Local Bans Set Up a Showdown Over Fracking in Colorado

While an initiative to require labeling of GMOs went down in defeat in Washington state, several Colorado towns voted to ban fracking within their borders. But the fight isn't over.

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Activists have moved to ban fracking town by town, but the effort faces legal challenges

The environment wasn’t a big issue on election day yesterday, but in Colorado, foes of fracking won a few small-scale victories on the ballot. The Colorado towns of Boulder, Fort Collins and Lafayette all voted in favor of amendments and initiatives that would place or keep a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. In Broomfield, another Colorado town that voted on a fracking amendment, the ban was rejected by a razor-thin margin. In Ohio similar bans failed in two of three cities—and the city the ban succeeded in, Oberlin, is a liberal college town with a little more than 8,000 people.

It’s not surprising that those relatively progressive Colorado towns would vote against fracking. Grassroots opposition to the process has been bubbling up for years, and a number of towns around the U.S. have passed laws to prevent fracking within their borders. What’s less clear is how meaningful those moratoriums will be.  Officials in Ohio and Colorado—where the Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper is so pro-fracking that he claims he once drank frack fluid—maintain that the state, not local government, has chief authority over oil and gas exploration. And the oil and gas industry has proven that it’s willing to challenge such local bans in court—the Colorado city of Longmont, which already imposed a fracking ban, is facing separate lawsuits over the moratorium from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and from Governor Hickenlooper.

Still, threats of lawsuits are unlikely to deter anti-fracking activists, for whom stopping the process has come to be more important than any other environmental issue. And given the fact that even President Obama doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with fracking—his new Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy recently told the Boston Globe that there was “nothing inherently dangerous” in fracking—such local efforts may be activists’ best hope, as SarahSam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the New York Times:

There’s no doubt that there are people concerned about being sued. It has a chilling effect. But the message I’ve gotten from people at the doors, is that this is worth getting sued over.