Colorado fracking ballot initiatives clear signature threshold

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Colorado campaigners have secured enough signatures to get two initiatives that would place restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the state on the November ballot.

The measures need 86,105 signatures by Aug. 4, and Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy said it has well surpassed that mark. The effort, bankrolled in part by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., has roiled Colorado politics, where sitting Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall are both trying to win re-election.

"Collecting nearly 100,000 signatures on each measure in just five weeks' time proves the overwhelming support amongst Colorado voters for common-sense protections against roughshod fracking," said Mara Sheldon, spokeswoman with Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy.

Initiative 88, which would increase setbacks from existing buildings by four times the current level to 2,000 feet, has netted 98,227 signatures. Initiative 89, in which the most restrictive of fracking laws takes precedent when state and local ones conflict — thereby maintaining the possibility of outright bans some Colorado communities have enacted — has 96,791 signatures.

Hickenlooper last week decided to shelve a special legislative session to vote on new regulations designed to stave off the ballot measures. Udall soon after came out against the ballot initiatives -- a move that generated barbs from GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, Udall's GOP opponent and a critic of the ballot measures from the outset.

Much of the oil and gas industry shifted its financial support from Udall to Gardner in the second quarter, according to a Wall Street Journal report that drew from data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Udall had snagged $201,550 from the oil and gas industry in the first quarter to Gardner's $79,300, though Gardner announced his Senate candidacy in late February. Since April, those figures have flipped -- Gardner hauled in $223,600 from the industry, compared with $41,460 for Udall.

Gardner also has been making gains in the polls. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week has Gardner besting Udall 44 percent to 42 percent, with 10 percent of voters undecided. A Gravis Marketing poll, also released last week, showed Gardner with a four-percentage point lead -- 47 percent to 43 percent. Both polls carried a 3 percent margin of error and surveyed more than 1,100 registered voters.

The ballot initiatives' detractors have said they would produce a chilling effect on investment within the state. Oil companies that operate within and outside of the state have banded together to defeat the measures.

Karen Crummy, a spokeswoman with pro-fracking group Protect Colorado — which itself is sponsoring a pair of ballot measures that have garnered more than 100,000 signatures — said Polis' efforts run contrary to the state's interests.

"The governor, a U.S. senator and a Colorado Supreme Court justice all agree on one thing: Congressman Polis’ radical measures fail to balance environmental and health concerns with responsible energy development, would kill jobs and erode private property rights. When does the congressman start worrying about the people of the state of Colorado and stop pushing his personal agenda?" she told the Washington Examiner.

Polis and boosters of initiatives 88 and 89 have said they are concerned about possible drinking water contamination from fracking, a drilling method that injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to tap hydrocarbons buried deep underground. The prevalence of fracking sites also has decreased property values, they contend.

Polis, for his part, said he would have dropped support for the ballot initiatives had the Colorado state legislature come to an agreement on new regulations. He accused oil and gas companies that don't operate in Colorado, along with the American Petroleum Institute, of spoiling the appetite for a compromise.

"Unfortunately, special interests and out-of-state organizations, worried only about politics and partisanship, turned this into a battle of personal attacks and scare tactics. Now, as it has become clear that the path to passing a legislative compromise has been obstructed, we must turn to the people of Colorado to solve this problem," Polis said last week.

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Zack Colman

Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner

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