Colorado, an oil-patch state long seen as friendly to energy producers, is becoming a battleground over hydraulic fracturing, the drilling process fueling the nation’s energy boom. Photographer: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images
The mainstream media mother-Earth-fuckers at Bloomberg recently released this report:
Stan Dempsey, an oil and gas lobbyist, raced from one committee hearing to another in Colorado’s statehouse this spring, defending the industry against an onslaught of bills.
While only one of 10 measures passed, the flurry of activity is one of several worrying signs to Dempsey and others in the industry that Colorado, an oil-patch state long seen as friendly to energy producers, is becoming a battleground over hydraulic fracturing, the drilling process fueling the nation’s energy boom.
“The politics have shifted in the state,” Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association in Denver, said in an interview. “Energy has become a big issue.”
The debate extends beyond the state capital. Two Colorado towns have banned fracturing, or fracking. Other communities are considering similar restrictions. Environmental groups — encouraged by what they see as rising populist anger over drilling — are now exploring a statewide ban on fracking through a 2014 referendum measure.
At stake for developers is access to resources that have made Colorado the nation’s fifth-largest producer of natural gas and the ninth-biggest oil producer. One group — the Western Energy Alliance, which represents about 400 oil and gas companies — says it plans to increase its lobbying budget four-fold to meet the threat.
“Fundamentally, a ban on hydraulic fracturing is a ban on oil and gas development in Colorado,” said Doug Flanders, a spokesman for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, another energy group based in Denver. “And it begs the question: if not here then where?”
Communities from New Jersey to California have also sought to impose restrictions on fracking, according to data kept by Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based environmental group.
In Colorado, communities have made the most direct challenges to fracking, which injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart shale rock formations so oil and gas can flow to the surface.
Voters in Longmont overwhelmingly approved a ban on fracking in November. Fort Collins had a moratorium on the process. The city council voted May 21 to lift it after Prospect Energy LLC, the only oil and gas company operating within city limits, agreed to standards that are stricter than state rules.
Boulder, home to the University of Colorado, is also considering restrictions. Last night, the directors of FrackNation, which portrays the positive attributes of drilling, and GasLand2, which takes an opposing view, screened their films for residents.
“There is a new movement out there by local municipalities and communities to seize control of the permitting process,” said Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance, whose members include Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) (APC) of The Woodlands, Texas, and Devon Energy Corp. (DVN) (DVN) based in Oklahoma City.
That’s worrisome, Wigley said, because it could add more delay to a state and federal process already slowing development.
Protect Our Colorado, a coalition of residents, social justice and faith groups, environmental organizations and companies such as outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia Inc., said it is considering pushing for a statewide limit on fracking through referendum on 2014.
“There’s nothing that’s off the table with regard to fracking and what would be on the ballot,” said Sam Schabacker, Mountain West region director for Food & Water Watch.
Dempsey, of the Colorado Petroleum Association, said he was confident that ultimately the state’s voters would reject broader efforts to limit drilling.
“To pass a ballot initiative in Colorado takes a lot of work and a lot of money,” he said. Oil and gas companies historically have “contributed quite a bit of money in efforts to defeat ballot measures that would harm our industry.”
Colorado has a long history of oil and gas drilling. That’s one reason why oil and gas producers are wary of the growing resistance to fracking in the state.
A waterway that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska 100 million years ago left behind organic matter that time and pressure cooked into rich oil and gas deposits in Colorado. These include the Niobrara shale formation, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates may contain 2 billion barrels of oil, as well as the Wattenberg Field north of Denver.
In 2012, oil production in the state reached its highest level in 55 years, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency that regulates the industry. Natural gas production increased by 27 percent from 2007 to 2011, according to agency information.
Wigley said the resistance to drilling in Colorado is being driven by new residents who aren’t used to seeing energy development.
“I’m not calling them dumb, they just don’t know where things come from,” Wigley said in an interview. “It’s a challenge to the industry, no question about it.”
The population of the eight counties along the Front Range, the scenic and resource-rich eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, grew on average 18.8 percent from 2000 to 2010.
The growth has helped turned the state from Republican red to Democratic blue. Colorado voted Republican for president six out of the seven elections between 1980 and 2004, before voting for President Barack Obama in the last two.
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