Untangling Colorado’s Web of Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives

NoFrackingColorado voters who try to figure out all the proposed statewide ballot initiatives to regulate drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) are in for a real challenge. So far, fully eleven ballot initiatives have been proposed on the subject, with many of them extremely similar to each other.

It’s tempting to think the oil and gas industry filed some of them to confuse voters and try to pass a watered-down measure, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So far all of the initiatives filed seem to have been brought by people who truly want more serious regulation of the energy industry, or who are trying to gain an advantage over Colorado’s legal and regulatory regimen, which favors corporate dominance over the desires of residents.

Here’s a rundown on what is known so far about Colorado’s slew of proposed anti-fracking ballot measures.

Initiatives Galore

So far, eleven measures have been proposed. Two of them are from true, verfiable grassroots sources, and the other nine are from a single source that appears to be a professionally-managed and well-funded political effort.

Initiative #75, “Right to Local Self-Government,” also called the “Community Rights Amendment,” (pdf) is a constitutional amendment which has passed the title-setting hurdle and is on its way towards the signature gathering phase. #75 is being cast as a groundbreaking citizens’ civil rights measure in an age corporate dominance. It would give counties, cities and towns the absolute right to ban any noxious, for-profit enterprise within their borders, including things like hazardous waste dumps, factory farms and GMO crops as well as drilling and fracking. A 2014 pro-drilling report issued by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico called “Energy New Mexico,” (pdf), warns that the Community Rights movement is “the beginning of a social movement that is greater than just the oil and gas industry” and that it “is a potential game-changer for all of corporate America.” The main proponents of #75 are Cliff Willmeng of Lafayette, and a guy named Lotus (just one name) from Colorado Springs. They are easy to contact by phone and will talk your ear off about their initiative for as long as you care to chat.

Initiative #82 – “Local Control of Oil and Gas Development” is also constitutional amendment introduced by a group called “Local Control Colorado,” headed by Laura Fronkiewicz of Broomfield. Initiative #82 has passed the title-setting hurdle and is on its way to getting the petition format approved. It would let cities and towns regulate the time, place and methods used for drilling, and would also permit jurisdictions to ban or enact moratoriums on drilling. Ms. Fronkiewicz, who is easy to get a hold of on the phone, says the push to get #82 on the ballot is a grassroots effort and is funded by a broad base of small, $5 and $10 donations. She says people in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Loveland, who have been successful at getting anti-fracking measures passed at their local ballot boxes, are behind it.

Initiative #85 – “Mandatory Setbacks of Oil and Gas Wells,” requires a minimum setback distance for drilling rigs from any occupied structures, with a proposed distance of 1,500 feet, although there is no science so far that clearly specifies a safe distance from a drilling rig.

Initiative #86 has the exact same title and wording as #85, but proposes a minimum setback of 2,000 feet.

Initiative #87 has exactly the same title and wording as #85, but proposes setback of 2,640 feet.

Initiative #88 has the same title as #85, but proposes a minimum setback distance of “at least” 2,000 feet.

Initiative #89, called “Local Government Regulation of Environment,” officially designates state and local governments as trustees of clean air, pure water and the natural and scenic values of Colorado’s land. It gives local governments the power to enact laws, regulations and ordinances more restrictive and protective of the environment than those adopted by state government.

Initiative #90, titled “Local Government Control of Oil and Gas Development Including Hydraulic Fracturing” gives local governments the right to adopt regulations on oil and gas development, including fracking, that are more restrictive than state regulations. It includes the ability to out-and-out prohibit drilling and fracking. This measure contains a clause saying such regulations will not constitute “a taking of private property.”

Initiative #91 is very similar to, and has the exact same title as #90, but does not contain the “not a taking” clause about private property. It says local governments can enact regulations stricter and more protective than state government regulations.

Initiative #92 has exactly the same title as #90, says local governments can regulate oil and gas development including fracking, and that such regulations can be stricter than state regulations. Initiative #90 also says such development “may impact property value,” public health, safety and welfare. It does not contain the clause saying such regulation “is not a taking of private property.”

Initiative #93 has the same name and is very similar to #90, but contains the “not a taking” of private property clause.

Initiatives #85-93 are all constitutional amendments, their titles have all been set and they are awaiting approval of a petition format.

Nine Ballot Initiatives from One Source

Initiatives #85-93 were all filed by Caitlyn Leahy of Lafayette, Colorado, who is listed as the primary proponent for all of them.

Who is Caitlyn Leahy?

LinkedIn says she is Fundraising and Events Coordinator for Colorado’s U.S. House Representative Jared Polis, who represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. Multiple inquiries to Jared Polis’ campaign headquarters and congressional offices to verify Caitlyn Leahy’s relationship to Rep. Polis have gone unanswered.

Congressman Polis is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and one of the top ten richest members of Congress with a net worth of about $67 million. He represents the Colorado communities that successfully passed fracking bans at the local ballot box, including Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield, and Fort Collins.

Unlike the state’s listed proponents for initiatives #75 and #82 — who are all very easy to reach on the phone and eager to discuss their initiatives  — Ms. Leahy is flat-out impossible to reach to discuss initiatives #85-93. Repeated voicemails left for her went unanswered. The secondary listed proponent for initiatives #85-93 is Gregory Diamond, who is similarly impossible to reach. Calls to both were returned by a third person named Rick Ridder, who works for RBI Strategies, a political consulting firm that represents “Coloradans for Local Control,” the group backing initiative #85. (Not be confused with “Local Control Colorado,” which backs Initiative #82).

Mr. Ridder says the nine ballot initiatives his group has introduced resulted from a “broad interest coming out of the lawsuits” brought by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission against cities that have banned fracking. The subtle differences in language between them, he says, gives them an opportunity to look for “potential conflicts.” He says they they “may pick one, two or three” of them to advance to the ballot box. Ridder also said “This is a response to the state taking communities to task” over their fracking bans. When asked if Rep. Polis was affiliated with any of the nine ballot initiatives, Mr. Ridder would not give a clear answer.

So far, despite publicly conveying his strong feelings about drilling and local control, Rep. Polis has not publicly endorsed any of the eleven proposed ballot initiatives.

Jared Polis: The Anti-Fracking Congressman

Congressman Polis has vowed to do everything he possibly can to empower people against energy companies setting up drilling rigs where people live, work and play.

The issue is personal for Rep. Polis.

Last year a drilling rig set up just 50 feet from the driveway of his vacation home near the quiet farming community of Berthoud, in Weld County, Colorado. Rep. Polis and his family were subjected to the noise, smell and lights from the rig 24/7.

The activity was so noxious, it drove them out.

After that, Rep. Polis got serious in his battle against intrusive drilling rigs.

In July, 2013 he published an op-ed in the Denver Post titled “Frack is a Four Letter Word,” and vowed “to pursue every avenue available to me to stop this from ruining my home.” But Polis soon found out just how powerless Coloradans are to fight fracking activity under the state’s current regulatory regime. He observed, “…Oil and gas has all the rights in Weld County.”

Polis filed a legal complaint and sought a temporary restraining order against Sundance Energy, the company that owned the rig near his Berthod home, but later withdrew it because the law mandates such disputes be heard before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission before they can go to the courts.

Polis succeeded in getting a $26,000 fine levied against Sundance Energy for violating a buffer zone, but he declared the amount insufficient.

None of the above proposed initiatives have been approved for the ballot yet, but despite this, Coloradans for Local Control, the group Polis is believed to be affiliated with, has started running a 30-second TV ad promoting local control of oil and gas drilling:

Backed by ominous, tinkly piano music in a minor key, the ad shows drilling rigs set up very close to homes, schools and playgrounds. A woman’s voice says, “Would you want to live here? Want your kids to play here, next to a fracking rig? Fracking can occur just 501 feet from businesses, playgrounds, even your home, and right now you and your neighbors can’t stop it. With local control of oil and gas drilling, you have the tools to protect your neighborhood.” The ad does not include any call to action, like signing a petition or making a phone call.

So far, none of the two verifiable grassroots groups trying to get initiatives passed have produced any television ads, or any ads at all, but are cultivating support through websites, Facebook, outreach around the state and word of mouth.

Stay tuned for the next update on the fracking wars in Colorado.

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