Colorado’s Elections Were Fracked

The results of several anti-fracking measures that went before voters Tuesday were mixed.

<p>Voters in four Colorado towns went to the polls Tuesday to decide on anti-fracking measures, which could influence the conversation nationwide.</p>
National Journal
Amy Harder
Nov. 6, 2013, 3:09 a.m.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — For­get weed and se­ces­sion, Col­or­ado’s elec­tions were fracked.

On Tues­day, voters in three Col­or­ado cit­ies, in­clud­ing this col­lege town about an hour north of Den­ver and nearby La­fay­ette and Boulder, passed ini­ti­at­ives against frack­ing, a drilling tech­nique key to ex­tract­ing oil and nat­ur­al gas around the coun­try but con­tro­ver­sial for its en­vir­on­ment­al risks. A sim­il­ar meas­ure in the town of Broom­field failed by an ex­tremely nar­row mar­gin, and two cit­ies in Ohio, Bowl­ing Green and Young­stown, also de­feated anti-frack­ing ini­ti­at­ives.

The ef­forts were among sev­er­al high-pro­file ini­ti­at­ives on the bal­lot in Col­or­ado, in­clud­ing one in which 11 north­ern counties sought to se­cede from the state (five voted to sup­port the meas­ure) and an­oth­er that ap­proved a new tax on marijuana, which was leg­al­ized last year. All were over­shad­owed by high-pro­file gubernat­ori­al races in New Jer­sey and Vir­gin­ia, but the frack­ing votes could in­flu­ence the con­ver­sa­tion tak­ing place na­tion­wide over the con­tro­ver­sial drilling tech­nique.

Back­ers of the anti-frack­ing bal­lot ini­ti­at­ives in Col­or­ado, which to vary­ing de­grees sought to ban or tem­por­ar­ily delay frack­ing, de­clared vic­tory Tues­day night and said it por­tends well for oth­er anti-frack­ing ef­forts around the coun­try. Though, thanks to Broom­field, they could not de­clare a sweep.

“I think this will raise aware­ness,” said Demo­crat­ic state Rep. Joann Gin­al, who rep­res­ents Fort Collins, at a vic­tory party for the anti-frack­ing cam­paign Tues­day night. “I know that New York and Pennsylvania and Ohio and many oth­er states have been try­ing to raise aware­ness. I think this will res­ult in more aware­ness.”

Col­or­ado has al­ways been a large oil and gas pro­du­cer, and thanks to frack­ing and ho­ri­zont­al drilling, com­pan­ies here are ramp­ing up oil pro­duc­tion, es­pe­cially in this area on the Front Range, just east of the Rocky Moun­tains and north of Den­ver. This has promp­ted a po­lar­iz­ing de­bate over wheth­er and how much to al­low frack­ing, which has pit­ted Den­ver’s north­ern sub­urb­an voters against the state’s Demo­crat­ic gov­ernor, John Hick­en­loop­er, who has fully sup­por­ted ro­bust oil and gas de­vel­op­ment and main­tained frack­ing can be done safely.

He is not the only one who thinks so.

“There’s noth­ing in­her­ently dan­ger­ous in frack­ing that sound en­gin­eer­ing prac­tices can’t ac­com­plish,” En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency Ad­min­is­trat­or Gina Mc­Carthy said this week in an in­ter­view with the Bo­ston Globe. In­deed, Pres­id­ent Obama and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have been con­sist­ently bullish on nat­ur­al gas — and spe­cific­ally frack­ing — which ex­tracts both oil and gas.

Non­ethe­less, the res­id­ents of Fort Collins and its neigh­bors main­tain they don’t want frack­ing un­til they can en­sure it is be­ing done safely. Com­pan­ies have been frack­ing for dec­ades, but not so much in urb­an areas. That has changed in the past few years, as ho­ri­zont­al drilling has en­abled com­pan­ies to reach new form­a­tions miles un­der­ground.

Kelly Gid­dens, who dir­ects the Cit­izens for a Healthy Fort Collins cam­paign that backed the five-year morator­i­um on frack­ing, said the city should wait un­til a state health-agency study is com­plete in mid-2016 be­fore de­cid­ing.

“Our fo­cus has been on how can they solve prob­lems if they don’t know what they are?” Gid­dens said Tues­day night as the res­ults were com­ing in. “We’re not look­ing at real data and the real health ef­fects they could be caus­ing.”

What hap­pens now is un­clear. An­oth­er nearby Col­or­ado city, Long­mont, already im­posed a frack­ing ban and is now fa­cing law­suits by Hick­en­loop­er and the Col­or­ado Oil and Gas As­so­ci­ation. The reas­ons for each suit are dif­fer­ent (Hick­en­loop­er’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is wor­ried about the bal­ance between state and loc­al rights), but the res­ult for Long­mont is the same: a pro­trac­ted leg­al mess.

“It’s not that I don’t be­lieve in frack­ing, but we’re just go­ing to get sued by the state,” said Luke Cal­len, a mu­si­cian and bar-go­er who happened to be at the Gid­dens’s vic­tory party Tues­day night in Fort Collins. He said the vote will amount to ba­sic­ally “a ges­ture: ‘Here’s what we all feel.’ “

Gid­dens is well aware of Long­mont’s pre­dic­a­ment, but she points out that Long­mont im­posed a per­man­ent ban, where­as Fort Collins’ is a tem­por­ary morator­i­um.

“We feel this is something that’s leg­ally de­fens­ible,” Gid­dens said. “It’s about pro­tect­ing the health and rights of our com­munity, so it’s something that should stand up in court.”

Gid­dens and every­one else liv­ing on the Front Range will likely get the chance to find out. Col­or­ado’s frack­ing fight really has just be­gun.

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