The industry is prepared to spend $50 million to defend itself against anti-fracking initiatives backed by Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, who’s showing no signs of backing despite the entreaties of the state’s business community.
The multimillionaire Polis has demonstrated repeatedly that he’s prepared to spend whatever it takes to win elections, although matching that $50 million would put a significant dent in his estimated $68 million fortune.
Throw in the competitive Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, and Coloradans can expect to be bombarded with messages in a campaign season that may rival those of presidential years.
“We’ve never had this combination of two major competitive campaigns plus an issue with this much spending behind it,” said Republican strategist Dick Wadhams. “I don’t think we’ve never seen this in Colorado. The sheer amount of air time that will be bought by both sides is going to be unprecedented.”
While Polis may not be able to match the industry dollar for dollar, national environmental groups are expected to line up behind the anti-fracking measures if the qualify. Polis could also receive support from other environmentally conscious rich guys like San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer.
Fractivists scored early victories in Colorado by passing anti-fracking measures in Longmont, Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette, but pro-business groups have since gained the momentum, defeating a two-year fracking moratorium last month in Loveland.
Pro-industry groups like Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development launched an information campaign on fracking a year ago aimed at promoting the economic benefits while dispelling some of the myths, like the “water on fire” scene from the anti-fracking documentary Gasland.
There’s even an app for it: CRED released a free mobile app Thursday in the iTunes and Google Play stores “designed to broadly share the facts about fracking with Coloradans,” said CRED spokesman Jon Haubert.
Both the Polis campaign, Safe.Clean.Colorado, and the pro-business camp, Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Energy and Economic Independence, announced Thursday that they’ve exceeded the 86,105 signatures needed by Aug. 4 to place their measures on the Nov. 4 ballot.
The Polis anti-fracking measures, Initiative 88 and 89, have each raised more than 95,000 signatures, while the industry-sponsored measures, Initiative 121 and 137, have cleared 100,000 each, according to the campaigns.
Ballot campaigns aim for at least 120,000 per initiative to account for invalid signatures.
“Collecting nearly 100,000 signatures on each measure in just five weeks’ time proves the overwhelming support amongst Colorado voters for commonsense protections against roughshod fracking,” said Mara Sheldon, spokesperson for Safe. Clean. Colorado. “Coloradans clearly want a balance between responsible energy development and having a safer place for our families to live and our children to play. Now they will have the opportunity to vote on it.”
Protecting Colorado spokeswoman Karen Crummy said Polis’s “efforts to lock inflexible regulations into the state constitution will be a disaster for the economy, private property owners, and the local communities who now have the ability to shape energy regulations to their own needs.”
“When does the congressman start worrying about the people of the state of Colorado and stop pushing his personal agenda?”
Initiative 88, which would increase setbacks from drilling from 500 to 2,000 feet, has collected 98,227 signatures, while Initiative 89, an environmental bill of rights that would allow localities to supersede state regulations, has 96,791 signatures, according to the Polis campaign.
Initiative 121 would prohibit cities or counties that ban fracking from receiving oil and gas severance tax funding. Initiative 137 would require initiative petitions to include the financial impact of the proposal.