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A ‘fracking’ consensus?

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By Greg Romberg

Who would have thought with the emphasis on our state’s new-energy economy that advances in ways to extract oil and natural gas would trigger economic opportunities in the energy industry in Colorado? And yet, that is what is happening as energy companies are preparing to utilize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract energy around Colorado.
The interesting conflict that comes with the ability to use these energy sources is that they exist under the ground in much more populated areas than we’re accustomed to seeing. The conflict between jump-starting our economy and reducing our dependence on foreign oil and maintaining the quality of life of people who never conceived that they would be living near industrial mining areas has led to a variety of bills before the legislature this year.
As development has moved closer to suburban areas, alarms have gone off in the neighborhoods where people worry that fracking operations will change their lives. Local officials and state legislators have seen concern over the impacts become the dominant issues in their town hall meetings. At the same time, state energy regulators and energy companies have expressed the view that a statewide approach is necessary to allow the industry to operate.
And so, we’ve seen myriad bills related to the issue introduced during this year’s session of the legislature. They run across an entire spectrum, from prohibiting any local government oversight of the industry to conferring specific land-use authority to cities and counties. They address issues of water quality in addition to requiring explicit disclosures to potential homebuyers that the mineral rights underneath homes they are considering purchasing belong to someone else and will subject them to the possibility that the owner of the mineral rights may someday exercise those rights. They include issues related to how much water will be used in the process and how to determine if and how the water can be reused afterward.
The issue is complicated, and as is often the case when we address issues of competing benefits, there are compelling arguments on every side. As the legislature sorts through all these issues, it is likely that not much will be resolved, because the issue is so complicated and there are still so many facets that require more time and energy to reach consensus. Despite the number of bills and amount of debate that will take place in 2012, that final resolution of the issues is not likely to happen this year.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.