Boulder votes to extend its moratorium on fracking

By Kendall Brunette

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” continues to spark controversy across the country.  In Boulder, Colo., however, more than three-fourths of the city’s voting population seem to agree on the issue.

Tuesday, Boulder residents voted to extend the current moratorium on fracking through June 2018 with the passing of Boulder Ballot Question 2H.  2H passed by 77.94 percent.  22,673 voters agreed to extend the moratorium, while a mere 6,417 voters – 22.06 percent – opposed the measure.

City Council can interrupt the moratorium after June 2016 with a two-thirds vote.

campaign pins

Pieces of the 2013 Boulder Election
Photo by Kendall Brunette

Fracking is a natural gas drilling technology that uses sand, water and chemicals injected at high pressure to blast open shale rock and release trapped natural gas.

Proponents of fracking claim the technology is not harmful to human health, water or air quality.

B.J. Nikkel, an oil and gas industry spokesperson, said in a recent Boulder Weekly article, “I see no real information that shows me definitively that there are cases cited, legitimate cases cited, as issues with any health effects. I really believe it’s hype.”

Nikkel, along with 22.06 percent of Boulder voters, claim fracking technology has been safely used for decades. Those who voted to strike down Boulder’s moratorium list loss of revenue, mineral royalties, jobs and energy independence as consequences of 2H’s passing.

These assumed consequences, however, were overshadowed Tuesday night by voters’ worries about public health and environmental safety.  The vote to extend Boulder’s fracking moratorium allows more time for research on fracking’s human and environmental impacts.

“Boulder voters were very clear about how they felt,” said Gary Sorcher of New Era Colorado Foundation.

Sorcher is the voter registration and campus outreach coordinator for New Era, a  multi-issue organization committed to engaging, educating, and training a new generation of active citizens and young leaders in Colorado.

Sorcher said New Era’s mission is to get young people involved in politics and democracy.  After Tuesday night’s election, he feels the group successfully completed their mission.

On election day, Sorcher personally drove 140 young people to the polls.  He says the organization, as a whole, brought even more young people to the polls.

New Era was one of the many campaign groups involved in the 2013 election.  Several other groups including, Frack Free Colorado, Clean Water Action, Yes on 2H and East Boulder County United campaigned in favor of 2H.

Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) worked to strike down 2H, but to no avail.

According to Broomfield Enterprise, COGA donated $600,000 to the fight against fracking bans throughout Colorado’s Front Range.  Voters in Lafayette and Fort Collins passed similar bans Tuesday.  Broomfield voters appear to have voted down a fracking ban, but a recount is likely, as the moratorium failed by only 13 votes as of Wednesday morning.

The Boulder Daily Camera spoke with East Boulder County United’s Cliff Willmeng, who led the fight against fracking in Lafayette.

Willmeng said, “The voters are saying that they don’t buy the idea that corporate interests are superior to public health, property values, quality of life and democratic self-determination.”

The Daily Camera also reported strong reactions from Russell Mendell, director of Frack Free Colorado.

“Today Colorado residents have shown that they can decide for themselves whether or not they want fracking in their communities,” Mendell said.  “(The industry’s) millions will not change that.”

Oil and gas representatives say the outcome of the election is insignificant because the cities that banned fracking have little or no oil and gas production.  According to National Geographic, the industry is not surprised by the results.

Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, referred to the election results as largely symbolic – emphasizing the fact that there is no proposed oil or gas development in Boulder or Lafayette, and that there is only one small operator in Fort Collins.

For now, Boulder’s fracking moratorium remains in effect.  The next few years will serve as an opportunity for researchers to dig deeper into fracking’s impact on human and environmental health with the hopes of providing solid data that will guide future policy decisions.

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