Loveland vote pits frack attackers vs. backers

LOVELAND – Sharon Carlisle is deep in campaign mode in a garage in downtown Loveland, which she hopes will become the latest Front Range city to approve a ban on the oil and natural-gas drilling technique known as fracking.

Literature contending that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses risks to health is stacked on a card table in the back of the garage. Large signs leaning against the wall tout a moratorium.

Carlisle, an artist who has lived in Loveland for more than 20 years, founded anti-fracking activist group Protect Our Loveland last year to campaign for a moratorium on oil and gas development in the city. Carlisle said around 200 people have volunteered to campaign for the moratorium, which voters will consider in a municipal election June 24. Ballots were mailed to households earlier this month.

Question 1, as the ballot measure is known, represents the latest challenge to the oil and gas industry along the Front Range, where voters in Fort Collins, Longmont, Lafayette, Broomfield and Boulder have passed bans on fracking. The drilling technique involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to retrieve oil and gas from tight shale formations.

“There’s a reason these things are winning,” Carlisle said. “It’s because people are concerned.”

The election also comes as Gov. John Hickenlooper has been meeting with industry officials to negotiate a deal that would give additional regulatory control to local governments on oil and gas operations. The state previously has sought to maintain control over oil and gas drilling, with few exemptions for cities to develop their own rules.

Loveland’s moratorium would put a two-year stop to oil and gas drilling in the city while studies on how the industrial activity affects human health are conducted.

Loveland also has a contingent of oil and gas supporters, led by former Loveland state Rep. B.J. Nikkel, founder of the Loveland Energy Action Project.

“I think we’re going to have a good show of support,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of individuals and businesses behind us.”

Nikkel said 52 oil and gas companies provide 500 jobs in Loveland.  

“They come and use our restaurants, they shop in our stores and malls,” Nikkel said. “They spend money.”

Loveland Energy Action Project reported almost $379,000 in contributions, $375,000 of which came from the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, between Dec. 4 and June 2. Protect Our Loveland raised $10,700 in the past year, according to campaign finance reports the groups filed with the city of Loveland.

The fray has drawn national attention, with a representative of the U.S. Chamber Commerce visiting the city last month to coach local business leaders on how to defend against attacks on oil and gas development.  

Protect Our Loveland also has received outside help from Citizens for a Healthy Fort Collins. Kelly Giddens, who founded the group, spearheaded a successful effort in Fort Collins to pass a five-year fracking ban in November 2012.

Members of the group have worked with Protect Our Loveland to knock on doors to promote their cause.

“The truth is Loveland is Fort Collins’ front line more than any other community in Colorado,” Giddens said. “There is so much support … for the two-year moratorium.”

Activists have had just two months to prepare for the election. The Loveland City Council scheduled the election for the same day as the Larimer County primary. Council members agreed to the date in exchange for Loveland resident Larry Sarner dropping his court challenge of the measure.

The election is expected to cause confusion because voters will not be able to decide on the fracking moratorium at county polls. Votes on the separate primary and fracking moratorium ballots won’t be counted if they are mailed by voters in the same envelope. Voters can only pick up replacements for their mail-in ballots at the Loveland City Clerk’s Office, which must receive the ballots by Election Day.

Despite the challenges, Carlisle said most of the people she has talked to tell her they will vote for the moratorium in Loveland.

“We want two years to find out more about it,” Carlisle said about fracking.

Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-232-3147, 303-630-1968 or slynn@bizwestmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveLynnBW.

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