Wed August 29, 2012

In Longmont, Group Forms to Fight Anti-Fracking Ballot Measure

In Longmont, opposition is building to a November ballot measure that will ask city voters to ban the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing.

A new “issue committee” calling itself Longmont Taxpayers for Common Sense registered with the city clerk’s office August 13th in order to raise money to fight the measure backed by citizen groups opposed to the recent spread of oil and gas drilling into the Front Range city's limits.

There are few details so far about Longmont Taxpayers for Common Sense other than that that it’s expected to have the influential backing of the oil and gas industry and that under local law, it needed to form in order to raise and spend money during the upcoming campaign. 

The group is in fact so new its members are still organizing and an official spokesperson hasn’t been named.

Longmont city council woman Bonnie Finley has been an outspoken critic though against efforts to limit or ban fracking in her city and told KUNC Wednesday:

"Once they meet I’ll probably go to the meeting and we’ll go from there.  I’m not in any way the head of this group.  I’m just a person who’s supporting it."

Finley, speaking as a private citizen and not on behalf of the local council, went on to say that she is a supporter because Colorado law is clear; a local government has little authority to regulate most aspects of oil and gas drilling.  

Finley predicts that if the ballot measure passes, the city would be handed another lawsuit.  The state is already suing Longmont over its own new law limiting fracking from residential neighborhoods, which Finley voted against.

"People are scaring our citizens into thinking that there's air and water pollution and there's not," Finley says. "We shouldn’t drive public policy by fear-mongering."

"People are scaring our citizens into thinking that there's air and water pollution and there's not."

Michael Belmont, a local insurance agent and member of the group "Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont," which successfully got the fracking ban on the ballot, counters that his group is simply fighting to keep the heavy industrial process away from businesses, homes and schools.

"It's kind of humorous to peg fear mongering on ordinary citizens," Belmont says.

Belmont says his group doesn't want to ban oil and gas drilling within the city limits either, just the extraction process of "fracking," and his group isn't worried about the concern of another lawsuit.

"Look at it this way," he says. "They claim that this is against the law, well, all laws aren't good and all laws aren't healthy."

Belmont also expects his group will be woefully outspent in the race: "We certainly don't have the machine and the money behind us, what we're doing is jus trying to protect the health of the community."

Just how much either side will spend won't be known until early October when the groups must report their contributions and expenditures to the city clerk.

It is clear though that economics, and not just environmental and health issues, will play heavily in the campaign. 

Bonnie Finley is quick to point out that the oil and gas industry is an integral part of northeastern Colorado's economy.

"They pay billions of dollars in taxes and employ thousands of people in our state," she says. "And to shower them with unfair treatment sends a bad message to other employers in the area that perhaps we aren’t as business friendly as we should be in Longmont."

The local ballot measure is the first of its kind in Colorado and depending on the outcome, it could mark a new front-line in the battle over fracking.

The election is November 6th. 

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