DENVER — The U.S. oil and gas industry, under siege from plunging world prices and climate change fears, notched a much-needed win this week in an unlikely place: liberal Boulder County, Colorado.
The board of trustees of Erie, which straddles Boulder and Weld counties, voted 4-3 to reject an “emergency” one-year moratorium on new drilling permits within the town’s borders over concerns that the restriction targeting the booming practice of fracking would send an anti-business signal and result in costly lawsuits.
Instead, trustees said they would work with Encana Oil and Gas and Anadarko Petroleum to address community concerns about noise, truck traffic and setbacks from housing.
“We were elected to represent our citizens and do what we honestly believe is best for the town, and I don’t believe that enacting a moratorium is what is best for the town,” trustee Waylon Schutt said in the Longmont Times-Call. “I think it will hinder our ability to negotiate [agreements]. I think it will send a lot of taxpayer money toward litigation.”
The Erie vote represents another painful defeat for the anti-fracking movement in Colorado, which has seen the momentum shift after posting some early victories. In 2012 and 2013, five primarily liberal college towns with little oil and gas development approved anti-fracking measures, but three of those measures have since been thrown out by judges.
Last year, the Brighton City Council voted to repeal a drilling moratorium, followed by the defeat at the ballot box of a proposed two-year fracking moratorium in Loveland. A statewide anti-fracking initiative backed by Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, was pulled in August under heavy pressure from the business and Mr. Polis’ fellow Democrats in the state.
After a boom period anchored largely in the rise of fracking and other innovative techniques, U.S. oil and gas companies face a host of powerful foes, starting with OPEC, which has flooded the international market and driven down the price of oil per barrel to $43 in an effort to squeeze the U.S. industry and put smaller producers out of business.
Meanwhile, climate activists are coming off an enormous victory in New York, where state officials imposed in December a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing over health concerns, which all but eliminates oil and gas production in the state’s Marcellus Shale. Activists are now targeting California, urging Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, at a Wednesday protest at the state Capitol in Sacramento to enact a statewide moratorium on fracking.
On Wednesday, the House continued its efforts to boost the U.S. producers, approving a bill that would expedite the Energy Department’s approvals of natural gas exports by a vote of 277-133.
The Erie board had been heavily lobbied for weeks by advocates on both sides. While supporters of the moratorium blasted the vote, industry and business leaders commended Erie’s decision to work instead with local companies to alleviate problems.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Encana agreed to implement a 90-day pause on filing drilling permits while memoranda of understanding are being negotiated with the Erie board.
“The decision reflects the choice to pursue leadership rather than activism,” said a statement by Chad Auer, chairman of the Energy Council of West Weld.
At the meeting, Erie resident Harsh Murari, whose house is 900 feet from an Encana drilling site, called the proposal for a one-year moratorium “very reasonable.”
“My 3-year-old used to wake up in the night thinking it was monsters making that noise,” Mr. Murari said in an online post. “So, I want to highlight that this is not a left vs. right or conservative vs. liberal issue. This is a grievance issue.”