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To frack or not to frack? —Courtesy of Shutterstock

Fracking Battles Heat Up Again

A proposed initiative would put local control on the ballot in November.

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After all the angst and accusations about fracking we’ve witnessed in Colorado over the past several years, we could be right back where we started.

A group called Coloradans for Community Rights is attempting to gather enough signatures to put an initiative on the ballot that would grant more local control to communities where fracking is or could be happening within their borders. The measure is called the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, or Initiative 40, and the group needs to gather about 100,000 signatures by August to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

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This contentious and prolonged battle over where fracking should be allowed to occur peaked in 2014. That’s when anti-fracking groups led, in part, by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) worked out a deal with Governor John Hickenlooper’s administration to set up a task force that would study fracking’s impacts and implications and make policy recommendations for the practice.

The whole point of the task force was to head off ballot initiatives like these. But the group’s well-intended efforts have often created more frustrations for oil and gas developers and concerned communities alike, primarily because there isn’t an obvious one-size-fits-all solution that would satisfy everyone.

Since 2014, the debate around fracking has morphed into a few different directions. Courts have struck down attempts by towns such as Longmont, Lafayette, and Fort Collins to ban fracking outright, which is a primary driver behind Initiative 40. Meanwhile, plummeting global oil prices have diminished fracking’s once-robust economic promise, forcing drilling companies to suspend or cancel some operations or lay off workers. And environmental activists have questioned whether the practice is causing “man-made earthquakes” near drilling sites in states such as Oklahoma and Kansas. Last month, the Sierra Club filed a federal lawsuit against several companies, alleging that their waste disposal techniques are endangering public health.

Even when Polis, Governor Hickenlooper, and the other interested parties were celebrating their 2014 compromise, the deal always seemed fragile at best. It’s too early to handicap Initiative 40’s chances of passing, but if its backers can get it on the ballot, the presidential election will guarantee that a significant number of Coloradans will get to weigh in on it. If we can be certain of anything at this point, it’s that some or many aspects of this issue will once again end up in a courtroom.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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—Courtesy of Shutterstock

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