Like any good Western politician, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper responded to a brewing revolt among communities considering a ban on the controversial practice of fracking by drawing a bright line in the sand and daring them to step over it.
He promised to sue any city that takes such measures. But unlike other Westerners of lore, Hickenlooper buckled when he was taken up on the challenge.
On Tuesday, the Fort Collins City Council voted to ban fracking within city limits, becoming the second city to do so after voters in nearby Longmont banned fracking at the ballot box in November.
But rather than slap the city with a lawsuit as promised, Hickenlooper told the local newspaper that he was ready to negotiate a deal that seems counter to what he hoped to accomplish with the strong-arm tactic, which is to keep regulation of the oil and gas industry under state control rather than leaving it to the whims of individual communities.
Hickenlooper told the Fort Collins Coloradoan that he’s willing to consider a deal in which the state would split the cost of compensating oil and gas companies for their potential losses with towns that ban fracking.
“When you ban fracking, you’re telling all those people that paid their money, their savings, their investments to get their mineral rights now they’re being taken away,” Hickenlooper said.
“Maybe there’s a way a community can put up some of the money, the state puts up some of the money,” he said.
The governor’s spokesman, Eric Brown, wrote in an email to the Daily Caller News Foundation that Hickenlooper hasn’t backpedaled on his threat to sue.
“There’s been no change in his position,” Brown wrote. “Compromise is always preferred over legal action.”
While that may be, Brown did not reply to a question as to whether such a compromise might inspire communities that consider it worth the expense to also ban fracking.
Hickenlooper has argued against local regulations that are more onerous than those of the state — including all-out bans — because oil and gas companies shouldn’t have to deal with patchwork regulations that change from place to place throughout the state.
Before it voted to ban fracking, Longmont adopted stricter-than-state regulations that resulted in an ongoing lawsuit with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state regulatory agency.
Since the ban, the city has also been sued by an oil and gas association and a drilling company.
An otherwise popular Democrat, Hickenlooper has drawn the ire of environmentalists for his steadfast defense of fracking. He’s gone so far as to drink fracking fluid to prove it’s safe.
Despite the legal threats, some communities are willing to take the risk. Fracking opponents in the small town of Lafayette presented the City Council a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures calling for an emergency moratorium on the practice, with an eye toward placing a ban on the November ballot.
One resident told the city council that the city should be willing to risk being taken to court.
“I would take litigation over the permanent damage a frack job will have on us,” said Scott Papich.
But if Hickenlooper remains determined to use litigation against upstart communities, as Brown indicates he is, such bans might not last long. In 1986, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned an oil and gas drilling ban in the city of Greeley, ruling that the owners of subsurface mineral rights have the right to extract those minerals.
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