Flooding and drilling equipment along Colorado's Front Range this fall. Photo courtesy of East Boulder County United.
By Eric Huber, Senior Managing Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
Congratulations, Colorado! On November 5, the cities of Ft. Collins and Boulder each passed a five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." In the City of Lafayette, citizens passed a fracking ban coupled with an assertion of residents' rights to a clean and healthy environment.
The City and County of Broomfield also proposed a five-year moratorium, which trails by 13 votes as of this writing, making a recount likely. Although a fracking moratorium was kept off the ballot in the City of Loveland based on a technicality, steps are underway to hold a special election on the proposal in 2014. The Sierra Club endorsed and supported all of these ballot initiatives to fight toxic fracking on Colorado's Front Range.
"The industry's record of toxic spills and harmful air emissions is a huge concern for communities faced with the prospect of neighborhood drilling and slickwater fracking," said Lauren Swain, the Rocky Mountain Chapter's Beyond Oil & Gas Team Communications Coordinator. "As long as the industry is exempt from major provisions of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other federal environmental laws, it would be reckless to allow this toxic industrial process to take place near homes and schools."
According to press reports, oil and gas interests poured more than $900,000 into a media campaign to try and defeat these various measures. The campaigns to protect communities from fracking impacts were successful despite the industry's well-funded advertising barrage and the possibility of state and industry lawsuits, like those which followed the City of Longmont's passage of a fracking ban late last year.
In November of 2012 the City of Longmont passed regulations to protect its citizens from oil and gas drilling by prohibiting drilling in residential areas and requiring setbacks away from schools, creeks, and parks. The city also required oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they truck through town and to consult with the city on wildlife impacts before drilling.
Incredibly, the State of Colorado and (not so incredibly) the Colorado Oil and Gas Association sued the city to get rid of the regulations, arguing that only the state can regulate oil and gas. Soon thereafter, the citizens of Longmont voted to ban fracking within city limits -- and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association sued the city again to undo the will of the people. The State has since joined in with them. The Sierra Club Environmental Law Program intervened in both lawsuits to help defend the City of Longmont.
How the Longmont lawsuits turn out could well determine the legal fate of other ballot initiatives up and down the Front Range, and determine whether hundreds of thousands of people have the right to defend themselves against these industrial activities in their communities.
"These communities are doing their best to avoid becoming like nearby Greeley," said Swain, "which has more than 400 wells already, and over 200 more likely to be drilled in the near future."
Take action: Send a message to Governor John Hickenlooper, telling him that state officials must stand up for public health and cut dangerous emissions from the fossil fuel industry.