As the Denver Post’s John Aguilar reports, another popular vote goes strongly against the oil and gas industry–this time in Broomfield, where voters overwhelmingly opted to give local authorities more power over regulate drilling, setting up yet another legal battle that the industry feels comfortable about winning but still spent almost $350,000 trying to avoid:
Voters on Tuesday passed a controversial ballot issue that gives Broomfield more local oversight of oil and gas operations in the city, a move that probably will invite a legal challenge from Colorado’s large energy sector.
According to a late-night vote tally in the mail-in election that accounts for most of the ballots cast in the city, the yes vote for Question 301 was comfortably ahead of the no vote by a margin of 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent.
As of late Tuesday night, nearly 42 percent of eligible electors in Broomfield — or 20,643 voters — cast a ballot.
What does the industry led by its PR front groups at Vital Colorado and Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) have to say after Broomfield voters turned out in big numbers to overwhelmingly pass Question 301?
“It is in violation of state law as upheld by the state Supreme Court,” said Don Beezley, a “No on 301” committee member. “The result will be Broomfield spending tens of thousands of dollars or more defending lawsuits, most likely from both the state of Colorado and the operators, with apparently 100 percent likelihood of losing said suits.”
Vital for Colorado, an advocacy group that has been active in supporting pro-business and pro-oil and gas candidates in the state, conceded defeat Tuesday night and said 301’s passage “will trigger lawsuits.”
It’s true that the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that local regulations over oil and gas drilling are overruled by state law giving that power to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Local communities, especially suburban and exurban communities along the northern Front Range where drilling is encroaching on surface land uses (and vice versa), have felt obliged to pass additional regulations–even moratoria and bans while the the impact of drilling remains uncertain–if they believe the state rules don’t adequately protect their residents.
So why don’t drillers just go to court, instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight ballot measures they claim are illegal anyway? The answer is simple: they don’t want it proven that local communities are against them. Too many Longmonts and Broomfields take action only to see our industry-friendly state government ignore their pleas, and suddenly a statewide ballot measure to change the rules that let drillers walk on local communities becomes a viable prospect.
Which, by the way, it is.
Folks, we’ve been saying for years that the oil and gas industry’s arrogance is increasingly out of touch with the changing political realities in the state of Colorado. This is an industry that is in fact ripe for comeuppance, and has had its day of reckoning postponed in part by aggressively courting Democratic support as Democrats have solidified their control here. Some of those Democrats, like Gov. John Hickenlooper, have damaged their political standing by dissing their own base on the industry’s behalf.
After eight years of Hickenlooper’s uneasy status quo, this may be all about to change. The 2018 governor’s race is expected to focus on the future of energy policy in Colorado–and depending on the choices Democrats in particular make in their primary, it could be a much clearer-cut choice between the parties than we’ve seen since well before Colorado’s most famous oilman/brewer came on the scene.
Once again, the voters have signaled loud and clear what they’d do if the politicians got out of the way.