Colorado fracking battle to heat up in 2016

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Colorado voters may have a chance to ban fracking in the 2016 election. @bberwyn photo.

Fracking ban eyed

Staff Report

The battle over fracking will heat up in Colorado next year, as community and activist groups target the 2016 ballot with a series of initiatives aimed at protecting homes, neighborhoods, schools, and water supplies from the dangers associated with fracking operations.

Altogether, there are 11 proposed ballot initiatives, ranging from measures that would require greater setbacks from residential areas through to an outright fracking ban. Each of the proposed constitutional amendments would require signatures from 98,492 registered Colorado voters to get on November’s ballot.

A public hearing on the ballot measure language is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 5 in Room 109 at the State Capitol.

According to Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development, the ballot measures will allow Coloradans to protect themselves from the oil and gas industry’s ability to drill and place heavy industrial development almost anywhere it wants.

The constitutional measures submitted include four basic principles:

  • guarantee local governments the ability to better protect their communities if they choose to do so, knowing that “one size doesn’t fit all;”
  • increase the setback from oil and gas wells or facilities to homes, based on health risks and the perimeters of real world explosions and fires;
  • establish the right for Coloradans to a healthy environment; and
  • ban the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

CREED says the ballot measures are a direct response to the failure of state government to adequately protect Colorado’s public health, safety and welfare. The group says state inspections are inadequate, that variances are granted to easily, that there’s not enough enforcement and that penalties aren’t enough to deter violations.

“If the state will not adequately protect Coloradans and communities, then we, the people of Colorado, must do it, and that requires a change to Colorado law. Our beautiful state should not be overwhelmed by wells, pads, and other industrial oil and gas operations plunked down next to neighborhoods and schools,” said Tricia Olson, Executive Director of CREED.

The fossil fuel industry sees it differently, claiming that the measures are extreme, irresponsible, and would be devastating to Colorado’s economy.

“These measures are so radical they would kill jobs, ignore established laws, devastate Colorado’s economy and create a patchwork of rules and regulations throughout the state,”said Karen Crummy, communications director for Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, an issue committee opposing anti-energy ballot measures.

The fossil fuel industry lobbying group said the measures don’t reflect the sentiment of the majority of Coloradans. In a press release attacking the proposed ballot measures, the lobbying group also said the ballot measures are not the work of local grassroots groups, but part of an organized effort by national environmental groups to ban fracking.

According to Protect Colorado, the proposals would undermine the results of a blue ribbon panel that tried to find common ground on some of the most vexing fracking issues.

The battle shaping up in Colorado is indeed part of a larger national fight over the country’s future energy path. Climate activists say that, to meet the goals of the Paris COP21 global warming agreement, most remaining fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. Fossil fuel companies, on the other hand, are determined to continue developing climate-harming fuels down to the last drop, regardless of the environmental consequences.

“Fracking hurts our children, our quality of life and our climate,” said Lauren Swain, fracking issue specialist for 350 Colorado. “Releases of air toxins, ozone-precursors, and methane from fracking operations compromise our health, our air quality, and our future climate. It’s time to protect Colorado communities from these risks, and work to transition our state to a 100 percent renewable energy future.”

Colorado wouldn’t be the first to ban fracking outright. New York State adopted a ban this year, and several European countries also outlaw the practice.

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