Fracking 
heavy on
 fall ballot
 agendas

Proponents of giving local governments the ability to limit or ban hydraulic fracturing in Colorado aren’t the only ones trying to get measures onto this year’s ballot.

There’s a related effort to get other proposals onto the fall ballot, one of which is aimed at local government’s pocketbooks if they approve new laws limiting or banning fracking, the now controversial practice of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to free up natural gas deposits.

That measure, currently known as Initiative 121, would bar local governments that act outside of state law on oil and gas development from receiving any financial benefit from oil and gas drilling such as severance taxes, which drillers pay based on the amount of oil and natural gas they produce.

“All across Colorado, leading business voices, regulators, elected officials and now voters are pushing back against the wave of irresponsible and unscientific attacks being waged against responsible energy production and specifically on fracking in Colorado,” said Jon Haubert, spokesman for Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, one of two groups pushing for the measures.

That group and another, Protect Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, announced Tuesday that it was more than halfway to where it needs to be to get the measures onto the Nov. 4 ballot.

The second proposal, Initiative 137, is designed to give voters more information before they sign petitions. It would require detailed fiscal impact studies to be done on proposed ballot measures, and for those findings to be shown to voters before they sign a petition.

Proponents of the two groups say they are confident they will have the minimum 86,105 signatures of registered voters by the Aug. 4 deadline to qualify for the ballot.

Currently, they have nearly 60,000 signatures for Initiative 137 and more than 55,000 names for Initiative 121.

Such petition drives generally shoot for thousands of more names than the minimum to account for signatures that are declared invalid for one reason or another.

“Voters are signing these measures rapidly because they see they are about fairness and providing all Coloradans with a level playing field,” said Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for the Protect Colorado group. “Unlike other initiatives out for signatures, these measures are positive. They help voters receive crucial information so they can make informed decisions and ensure local communities get their financial fair share.”

The two groups hope to dissuade voters from approving two other proposed ballot measures being pushed by an anti-fracking group, Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, that are designed to limit or outright ban drilling in parts of the state.

One of those measures would establish a 1,500-foot setback rule from occupied structures, which is three times the state requirement. The other would create an “Environmental Bill of Rights” for local governments, giving them the authority to enact any law on oil and gas drilling that is stricter than the state’s.

Opponents of those measures are hoping to dissuade voters from approving them by showing what would be lost financially if they pass not only from direct job losses, but in tax revenues their local governments receive directly from oil and gas drilling.

Under Colorado law, all severance taxes and federal mineral lease payments are distributed to local governments in direct payments and through grant programs.

The distributions are designed to offset impacts from drilling operations. For some counties, that could mean millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Weld County, which has seen an explosion in oil and gas development and a major public backlash as a result, last year received more than $2 million in severance tax distributions, and nearly $900,000 in federal lease money, according to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

Including those county dollars, all local governments and school districts in the county, the area received $7.7 million from oil and gas drilling in 2013, not including millions of dollars in grant money from the department for specific projects.

Overall, direct distribution of production revenue to all local governments in the state exceeded $47 million, down from the nearly $62 million local governments received in 2012.

While all of that is going on, Gov. John Hickenlooper and a handful of state lawmakers continue to push for a so-called compromise measure that they hope will get the anti-fracking proponents to back off of their measures.

Last week, the governor released a revised compromise bill that won the support of some oil and gas companies, but strong opposition from others. The compromise is designed to give local governments more authority over surface issues related to drilling while leaving down-hole matters to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

In a related matter, Coloradans for Responsible Reform, the main group that is battling the anti-frackers, said that its campaign finance complaint against Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy filed with the Secretary of State’s Office will be heard later today by an administrative law judge.

The group claims the anti-frackers violated campaign finance laws when they refused to disclose where they received about $1.45 million in donations, all of which came from a single group, Coloradans for Local Control. That group claims to be a coalition of several smaller anti-fracking groups, but one also financially backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is financing much of their efforts.


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Charles Ashby’s timely and informative report – “Fracking heavy on fall ballot agendas” – contains the implied proposition that the “practice of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to free up natural gas deposits” is somehow only “now controversial”.

That suggestion entirely ignores the fact that “hydraulic fracturing” (“fracking”) has been “controversial” for almost a decade “now” – since (following secretive meetings with oil and gas executives convened by then-Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney) Congress enacted the “drill, baby, drill” Energy Policy Act of 2005.

That fossil-fuel-favoring “policy” act expressly exempted “fracking” from the regulatory regime otherwise applicable to “underground injection wells” under the Safe Drinking Water Act, exempted “fracking” effluents (e.g., “produced water”) from the definition of “pollutant” under the Clean Water Act, and similarly exempted “fracking” emissions (e.g., methane) from the definition of “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act.

The industry justified these “Halliburton Loopholes” by claiming that “fracking” was so “completely safe” that there was no need to regulate it under those time-tested statutes; and that compliance with “unnecessary regulations” would needlessly increase the “costs of production” (thereby constraining both supply and profits, which could be maximized by imposing – i.e., “externalizing” – those costs on the environment and the public).

Over the last nine years, a perpetual procession of leaks, spills, burns, scientific papers, explosions, earthquakes, and public health studies has at least suggested (if not proven) that industry-funded propaganda was false, that industry-sponsored politicians were liars, and that “fracking” – even if only a potential risk to public health – was not “completely safe”.

Therefore, recognizing the regulatory vacuum created by “bought-and-paid-for” public policy and perpetuated by industry-sponsored politicians, some Colorado communities have prudently opted to be “safe, rather than sorry” by seeking to take local responsibility for policing the tradeoff between economic benefits and public health.

Hurrah!

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