FT: “….Passions over fracking are on the rise in America. ….the rush to extract more shale energy is bringing industrialisation to picturesque ruraltowns and densely built city suburbs, where horrified residents say fracking is anything but clean.”
“In places such as Windsor, the industry’s growth is causing political fractures as well as cracks in the rocks. That signals trouble for Democrats and Republicans in the state, as fracking joins the long list of issues stoking disillusionment with government among voters. Next Tuesday’s midterm elections will offer more evidence of the problem.
In the early years of the shale boom, production was largely restricted to remote areas that were out of sight and out of mind. But the hunger for new sources has made oil companies the unwelcome new neighbours of homes, schools and hospitals. The front line runs through Colorado and its experience is a warning to other shale frontiers, from Pennsylvania to California, trying to balance energy development and environmental concerns.
The state is the US’s sixth-biggest energy producer and home to 52,000 active oil and gas wells. The industry directly employs 31,900 people in Colorado, according to a study for the American Petroleum Institute, a big lobby group. But the state’s experience shows that the harder the “shale gale” blows, the more people will want to restrict it.
….Colorado is a “purple” battleground state with an even mixture of blue Democrats, red Republicans and independent voters – a home to ranchers, hikers, hipsters and legal pot smokers. One of its senators, Mark Udall, is a Democrat and a champion of wind and solar energy. But in his campaign against Cory Gardner, a member of the House of Representatives, he has sought to match the Republican’s support for exports of liquefied natural gas, which depends on fracking. Their race is one of six or seven that will determine whether Republicans take control of the Senate .
The angry residents of Windsor do not necessarily represent the Coloradan majority. But their opinions are coursing through state politics. In a Quinnipiac poll last November, 51 per cent of Coloradan voters said they supported fracking and 34 per cent were against it.
….The people of Boulder and Broomfield have imposed bans on fracking within city limits. Longmont, Fort Collins and Lafayette also voted for bans, but the courts struck them down. Voters were concerned not only about industrial blight and traffic, but also about water contamination, earthquakes and respiratory illnesses. Some have scientific studies to back up their fears; the industry says these are faulty or inconclusive.
The ballot initiatives were set to spark a multimillion-dollar political war as the oil and gas industry squared off against well-funded anti-fracking activists (who were reportedly described as “long-haired, maggot-infested hippie freaks” by one industry representative in a speech). But the initiatives were a toxic threat to two Democrats on next week’s ballot who opposed them – Governor John Hickenlooper and Mr Udall – because they split the party’s base. Its environmental wing is at odds with moderate, pro-business Democrats.
Mr Hickenlooper, a former oil geologist who once drank fracking fluid to prove it was not dangerous, brokered a deal to put a temporary end to the problem in August. Mr Polis would withdraw his initiatives, the industry would drop its attacks, the governor would set up a task force to find a compromise – and a Democratic civil war was averted.
Compounding the situation is the state’s stance that local governments have no power to decide where oil and gas development can occur, effectively exempting the industry from requirements other businesses must satisfy to develop land. “When it comes to protecting citizens through local planning and zoning, Colorado is far behind New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and even Texas,” says Matt Sura, who was appointed to the governor’s task force as a lawyer representing homeowners.”