Despite Pulling “State-Wide Ban,” Ballot Initiatives About Stopping Oil and Gas Development in Colorado
National activist organizations who have descended on Colorado to push anti-fracking ballot initiatives may have dropped a proposal for a statewide “ban” on hydraulic fracturing but they continue to press on with a number of other ballot initiatives that would end up having the same effect, and would be just as damaging to the state’s economy.
The group behind the measures, Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) – which has close ties to several national ban-fracking activist organizations including the Sierra Club, 350.org and Food & Water Watch – withdrew the initiative with a spokesperson telling the Denver Business Journal, they “still have plenty to work with.” As the Denver Business Journal reports:
“We’re going to pull the one that’s the ban, not the other ones,” Dyke told the Denver Business Journal on Friday. “We’re down to 10, but we still have plenty to work with.”
CREED Setbacks Would Setback Colorado’s Economy
Among the remaining initiatives CREED is pushing are a number of variations on increased setback proposals, which would essentially ban fracking.
A recent economic assessment of increased setbacks for oil and gas development commissioned by the Colorado Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CCSPR) and conducted by the Business Research Division at University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, found that CREED’s ballot initiatives, which include large setback requirements, could cost the state up to $11 billion in lost GDP a year and 62,000 jobs.
Modelling the impact of a 2,000 foot mandatory setback that would “curtail drilling locations by 25% to 50%,” which is actually more modest than any of the eight setback initiatives CREED has proposed, economists found:
“Given a 25% reduction in new production beginning in 2016, the economic consequence would result in a lower GDP by an average of $3 billion and 18,000 fewer jobs in the first five years, and a lower GDP by an average of $6 billion and 33,000 fewer jobs between 2015 and 2030.”
And the potential for a 50 percent drop in production would be even worse. Also from the report:
“Given a 50% reduction in new production beginning in 2016, the economic consequence would result in a lower GDP by an average of $5 billion and 33,000 fewer jobs in the first five years, and a lower GDP by an average of $11 billion and 62,000 fewer jobs between 2015 and 2030. Real disposable personal income decreases by $3 billion on average in the first five years.” (emphasis added)
Questions Abound Over Right to a Healthy Environment Initiative
Another CREED-backed initiative seeks to ban energy development by creating a state constitutional right “to a healthy environment.” But the sweeping implications of this initiative recently came under intense questioning during, a review and comment hearing where state attorneys with the Colorado Legislative Council raised a host of concerns about the measure including whether the initiative could even preempt efforts to protect the public from West Nile virus.
A memo prepared by Legislative Council staff and circulated at the hearing on Proposed Initiative #63, “concerning the right to a healthy environment,” makes it clear that the drafters didn’t think things through very carefully:
“How is the health of the environment to be assessed? Does the continued presence of life indicate a healthy environment? If so, what types of life must be present for the environment to be considered healthy?”
“Is the environment currently healthy? If not, when was the environment healthy?”
Ironically, along with the general confusion over the intent and sweeping impact of the measure, attorneys raised serious questions as to whether the proposal could have negative impacts on efforts to protect public health, using efforts to limit the spread of the “potentially deadly” mosquito-born West Nile virus that has afflicted many Colorado counties as an example. Also from the memo circulated at the hearing:
“For example, would spraying an area with an insecticide to temporarily eliminate or limit populations of mosquitos that carry West Nile virus violate the proposed initiative, even though doing so would protect human or mammalian health?”
Local Control Talking Point Comes Back
Anti-energy activists in Colorado have a long history of attempting to portray local governments as “powerless” when it comes to oil and gas development in our state. But the Colorado Municipal League has indicated that it sees things a bit differently. The group’s general counsel, Geoff Wilson, told Denver Post editorial page editor Vincent Carroll that local governments and the oil and gas industry are “doing better than we ever have.” From Carroll’s column:
“The idea that there is this seething cauldron of conflict between the industry and local governments, I just don’t buy it. Yes, you can find examples where things aren’t working out, and to me that’s just the noise of local government in operation. …
“I think we’re doing better than we ever have. You know, things were really awful in the early 1990s. The oil and gas companies weren’t very sophisticated in how they dealt with the local communities that were hosting their activity. And we in local government weren’t very knowledgeable about this industry. And both of those things have changed in the years since.”
So, if local governments and the oil and gas industry are “doing better than we ever have,” why do groups like CREED continue to push this concept? It is because national activist groups have found that they can get farther by dressing up their campaigns behind local sounding talking points even when banning fracking remains the goal. Even the aptly named Local Control Colorado admitted to activists in other states it was part of the national “ban fracking” campaign, while at the same time claiming to the Colorado news media “[t]his isn’t about banning fracking.”
The activists behind CREED may think that dropping their proposal for an outright ban on fracking will increase their chances at the ballot box. But it is likely that Coloradans, who polling shows overwhelmingly support oil and gas development, will understand that their goal remains the same, which as Complete Colorado recently reported, is a New York-style fracking ban in Colorado. In fact, CREED’s efforts are so extreme that the Greeley Tribune editorial board has compared the group’s actions of a “toddler” throwing a “temper tantrum.”