DENVER — The four local anti-fracking initiatives approved last week by voters in Colorado and Ohio should have roughly the same impact as outlawing surfing in Denver or cliff-diving in Cleveland.
That’s because there’s virtually no hydraulic fracturing taking place in any of the communities that approved the fracking bans.
Food & Water Watch, an anti-fracking group, trumpeted the Nov. 5 votes as “historic victories” for the movement, even as critics dismissed the votes as purely symbolic, given the noticeable lack of oil and gas development in those communities.
Voters in another three towns — Bowling Green and Youngstown, Ohio, and Broomfield, Colo. — rejected the fracking bans. The only Ohio city to approve the anti-fracking “community bill of rights” was Oberlin, a liberal college town where no oil and gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing is taking place, said Mike Chadsey, Ohio Oil and Gas Association spokesman.
“There’s definitely no shale development in the entire county, much less in the city of Oberlin,” said Mr. Chadsey. “I would say this was an easy win for these groups where you have a small liberal-arts college town with lots of students.”
Ditto for the Colorado measures, where fracking moratoriums were passed in Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins, three university towns known more for their large student populations than their oil and gas development.
“Boulder and Lafayette were nothing more than symbolic votes,” Colorado Oil and Gas Association President Tisha Schuller said in a statement. “Lafayette’s last new well permit was in the early 1990s and Boulder’s last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999.”
In Fort Collins, the Coloradoan newspaper argued that the town was being used by anti-fracking activists as a political “pawn,” given that there are only about a half-dozen wells within the city limits. The hydraulic fracturing process typically lasts a few days in the life of a 30-year well, and the oldest of the Fort Collins wells dates back to 1924.
“Nearly 90 percent of Fort Collins is already off limits to any sort of oil and gas drilling — fracking or otherwise. And the remaining 10 percent doesn’t have all that much oil underneath it in the first place,” said the Oct. 26 editorial.
Even so, Sam Schabacker, Mountain West Region director for Food & Water Watch, said the ballot wins prove that “[v]oters understand that fracking is inherently dangerous and imperils the future of our beautiful state.”
“Coloradans have sent a strong simple message in this election: they do not want fracking in their communities,” said Mr. Schabacker in a statement. “It’s something that Governor [John] Hickenlooper should especially take notice of as we head towards 2014, and that all of our state and federal representatives should pay attention to.”
In Broomfield, voters defeated the five-year fracking moratorium by just 13 votes out of 20,519 cast. That razor-thin margin is likely to trigger an automatic recount after the official election results are posted.
The Oberlin vote in favor of the initiative was 71 percent to 39 percent. Meanwhile, voters in Bowling Green defeated a similar proposal by a margin of 75 percent to 25 percent, while Youngstown rejected the anti-fracking measure by 54 percent to 45 percent after rejecting a proposal in May by 56 percent to 43 percent.
Bowling Green and Youngstown are “labor towns, blue-collar towns, salt-of-the-earth towns,” said Mr. Chadsey. “We didn’t spend one dime or send out one piece of literature. It was all the Chamber of Commerce and the labor union — they said, ‘This is bad for the industry and would kill our jobs.’”
If Food & Water Watch really wanted to gauge voter sentiment, critics say, the group would have put a measure on the ballot in Weld County, the heart of Colorado’s booming Denver-Julesburg basin, instead of going after the low-hanging fruit of college towns devoid of oil and gas development.
“By choosing these seven cities — almost all of them college towns or suburbs of college towns — the activists have shown just how desperate they are for a victory,” Simon Lomax, an analyst at the pro-industry publication Energy in Depth, said in a Nov. 5 article, “Anti-Energy Activists Go Local Because They Are Losing Everywhere Else.”
“With the possible exception of Youngstown and Broomfield, the activists have picked the friendliest pools of voters they can find, to break their losing streak and generate some positive press for their failing national campaign to ban hydraulic fracturing,” said Mr. Lomax. “This is a sign of a movement that’s shrinking, not growing.”
Larimer County Assessor Steve Miller told the Coloradoan that the passage of Question 2A in Fort Collins would have no impact on the tax base.
“From a taxable basis, the moratorium has no effect,” Mr. Miller said. “Everybody got to express their opinions on fracking but, in my opinion, it wasn’t an important issue.”