The vote in Colorado tomorrow that will have the most immediate effect on state politics is likely not the four-way Republican primary race for governor, but the the vote in Loveland on a proposed moratorium on the drilling practice known as fracking.
The Loveland proposal has been the subject of intense legal wrangling and a fractious messaging war that is raging at full steam, where house mailboxes and television and radio airwaves are filled to brimming with messages.
Loveland resident Blanca Stewart told the Independent that she was fed up with the flyers that come every day by U.S. Mail.
“They’re killing how many trees for this?” she said, referring to one of the groups opposing the moratorium called Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, a group formed by another oil-and-gas group called Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development. “These are big fat flyers of cardboard with shiny surfaces in my mailbox. I have saved them all so I can send them back where they came from… I didn’t have an opinion on this issue before. Now I do.”
Loveland is located in the northern Front Range gas patch among five cities that have already passed bans and moratoriums on the controversial boom-time drilling practice, where millions of gallons of water sand and chemicals are blasted into the earth to fracture rock formations and release oil and gas. Loveland, a city of 70,000, is near the center of the movement that has set ablaze energy politics in the state. Drilling companies have spent millions over the last two election cycles in failed efforts to quash proposed bans in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette and Longmont.
Papers filed to meet Loveland’s latest campaign finance reporting requirements paint a picture of a predictably lopsided spending war.
Protect our Loveland, which supports the moratorium, has gathered $7,840. The group has collected 19 donations in the last month, all but six of those under a hundred dollars. The largest donation was $1,360. The group has paid $5,000 in legal fees; $1,500 for communications; and $640 for yard signs.
Loveland Energy Action Project, which is backed by the industry and opposes the moratorium, has taken in $375,631. It has no listed donors for the last reporting period. The group paid a flat $275,000 to a consulting firm located on Sherman Street in Denver, the same office from which a company called iKue Strategies apparently orchestrated the failed media campaigns against the previous Front Range bans and moratoriums.
Groups like Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, the main group behind the shiny flyers sent to Stewart, don’t have to report spending.
The drilling industry and its allies are clearly doubling down in Loveland as general election day in November draws near and several statewide local control and wider environmental initiatives speed toward state ballots. Those initiatives would ask voters to weigh simple yes-or-no questions on bans and drilling zoning requirements. The initiatives aim to limit noise, traffic and pollution as well as other perceived risks to public health and property values that voters in the region have taken it upon themselves to address.
Right now in Denver, negotiations among lawmakers and industry groups are stalled on a draft bill meant to head off those ballot initiatives, which many in the capitol and the governor’s offices see as likely to produce inelegant answers to complex questions that could end in the kind of legal tangles that might knot up court dockets for years.
The Loveland vote will send a strong message that a torrent of industry spending can beat back the movement for more local control or that no amount of spending can beat back the movement for more local control.
Should voters pass the moratorium on Tuesday, they may succeed where Governor Hickenlooper has failed and shake loose stubbornly held positions struck by negotiators and in effect grease dealmaking wheels.
An irony is that any deal struck in Denver might well undermine the moratoriums and bans passed so far in the state, including perhaps the moratorium up for vote right now in Loveland.