(Adds reactions from industry, environmental groups, state's
relative share of output data)
By Keith Coffman
DENVER Nov 6 Three Colorado cities have
rejected oil and gas production work that relies on so-called
fracking, unofficial election returns showed on Wednesday in a
setback for an industry that won other battles this year in
Democratic strongholds like California.
Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins passed measures with
solid margins to suspend or ban the technique formally known as
hydraulic fracturing. But a fourth community, Broomfield, about
12 miles (19 km) east of Boulder, narrowly rejected a fracking
In Fort Collins, near the growing Niobrara field, 56 percent
of voters approved a five-year ban on fracking, despite a
resolution its city council passed urging voters to reject it.
A dozen states including California have clear rules for
fracking, but the practice is banned in New York and some think
Colorado could be a battleground in the U.S. energy boom.
There is "possibility of a state-wide ban finding its way
onto the 2014 Colorado ballot," said Paul Enockson, a lawyer
with BakerHostetler in Denver who has represented oil firms.
Hydraulic fracturing, done after horizontal drilling, pumps
pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to crack shale
rock to release oil or gas.
Environmental groups say fracking can contaminate water
supplies, but the industry says it is safe and that boosting gas
output will create jobs and help states replace dirty
coal-burning power plants with ones fueled by cleaner gas.
"This election represents round one with many more rounds to
come," said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and
Gas Association (COGA), an industry group that opposed the
"Boulder and Lafayette were nothing more than symbolic
votes. Lafayette's last new well permit was in the early 1990's
and Boulder's last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999," she
Colorado's daily output of crude oil has surged to around
182,000 barrels a day, but is still a scant 2.4 percent of total
U.S. production, according to the Energy Information Agency.
Industry experts believe much of the best oil and gas
deposits could be on federal tracts of land in the western part
of the state that are not currently in production.
The municipal bans may clash with fracking standards the
Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission introduced this
year that require wells to be located away from houses and
established rules for noise, dust and chemicals.
The state's oil and gas commission grants more than 1,000
annual permits for hydrocarbon wells.
"The decision of whether or not hydraulic fracturing occurs
in these Colorado communities may ultimately lie with the
courts, where the city of Longmont is already being sued by COGA
and the state of Colorado over its fracking ban, but at least
for now, the people have spoken," wrote Gretchen Goldman,
analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science
Though environmental groups declared victory in a swing
state, the gas industry has made inroads this year.
Prior to the votes in Colorado, Marty Durbin, head of
America's Natural Gas Alliance, said more and more states were
becoming convinced of the safety of fracking.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California, the world's 9th
largest economy, signed a law in September that specifically
(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in New York and
Deborah Zabarenko in Washington; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing
by Karen Brooks, Maureen Bavdek and Leslie Gevirtz)