Reality Check for Anti-Fracking Activists Ahead of “Local Control” House Hearing
For years, anti-energy activists in Colorado have tried to portray local governments as “powerless” when it comes to oil and gas development in our state. But as we have seen time and time again, these local-sounding talking points mask a fringe national agenda to completely shut down oil and gas development across Colorado and the rest of the country.
Now, with the Colorado state legislature preparing to take up the issue at a hearing this afternoon, a look back at how local elected officials and others describe the working relationship between local governments and oil and gas developers paints a very different picture from what activists would like the media and public to believe.
For Activists, Local Control Means “Full-Fledged Ban”
Activists may have abandoned a ballot initiative for a statewide ban on fracking in Colorado, but a conference call hosted by the coalition of activists pushing the remaining initiatives shows that their agenda hasn’t changed at all. On the call, Tricia Olson of Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Development (CREED) told the group that the newest “local control” measure is basically a “full-fledged” fracking ban:
“This version however has one significant difference, what we would call a floor, not a ceiling language. To lift its points, it authorizes local governments to pass regulations — prohibit, limit or impose moratoriums on oil and gas development. Of course the word prohibit means ban. This allows for a broad range of local government options within their jurisdictions from local actions to a full-fledged ban.” (23:14-23:44)
Reality Check from Colorado Municipal League on Local Control
Geoff Wilson, general counsel at the Colorado Municipal League,” the leading nonpartisan resource for municipal officials in Colorado,” previously told the Denver Post:
“The idea that there is this seething cauldron of conflict between the industry and local governments, I just don’t buy it. Yes, you can find examples where things aren’t working out, and to me that’s just the noise of local government in operation. …
“I think we’re doing better than we ever have. You know, things were really awful in the early 1990s. The oil and gas companies weren’t very sophisticated in how they dealt with the local communities that were hosting their activity. And we in local government weren’t very knowledgeable about this industry. And both of those things have changed in the years since.”
“Significant Majority” of Colorado’s County Commissioners Say No to Local Control
Colorado’s County Commissioners have also weighed-in against expanding local control with a resolution approved by a “significant majority” of the state’s county commissioners attending the Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI) annual Winter Conference last year. Adopted by a voice vote at the CCI meeting, the resolution states “a vast majority of Colorado counties have already proven their ability to successfully regulate and negotiate in good faith with the industry to strike a balance between private, state and local interests.”
Local Officials Sound-Off Against Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives to Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force
As the Colorado oil and gas task force meetings were held last year, many local officials told the panel they support the state’s existing framework of regulations governing land use and energy production. Here are remarks from just a few of those who testified against increasing local control:
Baca County Commissioner Peter Dawson:
“We are worried about the assumption that there is a need for more regulation.”
Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe:
“The County spent two years developing a land use process for this industry in the county. We didn’t want to duplicate what the state is already doing and even received a letter from the state Attorney General’s office about limits of local governments’ powers. The county developed an MOU to work with the industry. The MOU verifies that the county had enough local control over the industry. The MOU passed with a 3-2 vote on the BOCC. Believe the MOU is a model and encourage others to take a look at it to see how to make things work.”
Rio Blanco County Commissioner, Jon Hill:
“The County feels like there is good local control through existing county land use authority. We permit the well sites, compressors, and temporary housing along with industry hours of operation. We put county road frost restrictions in place during the spring and are currently rewriting the land use regulations, adjusting them to be more efficient for industry by reducing the number of permits if the driller already applied to the BLM or the state. We were going to do groundwater testing until the state developed more stringent regulations. When our new land use regulations are approved companies who drill in compact residential areas will need to go through a limited public review. Rural residential areas may still be permitted by administrative review.”
Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky:
“The oil and gas industry has been in Colorado a long time and we still have a beautiful state with clean air and clean water. Industry is able to coexist with other activities such as hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation. Garfield is the largest natural gas producer with 10,800 wells in the county. One well had an incident where gas got into the aquifer and the company spent $300K in fines and more than $1M in mitigation. Over the years, this one out of all the wells to have a major impact on the water. Garfield County and the industry have put in air monitoring and air quality has steadily improved since 2008. Not concerned about fracking because we have the strictest rules in nation and the energy companies have to follow these regulations. About local control, Gunnison County has the most stringent rules in Colorado, Delta uses MOUs similar to Front Range counties, Garfield County relies on the state inspectors for downhole regulation, but the county still inspects water holdings and compressors. Local control already exists. We need to continue to look at the better technology developed over the last years that allows for remote fracking, recycling water and directional drilling that reduces surface impacts. Garfield County is very concerned about the property rights, such as, mineral, wind, grazing and so on. There are probably 100 yrs. of gas reserves in the county.”
These testimonials from groups representing Colorado’s local governments and local elected officials completely undermine the attempts of anti-energy activists to portray local governments as powerless in making decisions on oil and gas development in our state. Activists who remain committed to these talking points in their attempts to ban oil and gas development are ignoring the fact that a vast majority of Colorado’s local governments support the current regulatory environment.