Fracking bans on Front Range looming large
The general success of fracking and drilling bans in Front Range elections this week could be an indicator that a statewide initiative of a similar sort might appear on the ballot next year, a North Fork Valley activist says.
Meanwhile, oil and gas industry representatives are taking heart in the defeat of such a measure in one community, Broomfield, albeit by a 13-vote margin. And there also remains the possibility of a legal challenge of such measures.
Doug Flanders of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association said his group will be evaluating its legal options in light of Tuesday’s election results.
“The state Supreme Court has clearly stated oil and gas (development) cannot be banned within a city or county,” he said.
Boulder voters by a 3-1 margin approved a five-year extension on a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing there. Lafayette voted 60 to 40 percent for a complete ban on oil and gas drilling. A five-year fracking moratorium in Fort Collins was approved 56-44 percent. Fracking bans can essentially amount to drilling bans because most drilling today involves fracking.
Jim Ramey of Citizens for a Healthy Community, which has been trying to limit oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley in Delta County, said Colorado voters next year could see a ballot measure ranging from a fracking ban or moratorium to something providing for more local control over oil and gas development.
“I think that all options are on the table and it’s not surprising that some of those votes are as lopsided as they were,” he said.
COGA says the Boulder and Lafayette votes were merely symbolic given the lack of drilling activity there. COGA also contends that Broomfield, which was considering a five-year fracking moratorium, is the only true swing community from a political perspective of the four voting on the drilling-related measures, having a track record of voting for both Democrats and Republican candidates.
“The close election in Broomfield proves that common sense prevails in mainstream Colorado communities when it comes to energy production,” COGA president and chief executive officer Tisha Schuller said in a news release.
The Broomfield measure reportedly was headed Wednesday to a likely automatic recount, however. The group behind it, Our Broomfield, said COGA spent $244,711 on the measure “and they still may not have won this vote.”
Longmont voters approved a fracking ban last year, prompting a lawsuit brought by COGA, and later joined by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The state previously also had sued the city over concern that its oil and gas regulations infringe on areas the state believes it should control.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, in a statement released through a spokesman, said the measures passed this week “may or may not result in legal challenges from mineral rights holders, individual companies or others.”
Hickenlooper said the votes “reflect the genuine anxiety and concern of having an industrial process close to neighborhoods. Yet local fracking bans essentially deprive people of their legal rights to access the property they own. Our state Constitution protects these rights.
“A framework exists for local communities to work collaboratively with state regulators and the energy industry. We all share the same desire of keeping communities safe. … No matter what happens we won’t stop working with local governments and supporting regulations that can be a national model for protecting public health and safety.”
Sam Schabacker helped manage the Longmont fracking ban campaign and works for Food & Water Watch, which along with Citizens for a Healthy Community and dozens of other organizations formed Protect Our Colorado, a group that has called for a statewide fracking ban. He said this week’s results show people don’t want fracking near their homes and schools and are upset “with the way that Gov. Hickenlooper has cozied up to the oil and gas industry.”
“In terms of what it means for next steps, everything is on the table. We need to sit down with our members and our coalition members and really think through what makes sense,” he said.
He said he thinks the ballot measures reflect people taking matters into their own hands when they feel like their health, safety and property values are being jeopardized and they have no other recourse.
The Denver-based Center for Western Priorities on Wednesday noted that fracking bans, moratoriums, drilling limits and other measures are being implemented by communities in numerous states.
“The rapidly growing movement for local fracking control underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reforms at the local, state, and federal levels,” it said.
Dave Devanney, a citizen activist on drilling issues in Garfield County, said Coloradans “have concerns about fracking where they work and play, and have spoken” in this week’s election.
But he questions the ability to impose a statewide fracking ban.
“What about federal land and open space? I think bans and moratoriums in populated areas are certainly fair game but going beyond that might be a stretch in my view,” he said.
David Ludlam, executive director of West Slope COGA, said he considers Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins to be “political outliers,” and his group is “highly encouraged” by the results in Broomfield. “There’s a huge number of people that understand the importance of our industry and to coexist and all take responsibility for the energy we use,” he said.
While about half of Broomfield voters also favored the fracking ban, Ludlam called this week’s votes “really just the start of the conversation.” “If our starting point is 50 percent (support) within mainstream Colorado that’s not a bad place to be,” he said.
He said he thinks that in western Colorado, communities “are hugely progressive” in their understanding of the industry and its importance to the state and its economy and culture. “Western Colorado will be a hugely important voice in the debate no matter where it goes,” he said.