Colorado's battle over regulating fracking shifts to ballot

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Posted: May 03, 2016 2:13 PM
Colorado's battle over regulating fracking shifts to ballot

DENVER (AP) — Colorado's battle over who should regulate fracking — and how much — now shifts to the November election after the state Supreme Court overturned attempts by local governments to impose their own rules.

The court ruled Monday that a ban on fracking in Longmont and a five-year moratorium in Fort Collins are invalid because they conflict with state law. State officials and the industry argued the state has the primary authority to regulate energy, not local governments.

It wasn't the end of the debate, however. Coloradans face a loud and fierce campaign over fracking this fall if activists succeed in getting any constitutional amendments on the ballot to restrict oil and gas drilling or give local governments the authority to do so.

"We're taking them as a serious threat to responsible oil and gas development in the state of Colorado," said Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman for an industry-backed group called Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence, which will campaign against the amendments.

"We consider all of these measures to be a ban on fracking," Crummy said. "We're going to fight."

The industry will have plenty of cash to fight with. The group Crummy represents reported Monday it has $5.9 million on hand.

In contrast, two groups supporting the constitutional amendments reported a total of less than $15,000 on hand.

But they also vow a fight. They say Monday's ruling injects a sense of urgency into their cause.

"It can only help us because it shows that communities don't have many rights right now when industry wants to drill," said Tricia Olson of Yes for Health and Safety over Fracking, which hopes to get two measures on the ballot.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has long been a contentious issue in Colorado, the nation's No. 7 energy-producing state. Fracking injects a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack open formations and make it easier to recover oil and gas.

Combined with other drilling techniques, it opened up previously inaccessible oil and gas reserves and boosted the economy, although low oil prices have led to widespread layoffs and a steep decline in drilling.

Critics worry about danger to the environment and public health from fracking spills and leaks. Others say around-the-clock noise, lights and fumes from drilling rigs make their homes unlivable as oilfields overlap with growing communities.

The industry says fracking is safe and that drilling companies take steps to minimize the disturbances.

Some of the proposed constitutional amendments would clamp specific restrictions on the oil and gas industry, such as minimum distances between wells and homes. Others would grant local governments more regulatory power. Because they're constitutional amendments, they would supersede Monday's Supreme Court ruling.

Olson's group and others are still gathering petitions to get their amendments on the ballot. If they succeed, they know they face a tough battle.

"What we know is that industry has already been advertising nonstop," Olson said. "What we know is they will put everything against it. But what we also know is that we have very few options left to protect Colorado's health, safety and welfare."

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