Oil and gas companies spend big to defeat safety measures in Colorado

Here’s how much Anadarko and Noble have invested in legislators and PR firms

Oil and gas operations | Congressional Western Caucus

In recent years, major oil and gas companies have launched aggressive efforts in Colorado to sway public opinion on the impacts of drilling, elect sympathetic legislators, and defeat efforts to enact commonsense safeguards on oil and gas development. Two companies in particular, Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy, have given tens of millions to pro-industry organizations and politicians. In the wake of a fatal home explosion linked to an Anadarko-owned operation in Firestone, Colorado, oil and gas companies are once again going to the well in an attempt at damage control.

A review of Colorado campaign finance records shows that since 2012, Anadarko and Noble have collectively spent more than $21.6 million on state political races and ballot initiatives. Further, tax documents show a public relations front group founded by the two companies received more than $21 million in donations in its first two years of existence.

Swinging the state house

Since 2012, Anadarko and Noble have collectively contributed more than $620,000 to state political races, donating directly to candidates, political action committees supporting candidates, and to 527 political organizations aiming to secure and maintain pro-industry majorities in the state legislature.

Drilling in Frederick, CO | Town of Frederick

The companies have seemingly cashed in these contributions in recent months. After a severed flow line originating at an Anadarko well was identified as the cause of the fatal home explosion, lawmakers introduced a bill requiring companies to map flow lines and for state regulators to make those maps public. Anadarko opposed the bill and pro-industry legislators launched a filibuster, effectively killing it. Earlier in the year, state senators blocked another bill, again opposed by Anadarko, that sought to ensure new oil and gas wells were located no closer than 1,000 feet from a school’s property line, not just a school building.

Flooding the airwaves

Not only have Anadarko and Noble invested heavily in electing sympathetic legislators, they have shelled out millions to burnish their image and sway public opinion. In 2013 the companies founded Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), a nonprofit with the mission “to educate the public on the safe, environmentally responsible energy development practices of the oil and natural gas industry in Colorado.”

Run by Pac/West, a PR firm out of Oregon, CRED has aired glossy ads showcasing the natural beauty of Colorado alongside supporters of increased oil and gas development. Tax records show that CRED accepts millions in donations, spending much of its money on advertising and other public communications. In 2014, the last year for which comprehensive records are available, CRED raked in an astonishing $17 million — more than the entire FY 2016-17 budget for Colorado’s oil and gas regulator. Requests for 2015 and 2016 tax documents were not answered.

A review of available data for political and advocacy advertising shows that in 2015 the group shelled out $2.3 million for television and radio ads in Colorado. Before the 2016 election, CRED ramped up advertising in the state, totaling more than $3.9 million. As drilling has encroached on Colorado suburbs, CRED has continued to flood the airwaves, placing nearly $500,000 in ads so far this year.

Oil and gas development in the Four Corners region of Colorado and New Mexico | NASA

Dominating the ballot

Over the last two election cycles, Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy have spent heavily on statewide ballot initiatives. Since 2012, Anadarko and Noble have contributed more than $21.6 million — $10.8 million and $9.7 million, respectively — to Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, a committee founded to “oppose state and local ballot initiatives attempting to limit or ban oil and gas development.”

The committee successfully used its massive war chest over the last two election cycles. In 2014, the group helped keep initiatives limiting drilling off the ballot, and in 2016 the organization spent millions to pass a ballot initiative making it more difficult to pass ballot initiatives in the future.

Moving forward

As commodity prices increase and drilling pushes closer to neighborhoods, oil and gas development will continue to be a hot topic in Colorado. Proposals will continue to be debated in the state house and on the ballot. If past is prologue, it’s clear that Anadarko and Noble will continue to fund politicians and front groups, opening their wallets to get their way, no matter the cost.

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