Monday’s gloating by Colorado oil-and-gas industry proponents over a state Supreme Court decision smacking down municipal fracking bans looks to be short-lived.
They may well be celebrating the end of statewide petroleum jobs for good.
Organizations like the Colorado Oil and Gas Association were boasting loudly about the unsurprising ruling they say vindicates their industry. The justices struck down fracking bans in Fort Collins and Longmont as overreach by cities trying to legislate an area where the state is supreme: sacred Colorado mining rights.
“This is not just a win for the energy industry but for the people of Colorado who rely on affordable and dependable energy and a strong economy,” COGA officials said in a statement. “It sends a strong message to anyone trying to drive this vital industry out of the state that those efforts will not be tolerated. Bans and moratoriums on oil and gas are not a reasonable or responsible way to address local concerns.”
But neither are the all-or-none, one-size-fits-all regulations that tie the hands of city and county governments.
Minutes later, backers of as many as five potential ballot measures seeking to ban, limit or somehow allow local control of drilling and fracking said they would now make good on threats to let voters decide the issue.
Despite bravado from oil companies. this could be the end of a struggling billion-dollar industry across the state and even here in Aurora. It didn’t have to be this way, and it’s not too late.
Like most people whose jobs aren’t pegged to the going price of oil, I’d love to see a world powered by di-lithium crystals and Mr. Fusion home reactors. But being a child of the ’60s, promised imminent flying cars, I’m skeptical of seeing the end of fossil fuels in my lifetime.
Even if we quit gasoline-powered cars completely and solar-fy every house and business in the state, there’d still be a need for petroleum. And if there’s a safe way to extract it from Colorado and pump back cash, we should. But if we can’t find real compromises, it could be another 1980s oil bust that dogged the state for many years.
The crux of this battle is easy to understand. Colorado has long tried to write oil and gas regulations that can be imposed everywhere across the state. If you’re from states other than those like Colorado, this might make sense. But Colorado is as diverse geographically, culturally, demographically and economically as a handful of nations rather than a handful of homogeneous Midwest counties. Rules that make it easier for drilling and fracking operations in the vast empty prairies of Colorado don’t make a lick of sense in the neighborhoods of Aurora or Fort Collins, and less in high canyons with high water tables.
What could keep everybody happy isn’t possible under laws sanctioned Monday by the state’s high court. Maybe for one job site, just another 25 feet of setback would make a nearby homeowner happy. Or maybe it’s simply taller screening on just one side of a rig. But rigid state regulations enforced by an impossibly small staff aren’t and can’t be flexible. Local gas and oil boards like one recently created in Aurora can be compromising, or at least they could be if the state would cede some powers or regulations to municipalities.
Aurora has had, so far, a mutually beneficial, frank and productive relationship with Anadarko and Phillips oil companies regarding local production and exploration. What’s wrong with Colorado codifying something that really works?
The alternatives are one or more ballot initiatives that will be easy to pass. With the oil industry already taking a diminished role in Colorado’s economic picture because of sinking oil prices, it’s easier than ever to not care if a bunch of non-working wells just go away entirely.
Fracking is a complicated and poorly understood process that can easily be made out to be an environmental nightmare. An outright ban from voters isn’t out of the question at this point.
The clock is running out fast at the state Legislature for industry and anti-fracking groups to offer up real compromise. Colorado needs a bill that at least permits municipalities and some counties to appeal or amend regulations to handle disputes when they arise.
At this rate, everybody loses by what’s looming from the inability to find common ground on top of buried treasure.