[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE battle to win hearts and minds in the war over oil-and-gas regulation in Colorado this election season is heating up in the wake of a failed last-ditch attempt this week at the capitol to draft a law giving more power to local authorities.
Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, an issue committee registered last month, announced today it has reserved $1.3 million in television time as part of campaign in support of ballot initiatives that would write provisions into the state constitution that would establish the power of local authorities to regulate drilling, set out mandatory distances from occupied structures where drilling activity could take place and articulate a “public trust” doctrine of environmental rights that would place the responsibility on drillers and other manufacturers to prove with credible science that the activities they plan to undertake are safe before they can begin operations.
The time was reserved in all three major markets across the state — Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction.
Colorado’s residential front range has witnessed a boom in drilling over the last half decade fueled by new hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” techniques, where holes are drilled vertically and horizontally into rock miles below the surface and then shot through with millions of gallons of water and sand and chemicals to let loose gas and oil. Drillers have set up fracking pads next to homes and schools in urban and suburban areas. Every day the industry’s 18-wheeler trucks criss-cross a region nearly the size of Connecticut spread out just north of Denver to the Wyoming border.
The state for now controls regulation but the communities most impacted are seeking change. Five front range cities in the last two years have voted in support of bans or moratoriums on drilling within city limits. The state has sued one of those cities, Longmont, and may join industry suits filed against other of the cities. State officials including Governor Hickenlooper say the profitable drilling industry would be hobbled if it had to negotiate different regulations across the state.
“Coloradans simply want to live their lives without fracking being forced upon them anytime, anywhere,” said Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy in a release sent Friday. “Unfortunately, current law does not provide for this freedom. The people of Colorado are demanding a reasonable balance between fracking and protecting their right to clear air, clean water, and security in their own homes.”
Groups backed by oil companies have already committed millions to fight the citizen initiatives and bought up millions in television and radio air time during the weeks leading up to Election Day this November.
The governor has suggested this week that he may call a special session of the legislature to try to head off dueling campaigns. He said a battle waged in 30-second sound bites wouldn’t be the best way to tackle what is clearly a complicated issue with much at stake.
But the grassroots activist community living in the gas patches is wary of any compromise that might be reached in Denver, where they say oil-and-gas interests steer debate in pristine halls and committee rooms set far away from the drill pads. They say at this point they won’t be threatened or bluffed.
“Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy is increasingly looking at a fall campaign to ensure that the air we breathe, the ground we trod, and the property we own is protected from the dangers of oil and gas drilling including fracking,” said Rick Ridder, a longtime Colorado political consultant and a spokesman for the group.