Earlier this year, I promised to report back on a prediction made by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who told a meeting of local business leaders that he does not expect to see a ballot initiative to limit fracking in 2016.
“I don’t think there will be something that will be funded to any significant extent, and therefore I don’t expect something to get on the ballot,” the governor said following a panel discussion on “Colorado’s Energy Future” in May.
But if an initiative doesn’t make the 2016 ballot, it won’t be for lack of trying. Earlier this month, Coloradans for Community Rights submitted ballot language calling for regulation of energy production at the local level. If the proposed language is approved, the group will need 99,000 valid signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot, and they plan to begin collecting signatures early next year.
Coloradans for Community Rights says its proposed amendment doesn’t ban anything – it simply “allows communities to decide for themselves free of corporate and state interference whether to allow corporate projects or enforce corporate standards that violate the community’s fundamental rights.”
But supporters of Colorado’s state-regulated energy industry, which directly and indirectly employs thousands of Coloradans and generates millions of dollars in tax revenue every year, are wary. Five Colorado communities – Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette and Longmont – have sought to ban fracking, with several of these challenges ending up in court. A similar initiative made it to the ballot in 2014, only to be withdrawn by backers at the last minute as part of a compromise engineered by Gov. Hickenlooper.
Colorado’s energy industry and its supporters need to renew their efforts to make the case for oil and gas production, its benefits to our state, and the health and environmental safeguards in place to ensure it’s done responsibly. Colorado already has some of the strictest state regulations on energy production in the country. Our state was first to impose tough regulations on methane release, first to require water sampling before and after drilling, and first to require companies to disclose all chemicals used in fracking fluid.
Gov. Hickenlooper may be proved right – if it lacks the financial support provided in 2014, this initiative effort may falter. But with oil prices rebounding slightly this month from their post-recession lows, Colorado energy producers will want to keep those wells producing – and it’s essential they continue to earn public trust and the “social license” to operate. That means listening to citizen concerns and sharing the facts – early and often.