With ballot initiatives to ban or curtail hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on tap in five Colorado cities this November, the center of Rocky Mountain energy development has become a litmus test on voter attitudes toward the well stimulation practice.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) has poured $500,000 into an advertising and public relations campaign as backers of the ballot measures in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette and Loveland reportedly are getting widespread financial and organizing support from out-of-state anti-fracking forces (see Shale Daily, Aug. 16).

"Our campaigns are public education/informational efforts, as we are providing factual information to local communities to dispel the hype and fear-mongering the other side has been doing for more than a year in some places and longer in others," said BJ Nikkel, a former Colorado state legislator and director of the pro-fracking Loveland Energy Action Project. She also consults with COGA and other organizations about their opposition efforts to proposed bans.

Nikkel claims the industry is being transparent and disclosing its spending, while the anti-fracking camp is getting support from national groups that do not divulge how much they are spending.

The activist groups with a national base now have Colorado offices and are hiring paid, full-time positions, Nikkel told NGI's Shale Daily. They include Food and Water Watch, Clean Water Action (CWA), Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Wild Earth Guardian, and 350.org.

Earlier in the year, the city of Boulder had a "Showdown of the Century," pitting pro- and anti-fracking documentaries and their writer and directors (see Shale Daily, May 23).

Last summer a coalition of more than 40 organizations urged Gov. John Hickenlooper to ask for a top state energy official's resignation, and a U.S. congressman from the state picked up the opposition fervor from his constituents and environmental groups.

Various organizations, including anti-fracking groups from cities and counties around the state, accused Matt Lepore, the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC), of indiscriminately approving thousands of wells for fracking and of trying to write off opposition groups as being "affluent and misinformed." He made the comments in a speech at the Northern Colorado Energy Summit in Loveland, CO (see Shale Daily, Aug. 1).

More recently, activist groups have focused on events in and around the five cities with pending ballot measures with the help of groups like FrackFree Colorado and CWA. In Fort Collins the anti-fracking forces recently hosted a speaker talking about "Shale Boom or Shale Bubble," heading a discussion billed as focused on "fracking's false economic promise."

The speaker, Deborah Rogers, co-author of "Shale Bubble" reports is a member of the U.S. Interior Department-connected U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, representing the Aspen Institute's Energy Policy Forum.

"I think there is an untold story worth talking about concerning the tremendous hidden support given to the proponents of the anti-fracking measures by national environmental fringe groups that have come into Colorado to write the initiatives and give them a tremendous amount of [boots on the ground] support," Nikkel said.

In Fort Collins and Broomfield, local agreements are in place allowing single companies to drill with tight restrictions that exceed the current state standards in many respects, said Nikkel, adding that passage of the ballot measures could jeopardize those agreements and force the municipalities into long legal battles with exploration and production companies (E&P).

In Fort Collins, Denver-based Black Diamond Minerals' Prospect Energy LLC has an agreement giving it the exclusive right to drill in two areas in the city (see Shale Daily, May 28). The other agreement is between Sovereign Energy LLC and Broomfield.

In both cases the agreements put more strict restrictions on the E&Ps than the current state standards, which are considered some of the nation's toughest.