Fort Collins votes to extend fracking moratorium until 2018

5:32 AM, Nov 6, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - Four Front Range communities voted on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and oil and gas restrictions.

Fort Collins voted to extend its fracking moratorium 5 years, until 2018.

Fifty six percent voted for the moratorium and 44 percent voted against it.

Boulder and Broomfield voted on essentially the same thing.

So far it appears the moratorium will also pass in Boulder by a wide margin.

At last count on Tuesday night, 77 percent of Boulder residents have voted to extend the moratorium on oil and gas exploration, with 23 percent against it.

In Broomfield it's too close to call, with 49.97 percent for it and 50.03 percent against.

Lafayette voters also voted on an charter amendment that would completely ban fracking.

So far 58 percent are in support of the ban and 42 percent are against it.

Tuesday afternoon, Boulder City Councilman Macon Cowles predicted that Boulder would vote to extend the fracking moratorium by a large majority.

The Boulder City Council originally adopted the ordinance to have a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing on city land until June 3, 2014. But some Boulder residents didn't think that was long enough. They brought forward a petition to extend the moratorium until June 3, 2018. Boulder City Council voted to put the issue on the ballot.

Cowleas, along with most of his peers, voted to put the measure on the ballot because he thinks hydraulic fracturing poses significant risks to the quality of air and water.

He says is concerned about the health and safety of people who are exposed to fracking fluids.

"[That includes] the things that are released as fugitive emissions from fracked wells," Cowles said. "And that's why this has gained such traction in Boulder. That's why it has the support of the citizens and will very likely be adopted by a large majority of people who are voting in Boulder today."

A yes vote on 2H means that there will be no hydraulic fracturing allowed within Boulder city limits - or or on open space that is owned or managed by the city until June 3, 2018.

"This gives us an additional five years within which to look at the health studies that are being done now, including a very extensive one that's being done by the University of Colorado, funded by the national institute of health," Cowles said. "We can then make a decision about how best to protect our citizens."

A no vote on 2H means that people are content that a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Boulder will end on June 3, 2014.

"People really care about nature up here," Cowles said. "They care about the environment. They care about clean air and clean water."

Since it appears the moratorium will be extended in Boulder, the new issue is the possibility of legal action. The state and the oil and gas industry believe allowing individual cities to makes these types of decisions is unconstitutional.

"The governor or the industry (Colorado Oil & Gas Assocation) might sue Boulder over enacting a moratorium," Cowles explained.

The oil and gas industry has sued over a similar issue before.

"COGA has a lawsuit pending with the city of Longmont," Tisha Schuller, President and CEO of COGA, said."

It's over a similar situation,

"A ban on fracking is a ban on oil and gas development. And there are clear legal precedents in Colorado that you cannot ban oil and gas development. That has already been decided by the state supreme court," Schuller said.

"It would not be a good sign if Governor Hickenlooper were to sue yet another jurisdiction that's concerned about the health of its citizens," Cowles said.

With nearly 50,000 wells in Colorado, the oil and gas industry is experiencing explosive growth across the state. The industry has been drilling for over 100 years. But, Cowles is concerned about how well the state regulating the wells.

"The state is falling down on the job in assessing the impact of these wells [and] on the health and safety of the people who are near them," Cowles said. "The governor has sided with industry to the extent that he thinks the Oil & Gas Commission is doing an adequate job of regulating, and most local jurisdictions - most cities and counties - do not agree with that. So he's taking sides with the industry on that issue."

"We want to protect our lands," Cowles stated. "We want to protect our people. I hope that the governor and the industry will hit the pause button on the development of these wells and let the public health officials finish their studies and let's see what the doctors have to say about the impact on human health."

Schuller believes that Boulder's vote is largely symbolic because there haven't been any new drilling permits there in nearly 20 years.

"The vote in Boulder is largely irrelevant to what's happening in the rest of the state," Schuller said. "What we're really interested in is watching Broomfield. Broomfield is really the bell-weather for how the rest of Colorado could react to these kinds of initiatives. Broomfield is the only true swing county that we have in this election."

Broomfield voted for Barack Obama and Jared Polis in 2012 and Michael Bennett in 2010.

"Activists have been working there for a long time," Schuller said. "So that's the focus for us going forward."

Schuller contends that oil and gas development in Colorado is important to the state's economy, as well as our way of life. The industry's growth will bring undoubtedly bring more jobs to the state, but Cowles is concerned about the cost of those jobs.

"Those are not the kind of jobs we want or need," Cowles said. ""Jobs that wreck the environment or jobs that put the climate at risk, these are not jobs that we want."

Whether or not COGA will take legal action against Boulder remains to be seen.

"It's too early to speculate on the results and any pending legal action," Schuller said. "What I can say is that we are committed to continuing the education and engagement effort with our neighbors to talk about the industry, how important it is to Colorado, and why we continue to operate safely in nearly every corner of the state."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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