Updated with reaction from Safe Clean Colorado.
LOVELAND — Loveland voters rejected Tuesday a local ban on hydraulic fracturing, dealing a defeat to the anti-fracking movement and throwing into doubt the prospects for a statewide measure.
The Loveland Energy Action Project’s campaign office erupted in cheers shortly after 10 p.m. when organizers announced that Question 1 had lost by 10,844 to 9,943 votes.
Question 1 would have required a two-year moratorium on fracking in order to “fully study” the process, but critics argued that it would have discouraged economic development and sent an anti-business message.
“A victory for Loveland and Colorado,” said LEAP campaign consultant Dominic DelPapa.
LEAP director B.J. Nikkel said, “An unprecedented coalition of citizens and civic leaders came together to take a stand against this pernicious ban.”
“Loveland serves as a great example that when voters receive the right information and encouragement, they see through the activist deception and fear tactics,” said Nikkel.
The 20,939 votes cast in the municipal election represented fewer than half of Loveland’s 45,000 voters but still significantly more than would be expected in a typical special election.
The result comes as a cold shower for those behind proposed statewide anti-fracking initiatives, starting with Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, who’s bankrolling two measures now collecting signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
A third anti-fracking measure, Initiative 75, or the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, is also in the petition-circulating phase.
“This election should serve as a warning to those pushing similar ballot proposals statewide: Coloradans will not be manipulated by uncompromising activists peddling fear instead of facts,” said Karen Crummy, spokeswoman for Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy, and Energy Independence, an issue committee fighting anti-fracking ballot measures.
Still, Polis didn’t appear discouraged by Tuesday night’s results. Nick Passanante, campaign director for the Polis-backed group, Safe Clean Colorado, noted in a statement that the anti-fracking camp was heavily outspent by the oil and gas industry.
“Just one day ago we saw the second earthquake in less than a month come as a direct result of the fracking frenzy in nearby Greeley,” said Passanante. “Today, despite the oil and gas industry outspending local community members by at least $1 million dollars on an election date cherry-picked by the industry, this grassroots effort in Loveland was very nearly passed against overwhelming odds. The industry should certainly be running scared as we head towards the ballot in November, to pass clear and decisive measures in support of sensible setback limits and responsible protections for Colorado families.”
The Question 1 defeat comes after a string of victories in Colorado for the anti-fracking movement. In November, voters in three liberal college towns—Boulder, Broomfield and Fort Collins—imposed a five-year moratorium on fracking, while Lafayette approved a local-control ordinance aimed at banning oil and gas development.
Longmont voters approved a ban on fracking in November 2012. Longmont has been sued by the state and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, while Fort Collins and Lafayette have also been sued by COGA.
Protect Our Loveland, the group behind Question 1, launched the anti-fracking effort last year after Anadarko Petroleum expressed interest in drilling wells just inside the city’s eastern border.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler issued an emergency order Tuesday saying that the roughly 40 ballots submitted by mistake to Larimer County elections office would be preserved after County Clerk and Recorder Angela Myers called them “lost votes,” according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald.
Protect Our Loveland followed the playbook used in previous local elections, warning voters that fracking would result in an increase in health problems and pollution.
The anti-fracking camp had the help of national groups like the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action, although Protect Our Loveland was vastly outspent by the Loveland Energy Action Project, the industry-backed group opposing Question 1.
Foes argued that the Environmental Protection Agency has never found groundwater contamination from fracking, and that studies attempting to link fracking to health issues have been largely debunked for failing to show causation, only sketchy correlation.
Opponents of Question 1 said the real risk would be with the hit to Loveland’s economy, saying that the measure would send an anti-business message and discourage economic development.
LEAP had the backing of the city council, which voted 5-4 to oppose the initiative, as well as the Loveland Chamber of Commerce and the Loveland Reporter-Herald, which advised voters last week to vote against the measure.
Why did Loveland reverse the trend? For one, Loveland isn’t as blue as those four reliably Democratic cities that voted in November. Loveland spokesman Tom Hacker described the town as “purplish,” indicating that it may be more representative of swing-state Colorado.
For another, proponents of oil and gas learned from their November defeats. Instead of jumping immediately into campaign mode, LEAP held a series of informational sessions at libraries and community centers aimed at answering questions about fracking.
A little strategy didn’t hurt, either. Foes of Question 1 convinced the city council to place the measure on the June 24 primary ballot, which featured a number of contested Republican races but no contested Democratic runs, therefore weighting the turnout more toward pro-business GOP voters.
Advocates with Protect Our Loveland, the group behind Question 1, were furious over the move, which saw the election bumped up a month after being originally scheduled for July 29.
LEAP also rounded up a broad base of support, including the Loveland Chamber of Commerce, local business leaders, a majority of the Loveland city council, and the endorsement of the Loveland Reporter-Herald.
Then there was the last-minute uproar over an article by fractivist Phillip Doe, in which he described Nikkel as a “trained talking dog” and compared her to a Nazi, which may have alienated local voters.