Report: Colo. oil and gas industry has spent more than $1 million lobbying this year

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DENVER -- In a legislative session defined by an ambitious Democratic agenda, one industry had remarkable success staving off a bevy of Democratic bills that sought to tighten restrictions and regulations on their operations.

That, of course, is Colorado's oil and gas industry, which has already spent $1.06 million lobbying Colorado elected officials since July, according to a new report released Friday.

"While it is not surprising that the oil and gas industry is a big lobbying player in Colorado politics, the level of their influence at all levels of government, including elected officials and regulating bodies themselves, is shocking," said Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, which conducted the report.

"In a year that saw historic policy changes in several arenas, the oil and gas industry was remarkable in its ability to protect itself from significant legislative change."

Just as an industry lobbyist predicted in a client memo accidentally sent to lawmakers at the session's outset, most environmentally-driven bills were blocked in the Senate, where three Democrats who are friendly to the industry helped Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former geologist, stop the legislation he and the industry opposed.

House Bill 1269, which sought to prevent conflicts of interest for industry representatives serving on the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, died in the Senate; so did House Bill 1316, which would have forced oil and gas outfits in the Greater Wattenburg Area, where a quarter of the state's oil and gas development is concentrated, abide by the same water monitoring requirements as the rest of the state.

And the biggest meltdown came over House Bill 1267, which would have increased the state's fines for oil and gas spills, which, at $1,000 a day now, are currently the lowest in the country.

"In contrast, industry-friendly Texas allows fines ten times larger," the report notes.

Hickenlooper and the industry were open to raising fines to a possible maximum of $15,000 a day, but they balked at another part of the bill, a mandatory minimum $5,000 daily fines, which was stripped from the bill in the Senate.

When the bill's sponsors weren't able to put the mandatory minimum back in the bill on the session's final day, they opted to let the bill die on the calendar rather than allow Hickenlooper to sign a bill that "looks like it’s doing something but really isn’t."

According to the report, oil and gas companies and their employees contributed more than $800,000 to political action committees and 527 groups during the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, spreading the donations to Democrats and Republicans alike.

And in the last four years, the industry has spent roughly $4.7 million on lobbying Colorado lawmakers, the most of any industry but health care.

According to the report, the companies that spent the most money lobbying lawmakers happen to be the ones with the worst track record when it comes to spills.

Four companies responsible for 92% of the spills that impacted Colorado groundwater in 2012 spent $455,000 on lobbying in the 2013 fiscal year that ends in July.

"These companies evidently believe that their political spending benefits shareholders, and the weakness of Colorado’s enforcement provides proof that those investments are sound," the report concludes.

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