Don’t lose opportunity to leave OPEC behind

The United States is poised to become energy independent and finally cast off the shackles that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — aka OPEC — has used to bind this country and much of the world for 40 years.

But there’s an alternate scenario, reflected in four municipal ballot measures in Colorado this week, in which this country rejects an abundant energy future in favor of continued reliance on foreign oil, and continues to transfer trillions of dollars of our wealth to nations in the Middle East and elsewhere.

On Tuesday, voters in three Front Range municipalities — Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins — adopted variations of bans on oil and gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing, In a fourth community, Broomfield, a fracking ban was defeated by 13 votes. A recount is required.

These votes in themselves don’t pose a serious threat to energy development. There is no drilling currently planned in Boulder or Lafayette, and not that much occurs within any municipal boundaries. Furthermore, there are real questions about whether they will be upheld if challenged in court.

But some supporters of these municipal measures are talking about a ballot effort to enact a statewide ban on fracking. That would be devastating to this state’s economy and to the national drive for energy independence. Furthermore, it would be a serious blow to efforts to improve environmental quality.

For one thing, there is the change already under way to replace much of our coal-generated electricity with electricity from natural gas. That is already helping to cut carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants. But the effort will be threatened if some environmental groups are successful in getting fracking banned in Colorado and other states.

Additionally, as former Secretary of State George Shultz and FedEx President Frederick Smith noted in a column in The Wall Street Journal this week, other energy alternatives are also dependent in part on fracking. Switching commercial vehicles and even private ones to compressed natural gas could help to significantly reduce pollution. And plug-in electric vehicles need electricity generated somehow. Better that it comes from clean natural gas.

Equally important, Shultz and Smith note, freeing this country from OPEC’s oil spigot would significantly alter our foreign policy and change the way we deal with countries in the most troubled parts of the world. The last two years, OPEC nations have received more than $1 trillion annually from oil exports. That, Shultz and Smith said, represents the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world, and it’s a massive tax on the citizens of this country to a few despotic oil exporters.

Nobody is arguing that oil and gas companies should be allowed to operate however they want. Rational regulations are necessary. Colorado has some of the best, and is always looking to improve them. But fracking bans are the opposite of rational public policy.


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Given the potential benefits of renewed oil and gas development to our local economy, it’s not surprising that the Sentinel would oppose a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), aptly warning “Don’t lose opportunity to leave OPEC behind”.  However, contrary to its editorial’s unqualified concluding assertion, more-localized fracking bans are decidedly not “the opposite of rational public policy”.

C.R.S. § 34-60-102(1)(a)(I) states Colorado’s “rational public policy”:  to “Foster the responsible, balanced development, production, and utilization of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, . . .”.

C.R.S. § 34-60-102(2) presumes a concurrent and coherent national regulatory regime, in which Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (“COGCC”) is “empowered to exercise such powers and authorities as may be delegated to it by the laws or regulations of the United States, . . .”.

However, since 2005 – when Congress codified the “Halliburton Exceptions” to the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Water Acts—regulation of “fracking” has been incoherent (because the EPA and the COGCC are legally barred from regulating “fracking wells” as “underground injection wells” as Congress intended), and irrational (because both are also legally precluded from regulating toxic “fracking fluids” as “pollutants”).

Thus, even if “Colorado has some of the best” oil and gas regulations, they remain clearly constrained by dubious policies.  Consequently, it is quite understandable that potentially affected communities would seek to exercise their presumably inherent powers and duties for the “protection of public health, safety, and welfare”.

C.R.S. § 34-60-127(1)(c) imposes a “reasonable and necessary” standard on developers’ intrusion on surface rights.  The Sentinel should opine that communities have the right to decide what is locally “reasonable”, while the industry must bear the burden of proving what is really “necessary”.

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