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Fort Collins Ground Zero For Fracking Fight On Front Range

Grace Hood
A workover rig performs remedial work on an existing water injection well just inside Fort Collins city limits, Oct. 22.

Voters in four Colorado communities — Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette and Fort Collins — will weigh measures this November seeking to ban or limit the practice of hydraulic fracturing. So far, the largest battle is taking place in Fort Collins, home to about 150,000 people.

On a recent Saturday, Kelly Giddens traveled door to door with flyers and a clipboard to make her pitch for Ballot Issue 2A.  

“This is really not about banning energy. We’re not trying to turn people’s lights out,” said the campaign organizer for Citizens for Healthy Fort Collins. “We’re just trying to make sure our kids don’t wind up sick. We think if there’s problems, we need to talk about the issues.”

Proponents like Giddens say more research is needed on the health and environmental impacts of fracking. Opponents like Campaign Chair for the Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy Ray Martinez argue that the measures are hurtful to the economy – and could invite lengthy legal action.

“The real lesson to be learned is that Longmont is now getting sued and they’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation, which is exactly what they were warned about would happen if this passed,” Martinez said.

"We think if there's problems, we need to talk about the issues."

The city of Longmont is actually engaged in two lawsuits after voters passed a fracking ban in 2012.

Industry Concerns

Black Diamond Minerals LLC is one of two companies that have current operating agreements with the city of Fort Collins. CEO Scott Hall says the moratorium voters are looking at, 2A, would prevent him from developing his mineral rights.

“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,” Hall said. “Let alone the potential opportunity.”

The second company with a Fort Collins operating agreement is Prospect Energy LLC. Black Diamond used to own Prospect, but sold it in early October to Memorial Production Partners LP.

Meantime, Noble Energy CEO Chuck Davidson told attendees at a recent natural gas conference that it’s a “false choice” that voters have to decide between health and jobs.

Backing the industry is the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. They are spending heavily to oppose 2A, contributing more than $250,000 to the Fort Collins Alliance for Reliable Energy. It’s the largest single donation it’s made this year to an opposition group.

"The real lesson to be learned is that Longmont is now getting sued."

City Council Opposes Moratorium

Fort Collins established a ban on new oil and gas activity in 2013, but later passed exemptions for two companies due to concerns about litigation.

Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak explains that companies with operating agreements — Prospect and Black Diamond — are required to operate under rules that go beyond state regulations like stricter controls of gas released from fields.

“That would be null and void if this ordinance goes into effect,” Horak said.

It’s one of several reasons why Fort Collins City Council members narrowly passed a resolution against 2A on a 4-3 vote.

Back on the canvassing trail, the council’s opinion isn’t stopping Kelly Giddens from giving up her weekends to get the word out about Issue 2A.

Giddens explained to Fort Collins resident Alex Vanderheiden what she says is an important forthcoming health study by the state set to be released in 2016.

“We are wanting to wait until that’s over before we make a decision about whether to let fracking into our community,” Giddens explained.

After listening to Gidden’s pitch, Vanderheiden says she’s leaning toward supporting 2A, but hasn’t filled out her ballot yet.

“I honestly don’t know a lot about it and don’t know how it affects me personally,” Vanderheiden said.

The battle to win over undecided voters will only intensify in the coming weeks. Ballots are due by 7 p.m. on Nov. 5.

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