Communities’ fracing votes seen as first round in Colorado fight

Note: Errors in attribution were corrected in this story Nov. 7.

Approval by majorities of voters on Nov. 5 in three Colorado Front Range communities of moratoriums or bans of hydraulic fracturing was only the first round of a potentially statewide battle, Colorado Oil & Gas Association Pres. Tisha Schuller said on Nov. 6.

“These elections mobilized community members to educate their neighbors, and our support of their efforts is just beginning,” Schuller said.

About 76% of the votes in Boulder supported extending the city’s fracing moratorium for 5 years, while 55% of the ballots cast in Fort Collins farther north supported a new 5-year ban. Some 58% of the voters in Lafayette backed banning the process permanently.

Voters in a fourth community, Broomfield, narrowly defeated a proposal to ban fracing and prohibit the disposal or open pit storage of solid or liquid wastes connected to the process for 5 years. The margin, which was 13 votes on election night, potentially could be erased or expanded by absentee votes which will be accepted through Nov. 13.

Schuller said the close election there “proves that common sense prevails in mainstream Colorado communities when it comes to energy production [in]…the only true swing community contemplating an energy ballot measure.” The ban would have overturned regulations passed the Denver suburb’s city council passed last September, she noted.

“There was also a victory in the hearts and minds of voters in Fort Collins, where 44% recognized that the proposed 5-year energy ban jeopardizes their community,” COGA’s president said. “During the course of the campaign, the city council passed a resolution recommending voters there not support the energy ban. The Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce opposed the ban, and the Fort Collins Coloradoan editorialized against the measure.”

CRED uses tweets

Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, an advocacy group funded by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc., has actively tried to reach Front Range voters with radio commercials and other methods since Sept. 5. CRED’s strategy included Election Day tweets on Twitter of its top 10 facts about fracing.

“Coloradans overwhelmingly support ongoing oil and gas development,” Schuller said. “We will continue mobilizing and educating our neighbors on the safety and importance of our industry. We will continue to stand with the communities that support over 100,000 Colorado families who rely on the oil and gas industry for their livelihood.”

US Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has noted that Weld County in his district has grown so financially secure from taxes on oil and gas activity there that it can fund improvements from the receipts.

“States have a real interest in ensuring that their oil and gas resources are developed efficiently and responsibly,” said James A. Pardo, a partner in McDermott Will & Emery LLP’s New York office. “Because local bans have the potential to frustrate both of these interests, states and industry rightfully are concerned about them and, understandably, are likely to challenge such bans in court.”

Pardo said, “State legislators, regulators, and industry all are keeping a close eye on local efforts to regulate fracing. States have a real interest in ensuring that their oil and gas resources are developed efficiently and responsibly. Because local bans have the potential to frustrate both of these interests, states and industry rightfully are concerned about them and, understandably, are likely to challenge such bans in court.”

Paul S. Enockson, a partner in Baker & Hostetler LLP’s Denver office and a member of the law firm’s national shale practice team, said, “With the passage of these bans, antifracing groups backing these types of moratoriums and bans will likely seek out additional cities to target, with the possibility of a state-wide ban finding its way onto the 2014 Colorado ballot. Despite the prolific oil and gas operations in the state, Colorado continues to be ground zero in the battle over fracing.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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