Whiting has little concern the ballot initiative will succeed,
even after votes in several of the state's cities last fall to ban
fracking, the controversial use of high-pressure water mixed with
chemicals and sand to extract oil and natural gas. At least one
fracking ban has been challenged in court, and more legal tussles
The Denver-based company sees Colorado as key to its plan to sharply
boost oil and natural gas production. Anadarko Petroleum Corp has
similar growth plans for Colorado, aiming to spend at least $1.5
billion each year for the foreseeable future to develop its more
than 800,000 acres there.
While environmentalists have long hoped Colorado's increasingly
liberal population could help them stem reliance on oil, victory is
far from certain and polls show they face an uphill battle.
"Are we willing to fight? You bet we are," said Jack Ekstrom, a
Whiting executive and incoming chair of the Western Energy Alliance,
an industry advocacy group. "If you ask me if I'm concerned, the
answer is no. Our intent is to grow here, not shrink."
Other operators are similarly confident. WPX Energy Inc plans to
double its activity in Colorado this year and Noble Energy Inc has
been running more and more seismic studies to see how many wells
could fit on each of its drilling pads in the state.
All of the companies are hoping to get their own share of the
state's estimated 2 billion barrels of oil. A dozen states including
California have clear rules for fracking, but the practice is banned
in New York and some think Colorado could be a battleground in the
U.S. energy boom.
"We're confident that common sense and economic certainty is going
to prevail in the end," said Tisha Conoly Schuller, president of the
Colorado Oil & Gas Association, an industry trade group that is
challenging local fracking bans. "That's why you don't see (energy)
companies changing their investment strategy in Colorado."
Ballot proponents have until August to submit roughly 86,100
signatures to the secretary of state. The proposal, known as the
Community Rights Amendment, would change the Colorado constitution
to let each county, city, town or other "municipal subdivision"
enact laws that protect "health, safety and welfare" for residents -
essentially allowing them to regulate fracking, mining, and even
The industry says this scenario would be a regulatory nightmare for
companies and threaten the more than $1.6 billion the state receives
each year in oil and natural gas taxes, a third of which helps fund
the state's education budget.
Organizers say they want to strip power from state officials and
return rights to local governments. The proposal is not directly
written to curb oil or natural gas development, said Clifton
Willmeng, a member of the Colorado Community Rights Network, the
main ballot sponsor.
"The essence of this ballot is to give communities power over
corporations," Willmeng said. "Yes, it could be used to ban
fracking, but it could also be used to limit genetic engineering or
waste disposal sites."
Still, oil and natural gas producers believe the ballot measure
could only have been written to apply to them. And Willmeng
acknowledged that had the ballot measure been approved before last
fall, the towns that passed fracking bans wouldn't now be facing
[to top of second column]
Navigating both sides of the complex issue has been difficult for
Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat up for re-election this
November. He would be on the same ballot with the proposed
constitutional amendment if Willmeng's group collects enough
Hickenlooper is expected to address the ballot measure at this
week's IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, an annual meeting of
global energy leaders.
Last month, Colorado officials approved new rules to limit air
pollution from oil and gas drilling in an effort to cut the release
of methane. The rules were the result of a collaboration between
industry and environmental groups.
Energy companies say they recognize that old ways of dealing with
residents have to change.
Issues that matter to one community, such as water pollution, might
matter less to another, where air quality could be a higher concern.
Companies say they work with local leaders to explain how fracking
affects these and other concerns. This is a time-intensive activity
that differs from other states where broad ad campaigns work better.
"What we've seen lately is how the broader business community is
coming together in the state to talk about keeping Colorado a great
place to invest for all industries, not just energy," said Kelly
Swan of WPX Energy.
These outreach efforts are crucial, the industry admits, for
"We're very committed to Colorado," said Anadarko executive Scott
Moore. "And we look forward to the opportunity to invest in
Anadarko has a 100 percent rate of return in Colorado's Wattenberg
shale formation, highlighting just how lucrative the area can be.
Matt Moore, a hotel industry sales manager who lives just outside
Denver, says he's not sure if he'll vote for the proposed ballot
measure if it receives enough signatures.
Regardless, though, he said he started to support energy development
in the state after finding out more about fracking and other energy
"People distrust both sides," Moore said. "They're not sure where
the right information is coming from."
(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Terry Wade)
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