LONGMONT — Longmont's city charter will now ban fracking.
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, the ban — Ballot Question 300 — was leading 16,798 votes to 11,544 and had widened its margin of victory with every report, according to the Boulder and Weld county clerk's offices. That gave ban supporters about 59 percent of the vote.
“Are you kidding?” screamed ban supporter Teresa Foster as results came in to a watch party held by Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont. “Awesome! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”
The charter amendment bans hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process used by oil and gas drillers to crack rock deep below the surface of the earth.
The ballot question also forbids the storage of fracking waste in city limits.
The issue has been a controversy since late 2011, when TOP Operating announced plans to drill wells near Union Reservoir and Sandstone Ranch. By July 2012, the City Council had updated Longmont's oil and gas regulations, a move that the state considered too much and that local activists considered too little. The state responded with a lawsuit; the activists, organized as Our Longmont, responded by petitioning a fracking ban onto the ballot.
The oil and gas industry fought the ban hard, giving $507,500 to the opposing group Main Street Longmont. The group and its predecessor, Longmont Taxpayers for Common Sense, had spent $413,334 by the end of October to campaign against Ballot Question 300.
Kaye Fissinger of Our Longmont said the high-dollar campaign itself seemed to become an issue as the election approached.
“We went to neighborhood group meetings and heard people say ‘How many mailers do they have to send us?'” Our Longmont member Kaye Fissinger said. “They may have shot themselves in the foot by spending so much on full-page ads and tons of mailers.”
Main Street Longmont spokesman Bill Ray said the expensive campaign had been needed to educate residents about the costs of a ban, especially since the issue had become so emotional.
The issue, he said, remained one of mineral property rights that Longmont would have to compensate. Otherwise, he said, “I believe the courts will have no problem striking down question 300.”
“Issue 300 doesn't just go away today,” Ray said. “The city's got legal issues that it's going to have to address for quite a while.”
During a September visit to Longmont, Gov. John Hickenlooper said that passage of Ballot Question 300 likely would bring a second lawsuit from the state.
“The next move will be the opposition's move,” Our Longmont spokesman Michael Bellmont said. “It goes where they lead.”
This is the third Longmont city election to feature a six-figure spending campaign, and the second straight one to lose. In 2011, the group Look Before We Leap spent $419,629 to oppose a fiber-optic ballot issue; the measure passed with about 60 percent of the vote.
The Colorado Supreme Court has forbidden cities from banning oil and gas drilling outright, but has decided lesser measures on a case-by-case basis.
Scott Rochat can be reached at 303-684-5220 or email@example.com.