Colorado Anti-Fracking Activists Fall Short in Ballot Efforts

Government officials say petitions fall short of signatures required for state voters to weigh in on local control of fracking in the state.

Anti-fracking activists in Colorado tried to get two measures on the state ballot in November

The anti-fracking movement in Colorado aimed to get two measures on the state ballot this November. Credit: Earthworks, via Flickr

Two anti-fracking initiatives did not get enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, Colorado officials announced on Monday, giving the oil and gas industry its latest victory over communities seeking to exert local control over fracking.

This was the second time Coloradans concerned about the environmental, public health and economic impacts of hydraulic fracturing and related oil and gas activity have tried to restrict the industry through ballot initiatives. In 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper struck a last-minute political deal with the initiative's main sponsor, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, to stop the petition, offering instead to create a task force to address the issues.

But after recommendations proposed by that task force had largely failed to translate into legislative action and Colorado's high court struck down some local fracking bans, activists renewed the push for ballot measures.

This time, they collected more than the required number of signatures, 98,492, for each one, but the Colorado Secretary of State's office said not enough of the signatures were valid to qualify.

Proposed ballot initiative No. 75 would have amended Colorado's constitution to give communities more authority to regulate the oil and gas industry, including the power to temporarily ban fracking; meanwhile, ballot initiative No. 78 proposed that all oil and gas activity be set back 2,500 feet from homes, schools and other occupied structures. The state already mandates a 500-foot setback.

"Coloradans have sent a clear message that they don't want to resolve these complex issues at the ballot box," Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the trade group Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement. "The good news is that after this long and unnecessary battle, our state emerges as the winner."

Opponents of the two measures, including the oil and gas industry, raised more than $15 million and spent about a third of that money during the signature-collecting phase.

Support for the initiatives was spearheaded by a coalition of grassroots organizations. Larger state and national green groups, including Conservation Colorado, Earthworks, 350 Action, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club, offered a mix of financial and other support. (The Environmental Defense Fund is notably absent from this list.) The initiative's proponents collected less than $500,000 on the campaigns and spent roughly half.

"We may be disappointed today, but tomorrow we get back to work empowering communities and keeping fossil fuels in the ground," said Denver-based Greenpeace campaigner Diana Best in a statement. "This fight is far from over."

Conservation Colorado's executive director Pete Maysmith said the difference in money spent on the two sides of the issue highlights the power of the oil and gas industry and "the extraordinary lengths that they are willing to go to in order to keep the people of Colorado from being able to vote on issues affecting their own state."

The Secretary of State's office reviewed a random sampling of the submitted signatures and projected only 79,634 valid signatures for initiative No. 75 and 77,109 for No. 78. Duplicate signatures, forged signatures, signatures from people outside the state and signature forms with missing information could all be considered invalid. Campaign proponents have not yet said whether they will appeal; they have 30 days to challenge the state's decision.

Towns, counties and states across the country have had mixed success in banning fracking. While New York successfully banned the practice in December 2014, Texas and Oklahoma passed laws last year making it illegal for communities to halt local fracking activity.

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