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Fracking Fight Continues in Colorado

In the escalating ballot battle between the drilling industry and Colorado communities, new records show that energy companies are spending millions of dollars to stop anti-fracking measures in the state.

Environmental groups are currently gathering signatures on two statewide measures, 75 and 78, to appear on Colorado's November ballot. The first initiative would amend the state constitution to enable local governments the option to enact regulations more protective of health and safety than those required by the state, largely addressing the Colorado Supreme Court's recent decision to strike down fracking bans approved by voters in the cities of Fort Collins and Longmont. The other initiative would create 2,500-foot buffer zones between homes, schools and sensitive areas like playgrounds and water sources, and all new oil and gas development.

Active oil and gas wells in Colorado.Map: CPR/Nathaniel Minor | Data: COGCC

But in just the last three months, energy companies such as Anadarko Petroleum Corp, Noble Energy and Whiting Petroleum have funneled more than $6.7 million combined to Protect Colorado, an industry group that aims to defeat these measures, according campaign finance records reviewed by Reuters.

Protect Colorado argues that the initiatives threaten oil and natural gas development and would "devastate" the state's economy. The group raised concerns that these initiatives "would give local governments the sole power to regulate oil and natural gas activity in their jurisdictions, including the power to ban fracking."

"We are doing all that we can to defeat these measures because they would devastate Colorado's economic strength and competitiveness," Mike Kopp, executive director of Colorado Concern and former Colorado Senate minority leader, said. "Passage of these measures would mean—literally—that thousands of careers in a safe, environmentally-responsible industry would come to an abrupt halt, tax revenues that help fund schools and other important local projects would be cut off, and small towns around the state would suffer economically."

Colorado is the seventh-largest oil and gas producing state in the country. Reuters cited a study by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which found that 90 percent of Colorado's surface acreage would be unavailable for oil and gas development if the setback law passes.

Yes For Health and Safety, a nonprofit pushing the two ballot initiatives, has raised concerns about the health risks of fracking operations and decried the state supreme court's decision to overturn local fracking bans in favor of Big Oil and Gas.

"Time and again, we've seen that this industry will say or do anything to mislead the public and protect their bottom line, but the scientific evidence speaks for itself: Fracking is a leading driver of climate change and destroys our most basic resources," Tricia Olson, executive director of Yes for Health and Safety Over Fracking, told EcoWatch.

"If we don't have clean air, water, soil and healthy bodies, how can our communities thrive? Big Oil and Gas may have billions of dollars, but we have passion, commitment and an historic opportunity to show communities everywhere that when people come together to protect their health and safety, anything is possible."

In an online petition, the group states:

With more than 73,000 fracking wells, many within walking distance of our homes and schools, Colorado has become ground zero for fracking in the U.S (watch a timelapse of wells spreading throughout our state here).

For years, Coloradans have demanded a stop to this dangerous extraction method. Despite being outspent 500-to-one by the oil and gas industry, five communities have successfully banned fracking in their backyards.

But the oil and gas industry refused to listen. With the support of our governor, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) sued these communities, claiming that they have no right to participate in the decision of where and how they drill. In an outrageous rejection of democracy, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed and overturned community regulations and protections against fracking.

Time for a just transition: In response, communities across the state are taking to the streets rallying fiercely for protection of the health and safety of their neighborhoods and families with two state ballot initiatives (#75: Local Control and #78: 1/2-mile Setbacks) that would empower local communities to protect themselves against the hazardous impacts of hydraulic fracking.

In the video below, 16-year-old environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh urges support for the measures.

"2016 is the year we that make a conscious decision to leave fracked oil in gas in the ground," the youth director of Earth Guardians says. "The Yes for Health and Safety initiatives, number 75 and 78, will protect the people of Colorado from the toxic fracking industry and keep climate-cooking methane out of our atmospheres. These initiatives mean protecting the people, protecting our water and our rights to a healthy atmosphere."

Watch here:

Inside Energy has called Colorado's ballot battle a David vs. Goliath fight pitting the ballot's supporters who have raised "just tens of thousands of dollars" against the deep-pocketed fossil fuels industry that can afford expensive advertisement. One of their television ads touts how "natural gas can help reduce our carbon footprint. We need natural gas, and fracking helps us get it."

Inside Energy reported that Protect Colorado has also bought billboards in Fort Collins and Denver metro with phrases such as, "Think before you ink, it's decline to sign."

Each initiative needs 98,492 signatures from registered voters before Aug. 8 to qualify for the November ballot. Organizers are busy collecting signatures throughout Colorado and will be attending the ARISE Music Festival in Loveland from Aug. 5 - 7 to get any final signatures needed. It is unknown how many signatures have been collected thus far but Lisa Trope of Food & Water Watch told Reuters she was optimistic the measures would get on the ballot.

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Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.

"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."

Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.

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"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.

Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.

Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.

"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.

Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.


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