Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, Frack Free Colorado and Moveon.org were among those who contributed to some or all of last year’s so-called citizens’ anti-fracking initiatives in Boulder, Broomfield and Fort Collins, according to campaign-finance reports filed with the city clerks.
All three ballot measures won in the November election, despite being outspent by the oil and gas industry and pro-business groups. A fourth anti-corporate initiative in Lafayette also passed after receiving help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Mercersburg, Pa.
Former state Rep. B.J. Nikkel, who headed the campaign against Broomfield’s Question 300 and now leads the fight against Loveland’s Question 1, says national environmental groups have set up shop in Colorado to help push local fracking bans.
“They bring these people in, and of course they recruit local people that they can use as their face to try to make it appear locally sponsored when in fact, it’s really not. Behind the scenes, it’s heavily subsidized,” said Nikkel.
Loveland’s Question 1 calls for a two-year moratorium to “fully study” hydraulic fracturing, even though the city enacted a nine-month moratorium in 2012 to devise oil and gas regulations. The mail-in election is June 24.
Advocates say a “timeout” is needed before the city considers permits for a handful of wells on the outskirts of town, while opponents argue that fracking is safe and, what’s more, Loveland has neither the resources nor expertise to “fully study” the issue.
Sharon Carlisle, spokeswoman for Protect Our Loveland (POL), declined to say whether the campaign for Question 1 has received outside help. The first campaign-finance report isn’t due until June 10, 14 days before the June 24 special election.
“We’re a grassroots group,” said Carlisle. “That’s one of the things that the opposition has been putting forth: ‘Oh, we’re getting thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.’ Oh, come on.”
But Nikkel, executive director of the Loveland Energy Action Project [LEAP], says the fingerprints of national environmental groups are already visible in Loveland.
For example, Frack Free Colorado, which was founded in 2012 by California-based Patagonia and national activist groups Vibrant Planet, Conscious Global Leadership, Water Defense, Artists Against Fracking and others, boasted on its website that it helped qualify ballot measures in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette–and Loveland.
Frack Free Colorado’s Event Calendar lists “canvass in Loveland” every Tuesday and Saturday afternoon until the election.
“We’re already seeing Sierra Club involved in the Loveland campaign,” said Nikkel. “They’ve come out and announced they’re endorsing the Protect Our Loveland effort. So yeah, they’re involved, and it’s no surprise to me.”
LEAP recently sponsored a screening of the pro-fracking documentary “FrackNation,” but beforehand, Nikkel said the Sierra Club sent out alerts encouraging fracking foes to attend.
“They’re obviously working together,” said Nikkel. “I’m sure same is true of Frack Free Colorado and Food and Water Watch. All of these organizations have established Colorado offices for the purpose of trying to enact these fracking bans.”
Is Protect Our Loveland receiving funding from national groups? “We’re not getting thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. We are hopefully going to be getting some support, but most of our support is grassroots, local support,” said Carlisle.
LEAP has clearly received funding from the energy industry, but the source of the group’s funding is no secret. That’s not the case with POL.
“Our issue committee report is going to come out when theirs does, I’m sure they’ll be able to see where we’ve been getting our funding,” said Carlisle.
That local label can be a powerful campaign tool. For example, the Loveland City Council voted 5-4 to oppose Question 1 at its May 20 meeting, but during the late-night debate, at least two councilors said they disagreed with taking a position against what they described as a citizen-based movement.
Councilor Ralph Trenary said Question 1 “has come from the citizens of Loveland, not from some outside political body,” while councilor Phil Farley said, “Somehow we’re asked to take the position against what the citizens have recommended.”
Simon Lomax, Denver-based spokesman for Energy In Depth, an industry-backed research and advocacy group, said, “The anti-energy activists work very hard to put a local face on these campaigns, but don’t be fooled.”
“The real money, the real muscle and the real political agenda is coming from fringe environmental groups and ultra-rich donors in Washington, New York and San Francisco,” he said.