          Guess we'll see.  Salazar (his picture my appear in the dictionary next to Conservadem) and Hick have little appeal for the Dem base, except for being better than GOTP alternatives on some important issues, none of which are a factor here, so I don't think they'll bring a whole lot of Dem votes with them on this issue. Plenty of Dems will vote for Hick and for local control on fracking.

          On the right there's a lot of disgust with the Republican establishment as Eric Cantor discovered and it's mainly about far righties like Cantor not being sufficiently anti-Big Government for them. Could be a lot of disparate groups of voters voting for local control despite the millions poured into trying to make it about jobs. Cantor, once again, shows that stunning superiority in spending doen't always do the trick. Still think Rs would be wise to take the legislative compromise. 

        • Urban Snowshoer says:

          When it's something you want to do but can't you argue for local control. When you're on the opposite end, you argue differently.  You're prediction about opponents making it about jobs is a good (and probably accurate) one.

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