Oil Drill Site colorado

An oil well is drilled on a property across from a subdivision near Frederick.

Editor’s note: Joey Bunch is away, so this week we revisit his Insights column of Nov. 24, 2018.

The week after the election, hundreds of members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association had prime rib and coffee in a ballroom inside the Hilton Denver City Center. It was COGA's annual luncheon, but it had the feel of a victory party salted with a half-time pep talk.

In a political fight over moving oil and gas operations almost a half-mile from the nearest school, neighborhood and businesses, the industry dramatically outspent the proponents of Proposition 112, which lost by 10 percentage points. The campaign convinced voters that it was virtual ban on a $32-billion-a-year business that supports jobs and local governments with tax dollars.

They rolled out an army of employees and volunteers to join the fight, as well. This lunch served as a call to arms to keep up the fight.

In speech after speech during an 80-minute stretch, the topics pivoted on sustaining political momentum and continuing to sway voters, regardless of what -- or who -- is on the ballot.

The elephants in the room, however, were two names never mentioned: Democrats and Jared Polis.

And both could dictate what kind of fight is next under the gold dome in Denver, even as the ground shifts under the debate from exploding pipelines and air pollution to the broader progressive goal of combating a warming planet.

Colorado voters spoke out clearly against overly regulating oil and gas.

Moderate Democrats would be wise to listen, if they intend to stay in power.

The oil and gas people spoke over lunch about how to keep the band together for a permanent advocacy network and a constant defense. That's something Democrats will need to think about it, as well.

In two years, there might not be another regulatory measure to attract the industry's money and political manpower. All that could political might could instead flow into local races, which could flip one or both chambers to red in no time at all.

Polis once was an advocate for allowing local governments to control where oil and gas operations locate. That mission was absent from his gubernatorial campaign and, not coincidentally, so were the well-financed salvos against him that the industry reserved for Prop. 112.

Dan Haley, COGA's president and CEO, told me after lunch that Polis hasn't given the industry, or its energized employees and supporters, a reason to oppose him as governor.

The industry, however, won't hesitate to step back in the political arena against regulations it sees as an "existential threat to our livelihoods," as Haley put it.

If disagreements arise, Haley hopes for a negotiation, not a stand-off.

"We're looking forward to working with the governor," he said. "He said during the campaign that he thinks the oil and gas industry is an important part of the economy, and we want to work with him to make sure we can continue to be an important part of the economy."

Haley said Polis and the legislature should "respect the will of the people on extreme setbacks."

Setbacks are so early November. The conversation has moved on. Questions about fossil fuels and climate change are where the debate is headed next. Wait and see.

For fracktivists, their dialogue with voters in 2018 was aimed mostly at the need for clear air and safe communities around the industrial practices of extracting resources. Ads pointed to the threats of an exploding house or an environmental catastrophe near a school or neighborhood.

Just before and soon after the election, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters asserted the press, including those of us in Colorado, did a poor job of reporting on climate change, fossil fuels and politics for this election.

And on Nov. 15, Denver-based liberal journalist David Sirota mixed partisan politics and the climate like cream and coffee in a column for The Guardian website.

"Though you may not know it from the cable TV coverage, this was one of the most significant – and the most terrifying – stories of the midterms," he wrote of climate change. "For those who actually care about the survival of the human race, the key questions now should be obvious: Is there any reason to hope that we will retreat from 'drill baby drill' and enact a sane set of climate policies? Or is our country – and, by extension, our species – just going to give up?"

A new crop of more aggressively liberal Democrats has come to the statehouse in Denver. They have progressive promises to keep.

One of them, coincidentally, is Rep. Emily Sirota, David's wife.

"Emily is a strong believer in local control, and she will fight for new laws that will empower local Colorado communities to more stringently regulate oil and gas development within their midst," stated her campaign website. "She also is a strong supporter of measures to combat climate change and expand clean, renewable sources of energy."

Emily Sirota unseated incumbent Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal in the primary on the way to winning the safely Democratic south Denver seat. Rosenthal engendered enemies in his own party when he broke with them on fracking regulations that he saw as over-reaching and partisan.

That sets up a fascinating fight with the ruling party.

Democrats hold the votes to pass legislation that ultimately could doom their grip on power if they move too far and too fast to the left and leave moderate and conservative voters behind.

Some seem mindful of that.

On Election Night, then-soon-to-be House Speaker KC Becker of Boulder told Colorado Public Radio, “We really need to put the oil and gas wars to bed."

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