FORT COLLINS, Colo. — It's been a tough year for the oil-and-gas industry in Colorado: First its operations were clobbered in last month's historic floods, and now they're fighting four anti-fracking measures on local ballots.
Voters in the cities of Boulder, Broomfield and Fort Collins are considering ballot questions to restrict hydraulic fracturing within their boundaries by enacting a five-year moratorium, part of a growing movement by localities in states across the country to restrict or end the booming natural gas drilling technique that is revolutionizing global energy markets.
Groups in Ohio and Michigan are gearing up already to try to get similar anti-fracking measures before voters in 2014.
Voters in Lafayette, Colo. are weighing Question 300, called the Community Rights Act, which would prohibit any new oil or gas extraction while nixing corporate "personhood."
The initiatives represent the latest blast at the industry in fuel-rich Colorado, where about 50,000 wells dot the Front Range as part of the Denver-Julesburg basin. With the boom has come jobs and prosperity, but also friction as wells bump up against suburban neighborhoods.
Anti-fracking activists argue that the measures are needed to protect public health and the environment, given the pro-development bent of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. According to campaign finance reports, the association has ponied up more than $600,000 too fight the four initiatives, including $256,134 to groups opposing the measure in Fort Collins alone.
"[W]e're endorsing Question 300 on principle, the principle that a community should have the right to exert local control when it comes to keeping corporations and misguided governors from compromising public health and safety," said a Thursday editorial in the liberal Boulder Weekly.
Meanwhile, industry officials took a more visible stance against the measures last week at the Natural Gas Symposium, sponsored by Colorado State University. The suggestion that voters must choose between jobs and health is a "false choice," said Noble Energy CEO Chuck Davidson.
"There's a lot of facts there that show we can have both," said Mr. Davidson. "This is not a choice between clean water, clean air, and having energy and jobs, this is truly both. Just shutting something down is not the answer to how America works."
An editorial in the Denver Post urged voters last week to reject the proposed fracking bans, pointing out that "the purpose of this moratorium is to stop new drilling — which courts have not allowed."
Any proposal that passes is likely to end up in court. Voters in Longmont passed a fracking ban last year, which was promptly hit with a lawsuit filed by the state.
If the anti-fracking measures pass, officials say it's going to be difficult for companies like Noble to continue investing in Colorado.
"That's saying more than 'no' to hydraulic fracturing—in America, that's really saying 'no' to oil and gas development," said Mr. Davidson.
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