The day after the Nov. 6 election, President Donald Trump called the results “a great victory” for his administration. But not too many people take that claim seriously.
In much the same way, “ban fracking everywhere” and “keep it in the ground” groups are claiming the decisive defeat of their Colorado anti-oil and gas ballot measure – Proposition 112 – wasn’t really a defeat at all.
“This fight will pay off big in the years to come!” declared Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, a fringe environmental group that compares oil and gas development to “the crimes of slavery, totalitarianism, colonialism [and] apartheid.” McKibben traveled from his home base in Vermont to personally campaign for the ballot measure and the Colorado chapter of his group has been directly involved in local and state “ban fracking” campaigns – including Prop 112 – for years.
So what’s the big payoff from losing the Prop 112 campaign, exactly?
Well, if you believe anti-oil and gas activists, they can now pressure state lawmakers into passing some version of Proposition 112, which would have dramatically widened drilling setbacks and legalized local bans on oil and natural gas development. And if they don’t like what they see, the activists working with 350.org, Food & Water Watch and other environmental activist groups say they will push yet another ballot measure.
“We’ll continue to put pressure on our elected representatives so they aren’t making political calculations,” Anne Lee Foster, one of the named proponents of the failed ballot measure, told The Denver Post. “We’re definitely willing to go back to the ballot box in two years.”
Time will tell, but it’s doubtful state lawmakers will take these claims and threats from 350.org and Food & Water Watch seriously. That’s because the groups behind Prop 112 aren’t in a position to dictate terms to anybody.
Prop 112 didn’t just lose statewide in the most favorable year for progressive candidates and causes since 1936. It was crushed by wide margins in the state’s key political battlegrounds – counties that account for dozens of House and Senate seats, determine the balance of power in the legislature and decide the fate of proposed legislation.
Consider the following: In Adams, Arapahoe, El Paso, Jefferson and Pueblo counties the margin of defeat for Proposition 112 ranged between 12 and 25 percentage points, according to an analysis of election returns compiled by The Denver Post.
In Weld County, where the vast majority of the state’s oil and natural gas production takes place, the news was even worse for 350.org and Food & Water Watch: Prop 112 was defeated by almost 50 points. This was a devastating rebuke from the communities that anti-oil and gas activists claim to speak for.
As the Denver Post reported, “activists were out-messaged by an industry with a large worker base” and the anti-oil and gas ballot measure also failed “in key suburban counties that went big for Democratic Gov.-elect Jared Polis.”
Rather than accept these election results, anti-oil and gas groups have tried to delegitimize them. The defeat of Prop 112 doesn’t really count because millions of dollars was spent opposing the measure, they argue. But it’s a weak argument.
Gov.-elect Jared Polis outspent his opponents by millions of dollars during the primary and the general election, and no serious person questions the legitimacy of his election victory, for example. More to the point, when an entire sector of the state economy is put on the ballot and threatened with expulsion from Colorado, what are the workers and employers within that sector supposed to do? Stay silent? Say nothing in their own defense? Of course not.
It was the voices of rank-and-file energy workers, with the full support of their employers, that defeated Prop 112 more than anything else. In a major energy producing state like Colorado, oil and gas workers are our neighbors, family members, friends and professional peers – in fact it’s hard not to know someone with a connection to the energy sector.
The Prop 112 campaign tried to diminish these workers and their livelihoods, but the voters weren’t fooled. They know the value of the energy sector and its people to our state.
To be sure, oil and gas regulation will be debated when the new legislature convenes in January. On election night, industry representatives signaled their openness to those discussions, even in the wake of Prop 112’s defeat.
But make no mistake: The groups behind Prop 112 won’t play any constructive involvement in those discussions. They have no interest in good-faith negotiations or new oil and gas regulations, only bans and de facto bans. And the voters decisively rejected this extreme, all-or-nothing approach to one of Colorado’s most important economic sectors.
Whether anti-oil and gas groups accept it or not, the verdict of the voters was clear and it will be honored.