Oil And Gas Industry Shifts Cash To ‘Raise The Bar’ Ballot Measure

Posted 12:00 p.m. | Updated 3:50 p.m.

Just because fracking restrictions failed to make the November ballot doesn’t mean the oil and gas industry is giving up the political fight.

Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, a committee primarily funded by Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy, has shifted its immense resources to support Amendment 71. That measure would make it more difficult to amend the constitution, which, if passed, would benefit the drillers by making it harder to pass future fracking restrictions.

It’s a shift for the industry. Over the last two years oil and gas companies raised nearly $17 million, preparing to fight anti-fracking activists. But late last month, the Secretary of State’s office announced the activists had failed to collect enough signatures to add measures to the ballot that would limit drilling. That left the oil and gas industry with seemingly nowhere to spend it’s millions in contributions -- until now.

On Sept. 8, about 10 days after fracking restrictions failed to make the ballot, Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence contributed $1 million to Raise the Bar, the main political committee supporting Amendment 71. On the same day, the drilling industry's committee changed its stated purpose with the Secretary of State's office to explicitly state its support for Amendment 71.

Just last week, the drilling industry's committee paid $3.2 million to a consultancy firm, Pac/West, but it’s unclear how much of that expenditure was related to the previous fight to keep fracking questions off the ballot and how much may be directed to supporting Amendment 71.

Now, more than half of the contributions to Raise the Bar come from pro-oil and gas groups. Vital for Colorado has also given $600,000 to Raise the Bar since late June. It’s stated mission is to “promote the benefits of energy production in Colorado.” Gov. John Hickenlooper also publicly backs Raise the Bar.

Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence issued a statement following CPR News' reporting, arguing that the signature gathering process needed to be reformed based on its experience with the anti-fracking initiatives.

“Amending the state constitution should not be left solely in the hands of a few counties," said Karen Crummy, communications director for the group, in a statement to CPR News. “The entire state should have a say on what does or does not make the ballot. Under Amendment 71, all Colorado voters would have a voice.”

The statement says an analysis by Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence found 70 percent of the signatures for Initiative 78 (a 2,500-foot drilling setback from nearest occupied structure) “came from residents of Boulder, Larimer and the Denver Metro Area.”

Raise the Bar did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Tobacco companies, led by Philip Morris, also made a big move in recent weeks. They contributed more than $5 million to their committee -- No Blank Checks in the Constitution -- to defeat a cigarette tax. They now have a more than four-to-one advantage over supporters of the tax.

Here's a look at the state's political committees that have raised the most money since Aug. 31.Chart: Colorado PC Contributions Aug 31-Sept 20