Is The Broomfield Recall Effort A Proxy Fight For Colorado’s Oil And Gas Conflicts?

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Photo: Broomfield Council Hears Fracking Moratorium Public Comment - GHbood
Broomfield city council members heard hours of public testimony Jan. 10, 2017 on a proposed moratorium on drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Update: The effort to recall councilman Greg Stokes failed at the ballot box on July 18. Our original story continues below:

An unusual political battle is playing out in Broomfield. Mayor pro-tem Greg Stokes is in danger of losing his city council seat because some residents say he’s too close to the oil and gas industry.

Broomfield residents will vote next Tuesday in a special citizen recall election.

It’s a dynamic that’s now part of Colorado’s long simmering tensions between the energy industry, urban residents and the state’s affinity for nature and the outdoors. Sandwiched between Boulder, Weld and Adams counties, Broomfield hasn’t been an oil and gas hotspot. In fact, Broomfield, like Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins, initially tried to constrain development through a moratorium. Those attempts at local control have been struck down by Colorado’s courts.

Broomfield has now seen proposals from Extraction Oil and Gas inside city and county limits for what initially would have been 141 wells near residential areas and schools.

“After months of negotiation and work between the city and county of Broomfield, the task force who has been assigned to come up with best practice guidelines and Extraction themselves, Extraction has decided to move 40 of those wells outside of Broomfield and in into unincorporated Adams County,” said Broomfield Enterprise reporter Jennifer Rios.

There's another aspect to the voter recall effort and a national firm run by a former Mitt Romney aide is involved. Rios’ reporting shows the opposition research firm has been asking the city for emails between city council members and residents who are opposed to new drilling and publishing them online.

“I don't know who is funding this group. We've had several people say and deny that they have any contract or relationship with the group,” Rios said. “That's my next goal, is to find out who's behind this.”

Interview Highlights With Jennifer Rios

On Broomfield City Council Member Greg Stokes’ Response To The Recall

“I think Greg Stokes feels that he was maybe not accurately portrayed in some of the communication that the group that's trying to recall him as being put out. I wouldn't say he's on the defense, but Greg Stokes is definitely trying to prove to the community that he has their best interest at heart. He said repeatedly that he doesn't want you to jeopardize the health safety and welfare — which has become a big phrase — of Broomfield residents.”

On Reaction From The Community To Oil And Gas Development

“Some people are absolutely against oil and gas, they want to ban fracking in their community 100 percent. Others are taking a more open-minded approach, they want to just ensure safety is going to be in place for Broomfield residents and then others obviously you're OK with the project and see it as a necessary near means to get oil and gas.”

On Reaction In Broomfield Following The Fatal Firestone Explosion

“After the explosion, at the first city council meeting, I think everyone expected a lot of community members to show up, and some did, but the response was not nearly as heavy as it was before when the discussion was more on the moratorium.”

CPR News' Ben Markus, Ann Marie Awad and Jim Hill contributed to this story.