Oil and Gas Industry, Locals Battle Over Fracking in Colorado

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The battle for the future of oil and gas drilling in the United States is playing out in Colorado, as both the industry and environmental groups step up efforts to beat back the other side. Both sides have claimed successes as public policy seesaws back and forth.

Colorado boasts vast oil and gas resources. The Niobrara shale is thought to have nearly 2 billion barrels of oil. Just as places like the Bakken and Eagle Ford have boomed because of improved drilling technology over the last half decade or so, the Niobrara in Colorado has the industry rushing in. From 2007 to 2012, Colorado’s oil production increased 89 percent, and its natural gas production climbed by 38 percent.

But just like other states that experienced a drilling boom, many local residents don’t like it. There are an estimated 52,000 active wells in the state, so there is no question that the drilling presence is being felt by local communities. Several high-profile voter referendums on fracking bans highlight the growing backlash. The towns of Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Longmont passed fracking moratoriums within city limits in November, moves that the industry is seeking to overturn in court. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association filed a lawsuit against Fort Collins and Lafayette, calling the bans illegal.

Voter initiatives seem to be multiplying quickly. Colorado residents have proposed 17 ballot initiatives to ban fracking, or to at least give localities the right to decide. Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has supported local control. The stakes are only set to rise later this year with the potential for a statewide ballot initiative that, if approved, would give localities the ability to decide whether they would allow fracking — a prospect that the industry obviously fiercely opposes.

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