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Colorado fracking opponents hoping for showdown in November

Environmentalists in Colorado are looking for a gusher of signatures in order to deter oil-and-gas fracking, but time is running out.

Supporters of initiatives now circulating in Colorado say the process known as fracking - formally known as hydraulic fracturing - poses a threat to human health, drinking water and property values. But initiative opponents describe fracking as an advancement that has driven the nation toward energy independence while fueling economic growth.

Initiative supporters have  until Aug. 8 to submit more than 98,000 valid signatures to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office in order to qualify for the November election ballot.

Opposition to fracking has mobilized environmentalists in other states as well. Last year, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation banned the technique, which uses high volumes of chemical-containing liquid under high pressure to extract oil and natural gas from underground shale and other rock formations.

An anti-fracking initiative also won a place on the November ballot in California’s Monterey County.

In Colorado, the proposals circulating that would affect fracking including Initiative 75, which would give local governments options to protect communities from damage associated with fracking, and Initiative 78, which would create a buffer zone of 2,500 feet around residential developments, schools, hospitals and other sensitive areas where no new oil and gas development could take place.

In May, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against some cities’ attempts to limit oil and gas development within their boundaries, concluding that the state’s power to oversee the industry supersedes the local laws.

Initiative supporters could not offer an estimate of how many signatures had been gathered so far, but they said that they were optimistic that enough signatures would be collected by the Aug. 8 deadline.

The impacts to human health from fracking emissions include cases of headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds among those who live around drilling sites, said Lauren Petrie, the Rocky Mountain region director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch.

Water use by the industry is another huge issue, Petrie told AMI Newswire.  “They use millions of gallons of water that becomes permanently contaminated. Colorado experiences wildfires, and we need to have enough of it.”

Opposing the initiatives is the group Protect Colorado, which is carrying out an anti-signing campaign. Spokeswoman Karen Crummy told AMI Newswire that if measures 75 and 78 pass, more than 90 percent of all future oil and gas development in the state would become off limits.  “That means the entire industry (in the state) would go under,” Crummy said.

According to Protect Colorado statistics, the oil and gas industry puts about $30 billion into the state’s economy annually and provides more than 100,000 jobs.

But Petrie said the dire economic predictions floated by initiative detractors are overblown. “That’s a famous industry fear-mongering tactic.”

The oil and gas industry has been laying off people in Colorado because weak demand and lower prices, she said, adding that the industry was unreliable in terms of providing a stable employment base.  “The only way to get security is to go toward wind and solar power.”

Crummy contends that the charges about water pollution and dangers to oil industry workers by fracking opponents are not supported by sound science. Major studies by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Yale University have shown no contamination of water supplies has occurred as a result of fracking.

The American Petroleum Institute’s website states that no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from fracking have been identified as a result of the operations of one million wells over the past six decades.

Fracking opponents, however, point to a 2015 study of water samples from homes in Bradford County in Pennsylvania that were shown to contain traces of a substance found in oil drilling fluids. Industry officials have disputed the study’s conclusions.

Crummy also played down fracking opponents’ contention that the practice has resulted in low-level earthquakes.  “A lot of it has to do with where you live and the geology,” she said, indicating that changes in industry environmental regulations have resulted in no such seismic incidents happening recently in Colorado.

Initiative supporters, however, point to U.S. Geological Survey estimates that thousands of quakes have occurred as a result of some oil and gas drilling projects, though so far most of these have been too small to notice without sensitive equipment. Much of this investigation centers on oil development in Oklahoma.

Supporters also say that a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study has revealed excessive dangers to oil and gas industry workers in the field. That study states that deaths for those involved in oil and gas extraction have a death rate that is seven times the average for American workers.

The anti-fracking initiative banning oil and gas development close to schools and residences would harm property rights in Colorado, Crummy said. Making so many properties off-limits to future development would deal a blow to 600,000 landowners in the state who own mineral rights, including farmers and ranchers, and lead to numerous lawsuits, she said.

Fracking opponents, however, offer a different take. They say that negative impacts from the industry’s wells create air and noise pollution near neighborhoods, as well as truck traffic and other dangers, leading to depressed property values.