That was a close one.
The fracking debate in Colorado nearly moved into dangerous territory this month in the form of two highly restrictive ballot initiatives. If they had moved forward and been approved, they would have resulted in damaging legislation not only at the state level, but ultimately on a national and global scale.
The anti-fracking movement already had gained significant ground in Colorado, where four small cities have declared moratoriums on fracking. Matters took a turn for the worse when Democrat Rep Jared Polis put his support behind two statewide ballot measures limiting fracking. They would have appeared before voters with two pro-fracking questions.
Especially troubling was the proposed 2,000-foot setback initiative for occupied structures. If approved, it would have left operators, in far too many cases, with virtually no room to drill. In fact, drilling in the Denver-Julesburg Basin would have been impossible.
At the last minute, however, Polis agreed to remove his support for the ballot initiatives. Instead, a state commission will organize to research oil and gas development in Colorado and make recommendations to state lawmakers.
This decision — the first in history to rethink anti-fracking legislation — is pivotal.
Instead of setting precedent for a domino-effect of job-killing, economy-weakening anti-fracking laws in this country and other nations, the new path in Colorado sets a tone for a more reasoned, thoughtful approach to approaching fracking legislation.
Colorado Oil & Gas Association President Tisha Schuller described the decision as “a victory for bipartisan common sense and common ground.” The decision is a victory for common sense, though the fracking debate in Colorado really didn’t fall along partisan lines. Instead, it was a difference of opinion between those who believe shale energy production is a win-win for the energy industry and residents versus those who fear fracking will harm the environment and are willing to go to great lengths to stop it.
Vincent Carroll, in an Aug. 5 editorial for the Denver Post, used stronger language to describe the environmentalists’ agenda and their new reality. “The fractivists’ cherished goal of sabotaging the oil and gas industry may be doomed,” he writes.
The Colorado decision certainly does change the landscape. It followed significant financial investment on the part of anti-fracking activists, and it likely took some of the wind out of their sails. Those who still are in the thick of the fracking debate in such US states as California, New York and Pennsylvania, not to mention in those in Europe, South Africa and other nations, probably have been following the events in Colorado closely. Given the outcome, they may not be so quick to push forward aggressive anti-fracking policies going forward.
The chain of events in Colorado has another upside. In their efforts to counter the anti-fracking campaign there, oil and gas industry representatives were able to make a strong well-publicized case for shale energy production and its tremendous impact on economic growth and job production. Essentially, they were given a valuable opportunity to educate the public on the shale energy boom and what it means to individuals and communities. It’s vitally important for people to understand that a healthy oil and gas industry is not counterintuitive to healthy communities. The US Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy estimated in 2012 that shale energy production had created more than 77,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs in Colorado and is projected to support 121,000 jobs by 2020. Shale energy development could be generating as much as $2.4 billion in state and local revenue by 2020, the study says.
This debate has helped get the word out about shale energy’s national impact as well. For the first time in decades, energy self-sufficiency is within our country’s grasp. Further, the US is now the world’s top oil producer – surpassing both Russia and Saudi Arabia — as a result of the US shale boom.
While the fracking debate certainly will continue on, education will always play a critical role in diluting anti-fracking campaigns that are based on fear and incomplete information.
At least now, for the first time, there is precedent for a reasoned approach to developing fracking legislation.