Voters To Weigh In On Fracking In Colorado

A contentious and costly battle is taking shape in Colorado around the practice of hydraulic fracturing. In November, four communities will vote on local ballot issues seeking to limit or ban fracking. A similar measure is on the ballot in Ohio. Proponents say they're worried about health and environmental effects of the practice.

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Voters in communities in Ohio and Colorado will decide measures this coming Tuesday that would ban or limit the practice of hydraulic fracturing. Across the U.S., campaigns questioning the health and safety of fracking for natural gas are heating up. Grace Hood of member station KUNC reports on the effort in Fort Collins, Colorado.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Most look forward to having some downtime over the weekend, but not Kelly Giddens.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

KELLY GIDDENS: Hi. My name's Kelly. I'm with Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: OK.

GIDDENS: We're the ones that ran the petition on the five-year moratorium on fracking. Did you hear about that?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah, I did.

HOOD: A campaign organizer, Giddens spent a recent Saturday delivering flyers door-to-door to get the word out about Ballot Issue 2-A. The moratorium would be in addition to restrictions the city council passed earlier this year on hydraulic fracturing.

GIDDENS: This is really not about banning energy. We're not trying to turn people's lights out.

HOOD: A mother of four, Giddens says she's worried about the health implications of living nearby fracking operations.

GIDDENS: We're just trying to make sure that our kids don't wind up sick, you know. And we think that if there's problems, we need to talk about the issues.

RAY MARTINEZ: To me, in a nutshell, what it boils down to is you are asking the voters to vote for a lawsuit.

HOOD: Ray Martinez is campaign chair for the Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy, which opposes the measure. Martinez says the moratorium could invite legal action. He cites the recent example of Longmont, Colorado, where citizens banned fracking in 2012.

MARTINEZ: And they're paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation, which is exactly what they were warned about would happen if this passed. And they got it.

HOOD: The city of Longmont is actually engaged in two lawsuits. Across the country, citizens are pressing for local limits on hydraulic fracturing. That's according to Mark Schlosberg with Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group that's coordinating anti-fracking efforts from New York to California.

MARK SCHLOSBERG: You know, really, everywhere in between, communities are coming together to try to protect themselves from fracking. Three-hundred-eighty-three communities nationally have passed measures against fracking, and that number continues to grow.

HOOD: Food and Water Watch financially contributed to the Colorado groups seeking to place limits on fracking this fall. At a recent natural gas conference in Colorado, the economic consequences of the ballot measures were a topic of discussion. Scott Hall is CEO of Black Diamond Minerals, one of two companies that have operating agreements with the city of Fort Collins.

He says a moratorium would prevent him from developing leased mineral rights, a loss that could cost millions, possibly tens of millions of dollars.

SCOTT HALL: And if I can't drill and I can't develop, I've really taken a tremendous loss on just trying to lease that - the money I've already put into it, let alone the potential opportunity.

HOOD: The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is spending heavily to oppose ballot measures in four communities across the state. For Kelly Giddens, it's one more reason why she's giving up her weekends to get the word out about the fracking moratorium.

GIDDENS: So there's a state study coming out mid-2016 that's going to study some of the effects, and we are wanting to wait until that's over before we make a decision about whether to let fracking in our community.

HOOD: After listening to Giddens' pitch, Fort Collins resident Alex Vanderheiden says she's leaning toward supporting the measure, but hasn't filled out her mail-in ballot yet.

ALEX VANDERHEIDEN: Quite honestly, I don't know a lot about it, and don't know how it really affects me personally. So I haven't gotten that involved in it.

HOOD: Vanderheiden will have to decide by Tuesday, November 5th. In Ohio, voters in two cities will also weigh bans, and fracking opponents in California are increasingly targeting local governments after a push for a statewide moratorium was unsuccessful earlier this year. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Fort Collins, Colorado.

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