Elections, Energy, Environment, Politics

Anti-fracking ballot measure would ban drilling across Colorado, state maps confirm

A few weeks ago, this column carried a warning: The anti-fracking measures proposed for the 2016 statewide ballot are more extreme than ever.

Now, state officials have released a report and a series of maps confirming the devastating impact of the anti-fracking agenda in Colorado if it ever becomes law. Just one of these ballot measures, which would prohibit oil and natural gas development within 2,500 feet of any occupied buildings or “areas of special concern,” effectively bans drilling across the state.

Roughly 90 percent of land across Colorado would be walled off, with an even greater impact in the handful of counties where most of the state’s oil and gas production takes place, according to a report from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Initiative 78.

icon_op_ed“In the state’s top 5 producing oil and gas counties (Weld, Garfield, La Plata, Rio Blanco, and Las Animas), 95% of the total surface area would be unavailable for new oil and gas development facilities or hydraulic fracturing operations,” state officials concluded in the report on the proposed 2,500-foot setback.

Indeed, a color-coded map in the report shows the state blanketed with no-drilling zones. That’s because, in addition to occupied buildings, the drilling bans would apply to “areas of special concern,” which are broadly defined to say the least. Lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, creeks, irrigation canals, riparian areas, playgrounds, sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks and open space – all are included in the definition.

State of Colorado setback initiative mapThe result is a drilling ban across 60 million acres – an area roughly the same size as the United Kingdom. In a way, the size and scope is quite astonishing. But at the same time, there’s really nothing to be surprised about.

For years, a collection of fringe national groups have propped up campaigns against fracking at the local and state level. To see the big players, you need only review the membership roll of Coloradans Against Fracking: Earthworks, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, 350.org.

But perhaps the biggest player, which four years ago declared Colorado “ground zero” of the national campaign against domestic energy production, is Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C. The group, founded in 2005, is a spinoff from Ralph Nader’s Public Citzen and does not care what the people of Colorado think about fracking, either statewide or at the local level.

“The solution is to ban fracking everywhere,” according to a webpage on the group’s anti-fracking campaign. Just in case anyone misses the point, the page is headlined “Ban Fracking Everywhere.” It’s part of the bigger “keep it in the ground” campaign by Food & Water Watch, 350.org and other fringe environmental groups to ban fossil fuels – oil, natural gas and coal – which power more than 80 percent of the American economy and make the American way of life possible.

But the activists aren’t stupid. They know the vast majority of Colorado voters – and many who consider themselves environmentalists – don’t want to eliminate energy production and shut down the economy overnight. Instead, the activists claim to support other ideas like wider setbacks and “local control” while they continue to pursue the same outcome – a ban.

But state officials have confirmed once again what these groups really want and how they plan to get it. From now on, anti-fracking activists in Colorado will be forced to answer the simple question they’ve been avoiding for years: Do you really believe wiping out the oil and natural gas sector and the tens of thousands of jobs it provides will leave our state better off?

Simon Lomax is an associate energy policy analyst with the Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups. From 2004 to 2012, he was a news reporter covering energy and environmental policy in Washington, D.C. Contact him at simon@i2i.org.

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