NEW YORK TIMES
Colorado Cities’ Rejection of Fracking Poses Political Test for Natural Gas Industry
‘With three Colorado cities approving bans or moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, the natural gas industry is being forced to re-examine its political strategy after a period of explosive growth and broad backing.’
A rally in Colorado Springs last year. Voters in Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette overwhelmingly approved antidrilling measures on Tuesday.
Published: November 7, 2013
- With three Colorado cities approving bans or moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, the natural gas industry is being forced to re-examine its political strategy after a period of explosive growth and broad backing.
Voters in Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette approved antifracking initiatives by wide margins on Tuesday, ignoring an industry campaign against the measures that cost at least $875,000. A fourth city, Broomfield, narrowly defeated a proposal for a five-year moratorium on drilling that uses hydraulic fracturing.
More than 100 municipalities have approved similar measures, according to a nonprofit industry monitor, FracTracker, and political opposition to fracking has grown in some areas, like Pennsylvania, where drilling has boomed. But experts say the Colorado votes have added significance because the state has long been a major oil and gas producer and a place where drilling has been both common and tolerated.
Hydraulic fracturing has had bipartisan political support at the highest levels in Colorado, including from its governor, John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist.
“It’s an important vote,” said Floyd Ciruli, a pollster and political analyst whose Denver firm advises clients on how to marshal public support for initiatives. “People here are concerned about the real impact of fracking — the effect on the air, the noise, the dust, contaminated groundwater.”
Voters may also have been influenced by flooding that swept fracking sites in north-central Colorado in September. Environmental damage was minimal, but the dramatic pictures of overturned tanks of drilling wastewater and inundated drilling pads amplified a continuing debate over the safety of fracking, said Sam Schabacker, a regional director of Food & Water Watch, an antifracking group in Colorado.
“There’s no doubt that seeing tanks floating down the Platte River, seeing oil spills spread out across floodwaters as they traveled toward agricultural land, had a significant impact,” he said. “It sure caused citizens to think twice.”
Mr. Ciruli said the approved measures were likely to prompt state legislators and Mr. Hickenlooper to consider tightening regulation of the shale gas industry, in part to blunt future efforts by antifracking groups to expand bans or moratoriums.
B. J. Nikkel, a former state representative and private consultant who led the industry’s public relations campaign, said opponents’ aim is clear. “Their real goal is to run a statewide ballot initiative,” she said. “These votes were the testing grounds for what it’s going to look like.”
Two of the three cities that restricted fracking — Lafayette and Boulder — are in Boulder County, a Democratic Party stronghold, Ms. Nikkel noted. Antifracking campaigns are likely to fare worse in more conservative regions, she said, as happened in Broomfield, which is less liberal.
Colorado voters stood in contrast to those in Youngstown and Bowling Green, Ohio, where initiatives to ban fracking were defeated. Voters in Oberlin, Ohio, a small university town near Cleveland, approved a fracking ban.
One analyst said, however, that the defeats in Ohio were clouded by other issues, including the cities’ struggling economies and concern that drilling bans might lead to higher utility bills.
Bowling Green’s City Council had voted in September to ban fracking within city limits. Voters appeared worried that the initiative, which would have inserted the ban into the city charter, was overly broad, said Andrew Kear, a political scientist at Bowling Green State University and a scholar of the politics of hydraulic fracturing in Ohio and in the Rocky Mountains.
Whether approved or defeated, he said, the increasing efforts by voters and municipalities to ban or regulate hydraulic fracturing are “putting it on the radar to politicians that at the local level there are some problems.”
Marty Durbin, the president of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a Washington-based industry group, said the Colorado votes presented a challenge to the industry to better educate the public about the economic benefits and technological advances of fracking.
“What Colorado tells us is that, yes, there are going to be pockets where the industry and elected officials in areas have to do more to raise the public’s comfort level,” Mr. Durbin said in an interview. But nationally, he said, “The trend has been nothing but positive.”
A September telephone survey of 1,506 people by the Pew Research Center suggested, however, that the industry’s challenges spread well beyond Colorado. The poll, which has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points, pointed to a sharp increase in public disapproval of fracking just since March.
Nationally, 49 percent of those who were polled opposed fracking, while 44 percent favored it, an 11 percentage-point increase in opposition. The share of those opposed rose regardless of age, sex, education level or place of residence. The one clear dividing line was political: Only 36 percent of Republicans who were polled disapproved of fracking, while 65 percent of Democrats opposed it.
A version of this article appears in print on November 8, 2013, on page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: Colorado Cities’ Rejection of Fracking Poses Political Test for Natural Gas Industry.
- Colorado voters tell fracking industry to frack off (grist.org)
- Colorado frackers pump out cash to ward off ballot initiatives (grist.org)
- Voters Ban Fracking in Cities With No Fracking (thecoloradoobserver.com)
- Colorado Cities’ Rejection of Fracking Poses Political Test for Natural Gas Industry (nytimes.com)
- Colorado Cities Fight Frackers (envirogeekblog.wordpress.com)
- Colorado frackers paying tiny fines for keeping chemicals secret (grist.org)
- Huge Election Victories for Colorado’s Anti-Fracking Movement (ecowatch.com)
- $900,000 spent on four Colorado anti-fracking measures before ballots counted (denverpost.com)