CO Citizens Fight to Retain Rights During Oil Industry Fracking Push

As the Denver Post's Anthony Cotton reported Friday:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday said the chances of getting lawmakers to reach a deal on local control of oil and gas development and avoid a costly election-year fight over several ballot measures was "about 50-50."

…The discussion among oil and gas companies, communities and environmentalists revolves around how much control local communities should have in regulating the industry over fracking, oil and gas development, and related concerns.

If a deal is reached, the state legislature, which adjourned Wednesday, would return for a special session meant to create law that reaches a compromise. If the talks fail, the two sides would be headed toward a lengthy, expensive battle that would see numerous ballot initiatives brought before voters across the state.

Negotiations have reportedly continued since then into this weekend, and as of last night there is still reportedly no firm agreement on a legislative deal to enhance local control over oil and gas drilling. At this point, assumptions we can't wholly validate either way seem to be guiding these negotiations. On the one hand, there is a persistent assumption that any oil and gas local control ballot initiative will prove "divisive" among Democrats seeking re-election this year. On the other, there is widespread cynicism among conservationists that these negotiations will produce legislation strong enough to satisfy the concerns of residents worried about "fracking" in their residential communities.

But when the "negotiators" spout a bunch of nonsense, it's harder to be optimistic.

"On the one hand, you have an industry that could provide 110,000 jobs, where you don't have to have a college degree for many of them and pays an average salary of $106,000. Do you know how hard it is to find something like that?" Hickenlooper said. "But if you're on the other side, you don't care about any of that if it's your house and you're worried about the health of your children."

Sorry, but this statement from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is totally ridiculous. Last year, a University of Colorado study found that Colorado employs about 51,000 people in the oil and gas industry – "including those working at gas stations and convenience stores with gas pumps." We're pretty sure there are no filling station attendants anywhere in the world making over $100,000 per year. And even if Colorado were to "ban fracking," which no ballot initiative underway in Colorado today is trying to do, we would still have gas stations.

In our experience, there is no surer way to alienate someone than to demonstrably lie to them.

From the outset, the oil and gas industry and their supporters have relied on misleading claims and exaggerations like you see above to make the case that they should be able to drill anytime, anywhere, regardless of the land use already in existence at the surface. The historic support the industry enjoyed among the public in the past in Colorado has been eroded – both by false statements from public officials like the example above, and by a perception that state regulatory officials were consistently favoring the industry over local residents. This loss of confidence in state regulators, which has accelerated in recent years under Gov. Hickenlooper, has led directly to bans and moratoria on "fracking" passing in numerous residential cities along the northern Front Range.

This is what Gov. Hickenlooper and other Democratic fixers for the oil and gas industry need to get through their heads: this isn't about Jared Polis. Last week it was confirmed, as conservationists had long suspected, that the air quality deal celebrated by Hickenlooper and the industry was needed to address emissions that are in truth vastly worse than previously believed. At the same time, the industry prevailed on two Democratic Senators, Mary Hodge and Pat Steadman, to kill even a study of the health effects of oil and gas drilling on Front Range counties in the legislature.

It doesn't matter how many Democratic politicians the industry can co-opt to represent them, how many times they mindlessly repeat the words "fracking ban" when no statewide ban is being proposed, or how many newspapers the industry can buy "sponsored content" sections in to print one-sided whitewash consumed as news. The passage of the "fracking" moratoria bans in Front Range cities, actual votes taken by Colorado citizens, speaks louder than any of that stuff. And–this is key–the industry and their political allies have no answer for them other than "we're going to sue you."

Bottom line: if there's going to be a special session to pass legislation on this issue, it had better be a real solution, one where local communities are meaningfully empowered to protect themselves, and the industry is making real concessions that the public can trust. Because if it's not, there's simply no reason for the voters to not take action themselves this fall. Framed as a issue of the health and safety of our kids and families versus a hazardous industrial practice, this is a political winner for every Democrat who is on the right side of it.

As for the ones who aren't? It's possible they have a political problem that no one can spin.

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