This week the Denver Post reported that according to campaign filings, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), an industry trade group, has spent more than $600,000 to defeat local fracking moratoria along the front range of the Rockies, donating to a number of groups with names such as Boulder Citizens for Rational Energy Decisions and Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice.
Though they have the appearance of grassroots citizens’ campaigns, the groups appear to be part of a coordinated industry effort to defeat ballot initiatives in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Lafayette that would enact a five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in each of the municipalities. Thanks to the money from COGA, the pro-fracking groups are poised to outspend groups supporting the moratoria 30-1. Most of that money has gone to iKue Strategies, a Denver consulting firm for which B.J. Nikkel, a former Colorado legislator, is advising the campaign.
Campaign finance reports filed October 15 show that COGA contributed $604,623 to five groups opposing fracking moratoria in four Front Range communities:
- Boulder Citizens for Rational Energy – $110,277
- Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition – $156,238
- It’s Our Broomfield Too! – $15,000
- Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy – $256,134
- Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice – $66,974
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is an industry trade group that lobbies on behalf of its member companies. Though COGA does not make its membership public, its board of directors includes employees of the some of the most prominent oil and gas drillers, including Shell, BP, Halliburton, and Pioneer Natural Resources. The board also includes representatives of companies that provide financial and legal services to the drilling industry such as Deloitte & Touche and Hogan Lovells.
Although the anti-ban groups describe themselves as small and community-based, money contributed by the drilling industry through the Colorado Oil and Gas Association accounts for 99.7% of their combined expenditures, suggesting that Big Oil may be driving the opposition to the moratoria. Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice, for example, took in $67,074 from September 16 to October 10, all but $100 of which came from COGA, according to documents obtained by KUNC, a local NPR affiliate.
Further lending plausibility to the idea that oil and gas is astroturfing opposition to local moratoria is that most of the money contributed to the pro-drilling groups has gone on to iKue Strategies, an enigmatic Denver consulting firm. According to Westword, a Denver alternative weekly, four of the five above-mentioned groups have paid nearly $400,000 to iKue. Lafayette Campaign for Energy Choice, the group that received the least from COGA spent nearly $14,000 with the firm, almost 10 times as much as their pro-moratorium analogue, East Boulder County United, took in.
iKue Strategies’ advisor on the pro-moratorium campaign is B.J. Nikkel, a former legislator in the Colorado House of Representatives. Nikkel enjoyed some celebrity in 2012 for breaking ranks with the Republican establishment to support a bill legalizing civil unions for gay couples. The bill ended up failing that year (though it passed in 2013), and Nikkel chose not to run again. Hiring former government officials is a tried and true oil and gas industry strategy, and Nikkel’s involvement with the COGA-financed campaigns may be a further indication that the pro-fracking groups are not as grassroots as they hold themselves out to be.
It will be interesting to see whether the astroturf groups’ 30-1 bankroll and the prowess of a revolving door campaign advisor will sway public opinion in favor of gas drilling in any or all of these communities.