State has a lot riding on fight over fracking

There are several implications from the Colorado Legislature’s failure to find middle ground on proposals for greater local control of the oil and gas industry.

Absent a compromise, the issue will likely be decided by voters in November. Nearly two dozen citizen initiatives await approval that could strictly limit or even ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

That means groups for and against the measures will throw millions of dollars in television advertising at voters — good news for ad agencies, the only clear-cut winners in this scenario.

The rest of us will have to choose sides, eliminating any hope of a solution that considers the interests of both oil and gas operators and environmental groups.

Democrats have a lot to lose, too. Several of the proposed ballot initiatives are being backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a wealthy Boulder Democrat. Those measures could result in higher GOP turnout from those who oppose giving Colorado municipalities and counties more power to regulate drilling. Drawn to the polls by the fracking issue, these voters could provide margins to decide Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat and races for statewide office.

But as the Sentinel’s Charles Ashby notes, this fight isn’t drawn strictly along party lines. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats has emerged to fight any ban or restriction on fracturing. Coloradans for Responsible Reform says anti-fracking efforts would devastate the state’s economy, costing thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue.

The effort to ban fracking ignores several factors, the coalition says, including the fact that after several decades in use in Colorado, there’s little evidence that fracking poses health risks.

Some coalition members say the anti-fracking movement isn’t really about local control. It’s about a hidden agenda — a desire to end the use of fossil fuels.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has long said he opposes any outright ban on fracking, is a little more circumspect, acknowleging “a clear sentiment” that communities across the state want a stronger voice in how drillers operate in their backyards.

We hope the Legislature can find a way to craft a compromise bill that would diffuse the citizen initiatives. There’s a chance, albeit a slim one, that a special legislative session during the summer could achieve that goal.

It would spare us the TV ads, but it would also prove that groups like the Polis-backed Coloradans for Local Control aren’t engaged in some level of intellectual dishonesty.

If the group’s goal is to end drilling in Colorado, it should simply say so and provide an economically viable plan to convert to greener forms of energy — not artificially saddle the gas industry with regulations that make it impossible to do business.

The ability to strike a compromise will say a lot about both sides.


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Today’s editorial – “State has a lot riding on fight over fracking” – needlessly impugns the motives of those supporting local “communities across the state” seeking “a stronger voice in how drillers operate in their own backyards”. 

While that editorial suggests that supporters of increased local control may be “engaged in some level of intellectual dishonesty”, it entirely ignores the demonstrable fact that the oil & gas industry’s “fracking is completely safe” media campaign has been based on “intellectual dishonesty” for years.

Since Dick Cheney’s Energy Policy Act of 2005 codified the so-called “Halliburton Loopholes”, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been exempted from congressionally-intended regulation under the “underground injection well” provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and its potentially toxic fluids and emissions have been exempted from the definition of “pollutant” in both the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. 

Those exemptions effectively prohibit common sense pre-drilling mandates for baseline ground water and air quality testing – thereby “spoliating” clear proof of causality after contamination occurs.  Of course, if “fracking is completely safe”, there should be no need for blanket exemptions from regulations that routinely apply to other industries (and that may well explain why “there’s little evidence that fracking poses health risks”).

Thus, because “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, some communities are responsibly seeking to fill the dubious regulatory vacuum created by the “Halliburton Loopholes” – and the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that local communities are not pre-empted from regulating some aspects of oil & gas operations within their boundaries.

While localized bans would have only a marginal effect on the state’s economy, a state-wide ban could be more “devastating” – unless (ala gambling) such a ban allowed local jurisdictions to “opt out” and permit “fracking” if they so choose.

“Local control” can work both ways.

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