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Western Energy Alliance's Wigley discusses Colo. fracking politics

How will possible voter action on fracking in Colorado shape the national conversation on natural gas development? During today's OnPoint, Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance, discusses Colorado's Senate race and local efforts to limit or ban fracking in the state. Wigley also discusses his organization's new polling on fracking and regulation.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance. Tim, thanks for coming back on the show.

Tim Wigley: Thank you for having me again.

Monica Trauzzi: Tim, you've just released new polling on voter favorability on oil and gas. This is particularly interesting with many of the midterm elections, the midterm races focusing on energy issues. What did you find on voter views towards fracking, both the practice itself and efforts to regulate it?

Tim Wigley: People generally are supportive. If my memory serves me correctly, around 60 percent support fracking. The problem you face in an issue with fracking that we've learned is 90 percent of the public has seen, read or heard something about it but they don't really know anything about it, and what we're trying to do as an industry is give them more information about what fracking is, equally important what fracking isn't. It's not a new technology. It's been used since 1947, but some of the opponents of fracking would like to make you believe this is some new, weird-fangled technology. That's not the case at all.

Monica Trauzzi: But in terms of regulation, people generally believe that there should be increased regulation.

Tim Wigley: Absolutely. For the last three years consistently, when we asked about who should regulate oil and gas development, fracking and so forth, it's kind of equally divided in thirds, generally. This has been the trend. A third say the states should be in charge, about a third say the feds should be in charge and about a third say local. So we're seeing trends that have held up over the last three years, particularly on the issue of fracking.

Monica Trauzzi: So fracking and other issues are playing a key role in some key states heading into the November elections. Colorado -- it's considered a bellwether when it comes to local efforts there to limit or ban fracking. Where will the Colorado voters ultimately take that discussion?

Tim Wigley: Well, over the last year and a half, five different localities, municipalities, in Colorado have approved either bans on fracking in the city limits or moratoriums on fracking. We've been preparing and assuming that there would be a possibility of a statewide measure, on a statewide ballot measure, and sure enough, there were 18 measures filed back in the spring. There will probably be three or four actually make the ballot. Coloradans are divided on it. One of the things that's just sheer demographics in Colorado. We lead the nation in the most new residents who have been there less than five years, and these are people, oftentimes, who don't have any idea where stuff comes from, where energy comes from, where food comes from. It's not that they're dumb voters; it's just that they're not used to being connected to the oil and gas industry traditionally like Colorado residents who have been there a long time. So we're the epicenter of fracking. It's going to be a big election. There's going to be a lot of money spent on both sides. You combine that with a huge Senate race in Colorado, a big governor's race in Colorado, and energy will be a focal point issue for every candidate.

Monica Trauzzi: So are you suggesting that some of those new voters are less qualified to vote because they maybe don't have as much experience on these issues?

Tim Wigley: I experienced this in the Northwest when I worked on timber issues and so forth. A lot of new residents to Colorado are coming from states that are not necessarily energy-producing states, and unless you're around it and see it, it's hard to understand it. And so what we're finding in the polling data, particularly as it relates to new voters and fracking, they just don't have any idea what it is, and that's not their fault. Quite frankly, that's the industry's fault, and we're trying to do a better job of educating them and bringing their level of knowledge up.

Monica Trauzzi: And what do you believe the impact could be on the region if there was some measure passed?

Tim Wigley: Well, there's 113,000 direct jobs in oil and gas in the state of Colorado. It is a big, important industry, $30 billion in economic impact, $500 million directly to schools, so there's a lot at stake. The reason we're excited about our chances is the general business community from Realtors to banks, other kinds of businesses are strongly -- Chamber of Commerce in Colorado's made this issue the No. 1 issue for them to help protect the oil and gas industry's role in the state.

Monica Trauzzi: It's a big issue, and one of the reasons we know that is Tom Steyer is exploring the possibility of involving himself in Colorado's elections, putting his money behind it. How much of an impact could his money and his strong energy views have on that discussion?

Tim Wigley: I don't know that it would have that much of an impact, but we'll certainly make sure that the voters in Colorado understand that he's a guy coming in from out of state that wants to try to -- I hear all this chatter about Koch brothers' money and all this stuff about big money in politics. I hear he's willing to spend $100 million to keep Keystone from being -- Keystone pipeline from being built. If he wants to get engaged in Colorado politics much like Michael Bloomberg did last year on guns, he may not have very good results because Michael Bloomberg certainly didn't in Colorado.

Monica Trauzzi: What are your thoughts on the Environmental Defense Fund's work in Colorado to help oil and gas companies improve their environmental profiles? Is that an effective way to bridge the divide that exists between the energy and environmental communities?

Tim Wigley: I don't think it's a bad way to do it. I've had a chance to work with them in previous jobs. I think it's a progressive-minded effort. The oil and gas industry in Colorado is the most regulated in the country, and we've had stringent rules and we've gone through several different rulemakings over the past five or six years, and I think it's a good move in general to team up with groups that can reach out further and help educate voters that this is a highly regulated and, more importantly, highly compliant industry, and it's clean and it's good for the environment and it's certainly good for the people of Colorado.

Monica Trauzzi: Another big midterm energy issue, LNG exports. It's also an issue in the Colorado Senate race. What role could Western energy producers play if the U.S. moves forward with exports to non-FTA countries?

Tim Wigley: With all that's going on with Russia and Crimea and that area over there, imagine if we had the ability to go and help them with supplying them natural gas and oil and so forth. That, to me, would be one of the most powerful tools this president has to be able to impact that region, as opposed to doing, you know, a series of sanctions which may or may not have an impact. That is an absolute, you know, straight-to-the-heart effort, and with the production that we have in the West, we have a tremendous ability. It would also help to get a pipeline built as well too. That's another big distinction in the Senate race in Colorado is Senator Udall has not come out in support of the pipeline and Cory Gardner is heavily supportive of the pipeline.

Monica Trauzzi: All right. A lot to watch. We'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Tim Wigley: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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