Broomfield voters gave a 57 percent edge to giving local government more say-so on whether oil-and-gas wells are safety and healthy. At the very least it was a major moral victory for opponents of the oil-and-gas industry in the fast-developing countryside north of Denver.
Industry and business coalitions on the right, and environmental groups on the left together spent and estimated $500,000 in direct campaign spending and community organizing around Question 301.
And now both sides are bound to spend more money on legal fees once the ballots and victory party festivities are packed away.
Broomfield residents made a statement about how they feel about oil-and-gas development close to homes and businesses, but it the win could come with costly results for taxpayers. If history is any guide, industry will follow through on threats to take the city to court.
In June, city attorney Bill Tuthill warned proponents that the amendment would be difficult to defend, and now it’s job to defend it. He read from a statute that said the city charter couldn’t repeal vested property or contract rights, such as those that accompany wells and mineral rights.
“In the simplest terms, this statute says you can’t undo a contract by passing a city charter amendment,” he said.
Meanwhile, Monday night the Lafayette City Council passed a six-month moratorium that’s likely headed to court at taxpayers’ expense.
Fracking has fought and won before in these parts before.
Fort Collins, Longmont and (in 1992) Greeley have tried to regulate or ban oil-and-gas drilling, but the State Supreme Court turned them back. Lower courts thwarted Boulder and Larimer counties’ attempts.
Jim Alexee, executive director of the Colorado Sierra Club, noted on Election night that his side was outspent 10 to 1 in the fracking fight in Broomfield.
“Voters saw through the oil and gas industry’s corrosive, corrupt influence on our politics,” he said. “Together, individuals from across the political spectrum voted to stand with scientists and Colorado families by voting for a commonsense, bipartisan fracking solution.”
He called the win “a shot across the bow” for the oil and gas industry.
“Over the past several years, the oil and gas industry has spent over $80 million dollars to influence public opinion,” he said of the amount oil-and-gas interests have invested in public outreach in Colorado. “It’s clear that Coloradans have grown tired of their deception.”
Vital for Colorado, a broad business coalition that supports energy development, indicated litigation is inevitable.
“Question 301 was the fourth political fight in Broomfield just this year, and anti-oil and gas groups lost the first three contests,” Vital for Colorado chairman and CEO Peter Moore said. “They pushed a temporary oil and gas ban, organized a recall election, and tried to derail a new agreement that allows continued energy development in Broomfield – and all these efforts failed.
“At best, Question 301 — which flies in the face of state law by declaring ‘plenary authority’ over oil and gas permitting decisions — will trigger lawsuits and force Broomfield taxpayers to waste large sums of public money on litigation.”