Colorado’s Growing Fracking Fracture

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An image from the rally on Tuesday (credit: CBS)

An image from the rally on Tuesday (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

When Governor John Hickenlooper helped to craft new state regulations for hydraulic fracturing operations in Colorado months ago, the compromise was hailed as historic. Never before had anyone been able to bring together industry and environmentalists to arrive at a compromise that most sides felt were fair, yet comprehensive.

However, unlike the honeymoon that John Hickenlooper enjoyed as Mayor of Denver that lasted throughout his administration, the fracking regulations honeymoon seems to have come to an end far more quickly.

The city of Longmont looked like a defiant scamp when the city council passed new regulations for fracking earlier this year. The response from the state was a prompt lawsuit to enforce the idea that the state regulations super ceded local regs.

Well, now that same scamp is helping to foment a full on rebellion among fellow cities. Longmont citizens voted to outright ban fracking within city limits last week and the success of the measure has inspired many other metro area citizens to try to do the same thing in their cities.

It’s one thing for the state to sue the city of Longmont over regulations passed by its city council. It’s an entirely different thing to sue to overturn the will of the voters from the same city. And even if the state of Colorado prevails in court, there is nothing stopping other cities from doing the same thing and making the state take those cities to court as well.

So how did we go from a compromise that was hailed nationally to cities moving to outright ban the practice? That must be a key question Governor John Hickenlooper is asking both himself and his staff.

But any good rebellion has more players than just government leaders and those that want to ignore regulations. The oil and gas industry, with potentially billions of dollars of oil and gas at stake, are not taking the situation lying down.

Earlier this week, supporters of fracking, including many presidents of chambers of commerce in the metro area, staged their own rally to support hydraulic fracturing on the steps of the state capitol.

Not to be outdone, opponents of fracking held their own rally opposing the practice on the same capitol steps later on the same day.

So in just a few months Governor Hickenlooper went from the man who helped to craft a major compromise to the man who must try to find that spirit of compromise all over again, amidst a new environment of cities who want to prohibit fracking altogether.

There is no simple answer on either side of the fracking coin. The process could very well be a key to economic development in the Centennial state for generations to come. However, there are many environmental questions regarding air and water pollution that have yet to find truly satisfying answers.

In every crisis, there exists opportunity. Fracking may prove to become an albatross on Governor John Hickenlooper’s neck or it may prove to become his greatest victory, bringing two growing factions together for the sake of Colorado.

The only thing that is certain is that Hickenlooper will not have to wait very long for to tackle this opportunity because it’s already on his front steps.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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