The Denver Business Journal's Cathy Proctor has a great story published yesterday with local reaction to the decision by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration in mid-December to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas entirely. New York state does not have the kind of widespread frackable energy deposits found in Colorado, but the region's rich Marcellus Shale formation stretches into some less-populated counties in the southern part of the state.
New York's reputation as an East Coast liberal stronghold is the first and most obvious line of defense for Colorado's growing army of energy industry spin doctors, but Proctor's story today demonstrates that the fight over fracking in Colorado is going to be impacted by New York's decision one way or another:
Asked about Cuomo's decision, [Gov. John] Hickenlooper said, via an email from his spokeswoman, that "Colorado is not New York and every state has to find the approach to energy development that makes sense for their communities."
"Colorado is fortunate to have an abundance of energy resources and a long history of environmentally responsible energy development, he said. "The work of our task force will ensure we continue to develop in a way that is safe for our residents, supports jobs and the economy, respects private property rights and protects our environment."
At the other end of the spectrum, [Rep. Jared] Polis criticized Colorado's existing regulations because they don't allow individuals and communities to decide where oil and gas operations should take place.
"While the state of New York has concluded the risks are too great to allow fracking at all, in Colorado homeowners aren't even allowed to stop oil and gas companies from drilling on their own property, despite potentially being only a few hundred feet from their home or school," Polis said in a statement. [Pols emphasis]
"I hope rather than banning it as a state, we let each homeowner and community decide if they want fracking or not," he said.
Here's something we've said before, and that even the leftiest anarcho-primitivist yurt dweller (you know who you are) needs to understand: there will be no statewide fracking ban in Colorado. When Gov. John Hickenlooper says that "Colorado is not New York," he's stating the obvious. There is only a very small percentage of fairly radical voters who will disagree with unabashedly pro-fracking Gov. Hickenlooper's view that energy development in Colorado is important, makes a lot of people in Colorado money, and has a long history. There is lots of debate over the degree of energy's importance to the state's economy, but it certainly does matter more to Colorado than to, say, New York.
But that's not really the point, because there will be no statewide ban on fracking in Colorado.
Fracking is not a new technology, but its widespread recent use to recover previously inaccessible oil and gas underlying a large area of Colorado's Front Range has brought mineral rights owners and the energy industry into direct conflict with densely populated residential communities. The industry's asserted right to operate their dirty industrial process anywhere there are mineral rights to do so results in horrendous land use conflicts that would never be allowed otherwise: heavy industry in neighborhoods, and next to schools. This is what has led to several Front Range cities passing moratoria and bans on fracking within their boundaries, directly challenging the state's hegemony over energy development.
We'll have more to say about the battle in Colorado over fracking, a battle with Democratic champions on both sides now in Hickenlooper and Rep. Jared Polis, as we continue to recap the year's biggest stories in Colorado politics. New York's decision to ban fracking is just one new discussion item in a debate that raged furiously in 2014 in Colorado, and is set to intensify early next year as the commission brokered in the uneasy truce between the energy industry and environmental groups allied with Rep. Polis makes policy recommendations on local control over drilling.
Here's the full report from the New York Department of Health. You'll notice pretty quickly that it asks more questions that it provides answers. But in large part, these are the same questions the people of Colorado are asking about fracking–and we're going to have to reckon with them here too. The absurdly shrill attacks on Polis and environmentalists this year for daring to challenge the status quo on this issue are severely discredited by New York's action–especially when you consider than none of the measures backed by Polis would have done what New York just did.
And the bottom line is, there won't be a statewide fracking ban in Colorado. We think it's important to say that over and over, since the energy industry's high-dollar PR campaign revolves around the hypothetical consequences of a fictitious proposal.
But having said that, New York's fracking ban is going to factor in Colorado's debate over fracking. And it should.