Gas patch resident fracking concerns not going away any time soon

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]oloradans living in the northern Front Range gas patch are moving forward with the movement to wrest greater control over drilling in their cities and towns, despite recent events.

The first week of August, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper pulled a rabbit out of a hat when he persuaded the main parties engaged in a heated, expensive battle over oil-and-gas drilling regulation to agree to an effective truce so that a task force could study the issue and then make recommendations to the legislature next year.

But residents of the gas patch, where drillers have pocked the landscape with wells and storage tanks and moved with impunity into residential areas, have reason to be skeptical that the task force will adequately address their concerns. They are the ones who started the movement for greater local control, and they made great strides, going door to door and rallying the populations of towns across the region to back five municipal bans or moratoriums on drilling. They raised awareness about the scope of the heavy industrial activity and the apparent lack of will among many state and local leaders to set up and enforce zoning laws that would protect public safety and property values. They put politicians and the powerful oil-and-gas industry on their heels.

In the wake of news of the task-force deal, however, judges have begun striking down the bans and moratoriums as violations of state law. And as the Fort Collins Coloradoan reports today, the task force, which will include 18 members — six civic leaders or residents, six oil industry representatives and six “respected Coloradans” — has drawn nearly 300 applications, mostly from lawyers, professional mediators and county commissioners. Those aren’t the kind of people that supported the movement for greater local control.

Congressman Jared Polis represents most of the towns in the region that have voted in favor of bans on drilling and he has been a strong supporter of the democratic movement for greater control. He was on the frontline of the battle that forced Hickenlooper to engineer the task-force deal, throwing a million dollars of his own money into a statewide citizens ballot initiatives campaign that got a lot of attention and eventually drew resistant parties to the table.

He told the Coloradoan today that, if the task force doesn’t perform or if the legislature fails to take up its recommendations, the citizen movement to take the issue directly to the ballot box likely will be up and running again next year.

“I think that’s likely,” he said. “I think that what Coloradans and what Fort Collins residents are demanding is that these issues be addressed.”

That opinion will come as no surprise to anyone who has been watching things unfold on the ground this month.

The city council members of Longmont, the first city to ban fracking, voted unanimously almost without debate to appeal the recent court decision that struck down its ban and they are asking other cities to join the suit and help defray legal expenses.

Supporters of greater local regulatory control are rallying around a movie (a series of Colorado-based shorts) called “Dear Governor Hickenlooper” that sounds alarms about contemporary drilling and that will screen around the state all year.

Go stand on a corner in Broomfield, Boulder, Fort Collins, Lafayette, Longmont, Loveland, watch the drilling rigs come and ask a passerby about drilling regulation and the governor’s task force. Watch their eyes narrow and the corner of one side of their mouth turn up. It’s the face of a citizen who knows, at least instinctively by way of experience, that there are more than 50,000 active oil and gas wells being worked in Colorado, that the number of industry lobbyists in the state exceeds the number of well inspectors, and that the those lobbyists are paid very well to rule the hallways at the state capitol, and they do.

[ Top image: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper ]