Colorado Voters Won’t Get To Decide On New Fracking Rules

Fracking has boomed in Colorado in the past decade, worrying environmental advocates. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BRENNAN LINSLEY
Fracking has boomed in Colorado in the past decade, worrying environmental advocates. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/BRENNAN LINSLEY

After celebrating a last-ditch effort earlier this month to put fracking regulations on the November ballot, Colorado environmental groups were dealt a blow on Monday when Secretary of State Wayne Williams ruled not enough of the submitted signatures were valid.

Under Colorado law, 98,492 valid signatures — 5 percent of the number of votes cast for the office of Colorado secretary of state in the most recent election— are required to get a measure on the ballot. The state then verifies a random sample of submitted signatures and calculates the overall validity of the submission.

In this case, the state audit found that support for Initiatives 75 and 78 fell short. Organizers on Monday said they would review the ruling and determine whether to challenge the state’s decision in court.

“We want to assure our volunteers and supporters that we are as committed as ever to giving the residents of Colorado a say this November on whether their communities can regulate fracking,” Tricia Olson, executive director of Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking, said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress. “Today’s announcement is not the final action on this issue as countless residents are now committed to protecting their children’s schools, parks, and homes.”

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, is a method of extracting oil and gas from underground shale. Large volumes of sandy, chemical-laden water are injected at high pressure into the shale, breaking it up and allowing oil and gas deposits to escape. Waste water from fracking often cannot be re-used, and is injected back into the ground. The practice has been associated with methane leaks, earthquakes, water contamination, and air quality deterioration.

If passed, Initiative 75 would have changed the state constitution to allow local governments to regulate oil and gas development, including putting fracking bans in place. The state Supreme Court previously ruled that a local fracking ban was unconstitutional in Colorado.

Initiative 78 would have required oil and gas production to be at least 2,500 feet from houses, schools, and other buildings. At that distance, the setback would have rendered 95 percent of the land in Colorado’s most productive counties unusable for oil and gas extraction.

The initiative was supported by 57 percent of Colorado voters, with 30 percent against and 13 percent undecided, according to polling results quoted by supporters.

But it’s hard to say whether those numbers would have survived a media onslaught in advance of November’s vote. The initiatives were strongly opposed by an oil and gas industry group, which staged a first-of-its-kind “Don’t Sign” campaign in the months leading up to the submission deadline. Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) ran a series of anti-ballot measure ads, urging people to “decline to sign.” The group has spent at least $10 million since 2013 on pro-fracking messaging.

In addition, the oil and gas industry had been ramping up its opposition and was prepared for a well-funded, aggressive fight, said Dan Grossman of the Environmental Defense Fund, which did not take a position on the measures.

Some green groups were concerned about the initiatives, Politico reported earlier this month. A high-profile ballot-box defeat could hurt efforts to negotiate broader fracking regulations, and the schism within the Democratic party over fracking regulations could have made it awkward for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Clinton has been in favor of allowing local jurisdictions to pass fracking bans, but environmentalists have also noted concern over her close ties to the natural gas industry.

Supporters of the initiatives were unbowed.

“The ‘Decline to Sign’ campaign only served to highlight the industry’s stranglehold on the state government,” said Suzanne Spiegel, a member of Frack Free Colorado. “The actions of the industry have only served to galvanize supporters.”