Colorado Fracking Ban Initiative (2014)

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A Colorado Fracking Ban may appear on a 2014 ballot in the state of Colorado as an initiated state statute. If approved by voters, the measure would grant local governments the power to ban the practice of extracting natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.[1] In 2013, there was talk of a measure, supported by the group Protect Our Colorado, that sought to ban fracking statewide.[2] The current form of the measure is sponsored by the Colorado Community Rights Network.[1]

Background

See Fracking in Colorado for a full explanation of how fracking is affecting that state.

Democrats across the state have worked to create a strong coalition of progressives over the last decade. According to Politico, however, this coalition has become threatened as Democratic state leaders have split over fracking policy in Colorado. This potential split could make the presence of a state-wide fracking ban on the Colorado ballot a balancing act for those running for office this November.[3]

Fracking is the process of injecting fluid - mostly water and sand but with additional chemicals - into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks, releasing the oil and natural gas inside. This practice is controversial, as many of the chemicals used are alleged by opponents to be toxic or carcinogenic. Activists who are against the method argue that it releases methane and harmful chemicals into nearby ground water. However, supporters of the process argue that, in fact, none of the chemicals are dangerous.[4] They further contend that fracking significantly increases domestic oil output and could eventually lead the United States to energy independence.[5]

In 2013, local ballot measures in four Colorado cities sought to put a moratorium on fracking. All four got the green light from voters.[6] One of the local Colorado fracking measures was approved by such a thin margin that a recount was held. The recount upheld the original election results, showing the measure was approved 50.04 to 49.96 percent.

Fracking has been occurring in Colorado since 1969.[7] Naturally seeping oil was found by settlers in Colorado as far back as 1876.[8] In 1901 the first recorded oil well was drilled in the Pierre Shale formation. Then, in 1969, an early form of hydraulic fracturing was used near Rifle, Colorado. Massive fracking occurred in the Watternberg Gas Field beginning in 1973, and was one of the first large-scale fracking operations.[9]

Map of oil and gas permits in Colorado

The map to the right shows active oil and gas permits in Colorado as of June 1, 2014. A green dot indicates that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency that oversees the oil and gas industry, has issued a permit, but does not necessarily indicate that an oil or gas well is there. The light blue areas are oil and gas basins.

When it comes to regulating fracking, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees a significant portion of oil and gas activity in Colorado because it occurs on land they manage.[10] At the state level the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) oversees the permitting and tracking for all oil and gas wells in the state. This process includes reviewing and permitting all new wells, approving reclamation of well pad areas once drilling has been completed and reviewing mechanical equipment tests. The COGCC works with the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on dust and odor permitting.[11][12][13]

In Colorado, large oil and gas producers have been working with environmental groups and the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to limit methane and VOC emissions. Colorado was the first state to regulate methane emissions. These rules require companies to control or capture 95 percent of emissions. Operators have 15 days to repair methane leaks and are subject to routine inspections. These regulations are expected to cost the industry between $40 million and $100 million.[14][15] Another controversial issue in Colorado has been the distance between homes, schools and other buildings and oil and gas wells. Before 2013 oil and gas wells were required to be 350 feet from high-density areas and 150 feet from homes. In 2013 the COGCC revised their standards and increased the setback minimum to 500 feet, although this setback can be waived.[16]


Lawsuits

On the night before the completion of the election results recount, opponents of the ban filed a lawsuit claiming the election was not conducted properly. The Broomfield Balanced Energy Coalition is the main plaintiff in the new court case against the city and county of Broomfield, alleging in Broomfield District Court that the elections division failed to provide the proper BBEC election monitors during the ballot counting process.[17]

In 2012, Longmont voters approved a citizen initiated charter amendment to ban hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a contentious method of extracting oil and gas. The measure was approved by nearly 60% of voters. Two lawsuits were filed against Longmont over this ban. The most recent lawsuit features the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) and the state's Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as plaintiffs. According to a Colorado Open Records Act request, both lawsuits together had already cost the city of Longmont almost $69,000 in legal fees as of March 31, 2013.[18]


Support

This initiative is sponsored by the group Colorado Community Rights Network.[1]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in Colorado

In Colorado, supporters must obtain at least 86,105 valid signatures by August 4, 2014 in order to place a measure on the ballot, regardless of whether the measure is an initiated constitutional amendment or an initiated state statute.

See also

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References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Denver Post, "Proposed ballot measure would give Colorado communities power to ban fracking," January 3, 2014
  2. Aspen Daily News, "Ballot measure on Colo. fracking ban in the works," August 17, 2013
  3. Politico Magazine, "How Fracking Could Break Colorado Democrats," April 15, 2014
  4. Frac Focus chemical disclosure website
  5. Bloomberg, "Fracking Boom Pushes U.S. Oil Output to 25-Year High," December 11, 2013
  6. National Geographic, "Results Mixed on Colorado and Ohio Fracking Ban Initiatives," November 6, 2013
  7. Leeds School of Business, Business Research Division, University of Colorado Boulder, "Hydraulic Fracturing Ban, The Economic Impact of a Statewide Fracking Ban in Colorado," March 2014
  8. Daily Reckoning, "Oil Shale Reserves," accessed April 23, 2014
  9. Leeds School of Business, Business Research Division, University of Colorado Boulder, "Hydraulic Fracturing Ban, The Economic Impact of a Statewide Fracking Ban in Colorado," March 2014
  10. U.S. Bureau of Land Management, "Fracking on BLM Colorado Well Sites," accessed May 9, 2014
  11. Stanford Law School Student Journals, "Local Government Fracking Regulations: A Colorado Case Study," January 2014
  12. Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, "Oil and Gas Odor and Dust Permitting," May 12, 2014
  13. Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, "Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) 805 series requirement," September 28, 2009
  14. The Denver Post, "Colorado adopts tougher air rules for oil, gas industry," February 25, 2014
  15. Stanford Law School Student Journals, "Local Government Fracking Regulations: A Colorado Case Study," January 2014
  16. Leeds School of Business, Business Research Division, University of Colorado Boulder, "Hydraulic Fracturing Ban, The Economic Impact of a Statewide Fracking Ban in Colorado," March 2014
  17. Daily Camera: Broomfield News, "Broomfield fracking: Recount finds 5-year ban wins by 20 votes," December 3, 2013
  18. Coloradan.com, "As Fort Collins awaits similar fracking lawsuit, Longmont racks up $69,000 in legal fees," May 2, 2013