FORT COLLINS—Political activism has already pushed jobs out of Colorado this year, and more could follow if voters approve four local anti-fracking measures on Tuesday’s ballot.
Industry and business officials are worried that voters could wind up fueling unemployment by passing anti-hydraulic fracturing initiatives on the ballot in Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette.
Chuck Davidson, chairman and CEO of Noble Energy, which employs about 1,000 people in Colorado, said during last month’s Natural Gas Symposium that the proposed five-year moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing would undoubtedly lead companies to look elsewhere.
That’s because 90 percent of the U.S. oil-and-gas wells utilize hydraulic fracturing, an extraction method in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the ground to loosen previously unreachable fossil fuels embedded in rock layers.
“When you say no to hydraulic fracturing, you’re saying no to oil and gas development, and so that has all of the ramifications,” said Davidson. “If it’s a time-out or if it’s a ban, then obviously companies that are prohibited from doing something, they have to take their capital and invest it somewhere else.”
The anti-fracking measures come on the heels of the state legislature’s sweeping gun-control bills, which prompted at least two firearms companies, Magpul Industries and HiViz Shooting Systems, to announce their departures.
HiViz moved in May from Fort Collins to Laramie, Wyo., while Magpul has relocated some of its operations to other states, along with several hundred jobs.
Those job losses pale by comparison to what’s at stake in the hydraulic-fracturing debate. The energy industry is among the state’s largest employers, while the oil-and-gas boom is credited with helping pull Colorado out of the Great Recession faster than most states.
“These are energy development bans,” COGA spokesman Doug Flanders told the Denver Business Journal. “These are products we use every day that are critical to everybody’s life and livelihood. We have 110,000 people in the oil and gas industry whose livelihoods are being threatened by these bans.”
The specter of job losses has been at the forefront of the local anti-fracking campaigns. Proponents of the industry crackdowns argue that the risks of environmental damage outweigh the rewards of economic prosperity and low-cost energy.
“At what expense? Do those figures account for the long-term economic damage and the significant erosion of communities’ quality of life that can outweigh those benefits?” said a post on Our Broomfield, the group pushing the fracking ban Question 300.
Anti-frackers also argue that drilling hurts the tourism industry.
“Colorado tourism accounts for over $16.6 billion in travel spending and supported 144,600 jobs in 2011,” said Merrily Mazza, candidate for Lafayette city council, in a Sept. 3 letter. “Fracking threatens tourism with towering, well-lit and noisy drilling rigs operating 24-hours a day, marring the wild and scenic landscapes that attract tourists.”
Those in favor of the anti-fracking measures include the Boulder Weekly and the Boulder Daily Camera, which has endorsed the Boulder, Broomfield and Lafayette measures, saying, “Communities deserve to have more say over the traffic and the spot-industrial developments that fracking creates.”
The measure’s opponents counter that environmentalists are presenting voters with a false choice, arguing that the fracking process has been proven safe and that Colorado already has some of the nation’s toughest industry regulations.
Among those opposing the measures are the Fort Collins City Council, Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce, Broomfield City Council, Lafayette City Council, the Denver Post editorial board and the Colorado Women’s Alliance.
“Quite simply, they’ve all done their homework,” said former state Rep. B.J. Nikkel, who serves as an adviser to the campaigns, in an Oct. 30 editorial. “They recognize that those leading the charge against oil and gas seek to divert our attention away from facts and hard science by massaging data, spreading misinformation and even by intimidating city councilors and voters.”
In Fort Collins, opponents of Question 2A, the fracking ban, argue that it’s a non-issue, given the relatively low level of energy production within the city boundaries.
“[W]e resent being used as a pawn in what could be a potentially costly environmental position statement just for the sake of a handful of wells on our city’s perimeter,” said an Oct. 26 editorial in the Coloradoan opposing the measure.
While Colorado enjoys abundant fossil-fuel resources, drilling companies have shown their willingness to seek greener pastures. In September, Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would shut down its Colorado oil-shale operations in favor of pursuing projects in Jordan and Canada, while in October Encana downgraded its Denver footprint from a headquarters to a regional office.
“We’re all concerned about the messages that might be contained in local bans on hydraulic fracturing,” said Davidson. “If you look at it broadly—saying no to hydraulic fracturing is saying no to oil and gas development.”