Don’t frack Colorado communities

It is time for Colorado voters to decide for themselves whether communities should have the right to control drilling and fracking within their boundaries.

Ballot Initiative 75, which would give local governments authority to limit or ban oil and gas development turned in 107,232 signatures; Initiative 78, which sought mandatory 2,500-foot setbacks between new oil and gas facilities and schools, hospitals and playgrounds turned in 106,626 signatures.

Both initiatives failed to gain enough signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

The same question almost made it to the 2014 ballot. With U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, supporting them, Initiatives 88 and 89 would have amended the state constitution to allow communities more control of drilling and fracking near hospitals, schools and homes, and/or establish a 2,000-foot setback from occupied structures.

Both initiatives had collected well over the required number of signatures to get them on the November 2014 ballot, even allowing a margin sufficient to compensate for improper signatures or incomplete forms.

To the surprise and disappointment of those who had worked to put Initiatives 88 and 89 on the ballot, they were sidelined by an agreement between Polis and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As part of the agreement, two initiatives supported and funded by the oil and gas industry were withdrawn.

Under the terms of the agreement, a 21-member task force, made up of oil and gas industry representatives, Democratic Party officials, citizens, and certain environmental groups met to agree on a common position on drilling within communities. Unfortunately, no useful agreement ensued from that effort.

As the Boulder Weekly reported in an investigative report, “It would be an understatement to say that the people who had provided the 263,000 signatures for Polis’s initiatives and the hundreds of thousands of other Front Range citizens who had voted for moratoriums or bans . . . were angered by this last minute political maneuvering.”

Twenty-sixteen is beginning to look a lot like 2014. With the exception of Polis, the same groups who supported giving communities more control over drilling within their boundaries in 2014 are back. Once again, they have been unable to place their two initiatives on the ballot.

With the failure to qualify initiatives to protect communities from drilling and fracking, Colorado’s small towns — and maybe some cities — may soon have to adjust to oil and gas production within their borders.

The numbers of signatures submitted were significantly modified by the state’s standard verification process, which typically eliminates at least 25 percent of all submitted signatures. The Secretary of State’s office estimated the supporters of Initiative 78, that would have established a mandatory 2500-foot setback between new oil or gas development and schools, playgrounds, hospitals and homes, submitted only 79,634 valid signatures. 

Initiative 75 that would have given local governments authority to limit or ban oil ad gas development within their borders had only 77,109 valid signatures. Both initiatives were well short of the number needed to qualify the initiatives for the ballot.

The industry opposed the signature drive by pouring millions of dollars into a “decline to sign” advertising effort. Anti-fracking activists also claimed their signature gatherers faced harassment as they tried to circulate their petitions.

Secretary of State Wayne Williams announced Monday morning that Initiatives 75 and 78 had failed to submit enough valid signatures to be included on the ballot.

Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking, the campaign behind Initiatives 75 and 78, claims to be currently reviewing the ruling and checking the invalid signatures while they consider an appeal. They have 30 days to challenge the ruling.

If the challenge fails, it could be both more difficult and more expensive to attempt to put the issue on the ballot, especially if Initiative 96 passes. This proposed amendment would require ballot campaigns to collect signatures in every county totaling 183,691 signatures to qualify an issue for the ballot. Its purpose is to limit amendments to the state constitution.

Initiative 96 is supported by the oil and gas industry and their associates throughout Colorado.

As for the supporters of the restrictions on drilling in communities, Suzanne Spiegel of Frack Free Colorado, vows to fight on. “The actions of the industry have only served to galvanize supporters and we intend to fight the destructive and dangerous fracking practices that harm our health and destroy our environment.”

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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