Over the past decade, Colorado has seen an unprecedented oil and gas development boom, with nearly 30,000 wells drilled between 2004 and 2013 and a total of almost 53,000 wells in production as of this month. That growth has helped the state rebound from the economic downturn of six years ago, and the state’s Democratic governor John Hickenlooper and other public officials have generally been supportive of the industry while advancing some reasonable regulatory steps.
But with Hickenlooper struggling to win a second term in next week’s election, and with the state’s senior senator, Democrat Mark Udall, facing an even more difficult re-election environment, Colorado could be on the cusp of new political leadership that would likely give carte blanche to the oil and gas industry.
Potentially at risk is a new task force, appointed by Hickenlooper, that is in the early stages of trying to find a compromise between anything goes oil and gas development and the many concerns of homeowners and communities suddenly confronted with drill rigs and hydraulic fracturing crews on their doorsteps. Without a compromise from that task force that then wins legislative approval, the issue of local control will be fought out on the ballot in 2016.
In addition to the fate of the task force, the state’s new controls on fugitive methane releases from oil and gas operations — the first in the nation to attack releases of the potent greenhouse gas — could also be in peril.
Simply put, it would be hard to find two politicians in Colorado who are more friendly with the fossil fuel energy industry than the two men who may win the governorship and Senate seat next week, Republicans Bob Beauprez and Cory Gardner.
“The stakes couldn’t be any higher,” noted Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, the state’s leading environmental organization. “Bob Beauprez has made it clear as governor he will hang a ‘drill baby drill’ shingle out. We are in the middle of an oil boom in this state that we are struggling mightily to manage and Bob Beauprez wants to sweep aide the protections that are in place for our neighborhoods and communities.”
Gardner, Maysmith said, could have a less direct, but also damaging influence. “It’s obvious he is a true friend of the oil and gas industry so he isn’t going to help us manage this onslaught of fracking, he’ll be a cheerleader for the industry.”
For starters, both Beauprez and Gardner have a long history of denying the fundamental scientific facts of climate change. Pressured by moderators in several debates to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions of whether climate change is underway and humans are responsible, Gardner acknowledged the role of pollution, but never could bring himself to say that humans are responsible for climate change. Beauprez did even worse, answering that climate change is not happening and humans aren’t playing a role, which he assigned to “powers bigger than us.”
Hand in hand with climate change denial goes their wholesale, unquestioning support of the oil and gas industry.
In his campaign for the Senate, Gardner has been a major beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess through their affiliated organizations including Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners and Generation Opportunity. He received millions of dollars of campaign advertising, including one ad that thanked Gardner for his support of the Keystone XL pipeline. Among the significant buys: $850,000 in March for a three-week ad campaign in Denver and Colorado Springs and a $900,000 combined TV and internet campaign in June.
During his four years in the U.S. House, Gardner has consistently backed the interests of the Koch brothers, including voting to block the EPA from regulating carbon pollution and against an amendment acknowledging that carbon pollution is causing climate change.
Beauprez, for his part, has sharply criticized Hickenlooper for creating the local control task force, saying it is unneeded and will only create more uncertainty for the oil and gas industry.
In response to a questionnaire prepared by Colorado Public Radio, Beauprez said: “I am reluctant to encourage or impose any further regulations on this critical industry, which is already more heavily regulated here than in any other state. This task force is a solution in search of a problem, and is only contributing to an environment of uncertainty and unpredictability at a time when we should be fostering both.”
Beauprez has also advocated a takeover by the state of “some” of the more than eight million acres of federal land that is managed by the Bureau of Land Management so that the state could develop those areas and produce a “new funding stream.” In short, he wants to open them for oil and gas and other economic development.
In that quest, Beauprez is joined by the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, who was videotaped advocating for a broad campaign by western states attorney generals to grab control of federal lands in their states.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), the driving force behind the early effort to get the fracking questions on the state ballot this fall before he agreed with Hickenlooper to form the task force, defined the stakes next Tuesday in an interview with Vice News: “There’s a lot at stake for our quality of life and for sustainable development. The two parties have very different visions for that sustainability.”