Colorado is waking up to the downside of the natural gas boom, and it’s tweaking the state’s politics.
As energy companies have sought access to more of the state’s gas-rich geologic layers — the Piceance Basin in Western Colorado is perhaps the biggest gas patch, but more wells are being drilled along the state’s populous Front Range, among other spots — citizens and their elected officials have begun to stand up in opposition.
Recently, as drillers have proposed to develop sites in populated areas, the cities of Longmont and Fort Collins have banned hydraulic fracturing, in which high-pressure water and chemicals are injected underground to release gas deposits.
Hickenlooper for Colorado
Reacting to the Longmont and Fort Collins decisions, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, announced that he'll sue any municipality that attempts to ban fracking. As holders of sub-surface mineral rights under Colorado’s split-estate laws, energy companies have the right to access those minerals, the governor said.
Hickenlooper’s stance, along with his claim to have actually consumed fracking fluid, has earned him the nickname “Frackenlooper” among some conservationists.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and ranchers on the state’s western slope are cooperating to stop the renewal of a set of gas leases on the White River National Forest. These unusual political bedfellows agree that the air, water and wildlife in the 221,500-acre Thompson Divide would be at risk if drilling is allowed to occur.
On a recent speaking engagement in the area, Hickenlooper supported the Thompson Divide drilling opponents, saying “that's a beautiful landscape that shouldn't be developed.”
So where to drill and where not? It’s not easy, and the governor’s ambivalence mirrors that of the public. This oil-and-gas debate is getting as muddy and convoluted as the Colorado River in springtime.
— – Bob Ward