Despite an aggressive, high-dollar campaign from the oil and gas industry, Broomfield voters Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a measure to allow more local control over drilling in their community.
Slightly more than 57 percent of voters supported Question 301, while 42.5 percent said no. The measure will amend Broomfield’s Home Rule Charter to grant “plenary authority to regulate all aspects of oil and gas development,” and to demand that such development “not adversely impact the health, safety and welfare” of residents, the environment or wildlife resources.
The passage of Question 301 is expected to draw legal pushback from the oil ad gas industry, though it’s not yet clear what that will look like. State law prohibits cities from banning oil and gas drilling outright, but local jurisdictions can exert limited control through agreements with drillers themselves.
“This is a big, big deal in Colorado,” said Judy Kelly, a resident of the Anthem Ranch neighborhood in Broomfield and co-chair of the Yes on 301 campaign. “We absolutely need someone to be thinking about health and safety first when they make those decisions.”
Kelly, along with thousands of other Broomfield residents, will soon see oil and gas development near her home. At a meeting on Oct. 24, Broomfield City Council approved a controversial “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) with Extraction Oil and Gas to drill 84 wells on pads throughout the city.
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Broomfield residents and environmental groups raised about $46,000 to pass the measure, but they were significantly outspent by the industry. Groups such as Vital for Colorado and the Colorado Petroleum Council spent $434,000 on the opposition campaign.
Fundraising for both sides continued until the last minute. On Thursday, the Sierra Club gave $35,000, marking the “yes” campaign’s only non-individual contribution. Vital for Colorado, which gave $100,000 to the No on 301 effort in early October, donated an additional $90,000 on Friday. Final campaign finance reports are not due until Dec. 7.
Vital for Colorado also poured money into several city council races via various “[City] for a Better Economy” PACs. The industry group, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment, dumped $50,000 into Thornton for a Stronger Economy, $10,000 into Broomfield for a Stronger Economy, and $100,000 to Aurora for a Better Economy.
Throughout the campaign season, anti-301 messaging accused the campaign of being influenced by outside environmental groups and “extremists.” But records show that, except for the large Sierra Club donation, funds came from individual donors, typically in contributions of $100 or less.
“This was absolutely citizen-led,” said Kelly, who at first was resistant to the idea of any outside contributions. “But when we had almost $500,000 spent against us, to have somebody else come in and support us, I felt really good about that,” she said.
In response to the election results, Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, called the measure “an illegal attempt to override the state’s authority” that “puts Broomfield and their taxpayers in a difficult legal position.” Extraction Oil and Gas did not respond to a request for comment.
Broomfield City and County Attorney Bill Tuthill was not available for comment in time for publication. But Mayor Randy Ahrens, who called the high margin of 301’s passage “a good barometer for how people are feeling,” said the mere passage of 301 is unlikely to result in legal repercussions.
“I don’t see how anybody could present a lawsuit right now, before we’ve done anything with it,” he said. As he sees it, 301 gives Broomfield another “tool in the toolbox” when it comes to negotiating oil and gas developments — but it doesn’t give Broomfield the power to override state law.
“If we were try to mandate something with 301 that was illegal under state law, that action would be sued,” Ahrens said. A total ban on fracking, for example, would be thrown out.
Asked if supporters might be disappointed to hear about the amount of power 301 will actually grant, Ahrens responded with a small chuckle: “You mean lack of power?”