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The Colorado Oil and Gas Association has enough to do without getting deeply involved in who Colorado’s next governor should be, the trade group’s chief says.

Dan Haley, COGA’s president and CEO, said that his 265 members would make individual choices about whether to donate money to Republican Walker Stapleton or (less likely) Democrat Jared Polis.

But the industry won’t mount a unified campaign for or against either candidate, unless Polis pokes the bear on regulations, he said.

There had been no windfall of individual industry donors to either candidate, in post- Labor Day filings.

The association, instead, is training its potent political guns on defeating Initiative 97, the ballot question that would increase the buffer zone between future oil and gas operations and homes, schools and businesses to nearly half a mile. Setbacks are now 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.

COGA has characterized Initiative 97 — which qualified for the November ballot on Aug. 29 — as a de facto ban on drilling on private lands, and Polis and Stapleton oppose the measure.

“People want to make this (about) what is the industry going to do in the Polis-Stapleton race, but our No. 1 focus right now is (Initiative) 97,” Haley said.

COGA will act as a conduit of information to the industry’s workforce and supporters, Haley said.

“I want all of our industry employees to know who the pro-industry candidates are who support their livelihoods, who want them to work here in Colorado to help contribute to the economy. We want our employees to know what’s at stake.”

And what’s at stake is paychecks and taxes that support schools and other government services, Haley said.

“An industry that has been in Colorado longer than we’ve been a state is in jeopardy in this election from Initiative 97 and activist candidates down the ballot,” he said.

“And that’s why we’re working extra hard to make sure all of our workforce and their friends and families know that.

What about Polis, who at times has seemed less supportive of oil and gas than Stapleton?

“If Jared Polis wants to work with industry, I want to have that conversation with him,” Haley said.

The congressman from Boulder in 2014 bankrolled a proposed ballot initiative to require a 2,000-foot setback, less than the 2,500 feet that Initiative 97 calls for, but withdrew it at the urging of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was up for re-election that year. Instead, a task force was formed to recommend rules for oil and gas.

But as a candidate for governor, while Polis isn’t backing 97, he is promising the state will shift to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Stapleton, meanwhile, supports harvesting the state’s rich deposits of oil and gas until renewable sources become more affordable and viable.

And in a Colorado Politics pre-primary debate of gubernatorial candidates in May, Polis suggested those working for the oil and gas industry in Colorado should consider other long-term employment, rather than relying on a finite resource.

“I’m ready to take on any special interest to keep the people of Colorado safe,” he said in the debate five weeks before the four-way June 26 primary. “We need to put health and safety first, and we need to make sure local communities have the tools they need defined in law to keep their communities safe. … I won’t shy away from taking on the energy industry to make sure we protect public health.”

Before the primary, Polis met in private with COGA’s board, Haley said, and the candidate had lunch with a collection of energy industry officials after the primary.

No offers were put on the table at the lunch meeting to keep oil and gas industry money out of his race, Haley said.

“It was an informational, get-to-know-Jared meeting,” he said. “We have met with him a few times, as we have (with) Walker over this campaign.”

But if COGA’s deep-pocketed, politically motivated oil and gas industry are now focused on issues besides the governor’s race, Polis stands to benefit greatly. It means he might avoid millions of dollars in campaign spending that could benefit Stapleton.

Both candidates spoke at COGA’s annual energy summit in Denver on Aug. 22.

“Our energy industry’s future is directly aligned with Colorado’s economic future,” Stapleton told the lunch crowd of executives, vendors, politicos and press.

Stapleton, the state treasurer, said the industry has a $32 billion a year economic impact on the state that Colorado can’t afford to lose.

“The hardworking men and women who work in this industry make sure Coloradans have access to abundant, readily available, clean, affordable energy,” he said.

Polis, in his speech at the COGA summit, told attendees he didn’t support Initiative 97, which drew applause.

He said he also didn’t support Initiative 108, which would compensate mineral rights and landowners when regulations take away their ability to profit from their property.

“The conflicts that presumably spurred each of these initiatives comprise only a fraction of oil and gas development in our state. And yet the reach of these measures would be much broader,” Polis told COGA. “Initiative 97 would all but ban fracking in Colorado — a position I have never supported no matter how much Walker Stapleton wishes I had.”

Like Stapleton, Polis spoke warmly of those who work in the industry.

“Colorado is and must continue to be a state that respects the dignity of work, where we value the skills, responsibility, and tireless work ethic that our oil and gas workforce brings to the table,” the Democrat said.

“No one’s dignity or livelihood should ever be dismissed or belittled, even in the name of a cause as noble as the health and safety of our communities.

“But that doesn’t mean health and safety aren’t legitimate and important concerns, or that we’re always doing enough to protect Coloradans. I know that when tragedies like (the fatal 2017 house explosion in) Firestone happen, the men and women in this room feel those tragedies very deeply. And when there are flaws in our pipeline infrastructure, no one is more at risk than the hardworking men and women in the oil and gas industry. Coloradans deserve to be safe in our homes, and our oil and gas workers deserve to be safe on the job.”

Polis was heckled by three oil-and-gas opponents who bought tickets to the lunch and were led out after they shouted questions from the floor. That made him look good, or at least moderate on the issue, to the oil and gas executives, who are used to being the subject of such derision from the environmental left.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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