The hydraulic fracturing controversy in Colorado Springs is heating up as City Council prepares for a February decision to rule on whether or not the deep-ground drilling practice is safe near populated areas.
During the City Council vote in December, which postponed a final decision on whether Colorado Springs will allow fracking within its city limits, the room was filled with concerned members of the community, as well as Colorado College students, carrying anti-fracking signs.
Colorado College junior Caroline Myers described the scene in City Council meeting last month as a debate between citizens who saw the financial benefits of fracking and those concerned about the impact that the contentious process could have on the already dry landscape of the Springs.
Fracking is a technique for extracting gas and oil from otherwise inaccessible rock formations. The process involves pumping large amounts of water and other fluids into the rock in order to create high levels of pressure in the fractures, or cracks, and to free the reservoirs of fossil fuels.
Many environmental protection groups have criticized this method, pointing to numerous instances where fracking has polluted the air and water near the drill site. The most notable example is a case in Pavillion, Wyo., where the Environmental Protection Agency was able to connect local fracking to nearby groundwater contamination.
However, Professor Emeritus of Political Science Robert Loevy has a different perspective on the local issue. He sees the controversial dispute as a classic face-off between state and local law.
“The media is making this seem like a story about a group who doesn’t want fracking and how they are trying to stop it by putting pressure on their city government,” Loevy said. “But in actuality, this is a constitutional issue.”
Loevy explained that in Colorado, and particularly around major cities, the state government has given a large portion of control to the local government. This principle, called “home rule,” allows the local governments to legislate how they see fit, unless the Colorado government chooses to make a statewide law.
Governor Hickenlooper, who angered a number of environmental groups last year when he posted pro-fracking ads, has made it clear that in this clash between the Colorado Springs government and energy companies, his office and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are in favor of letting the oil companies drill.
Last month, after Longmont, Colo. banned fracking within its city limits, the Governor’s office announced that it would not be suing the city to enforce state law, although it would support lawsuits that were brought against the city by energy companies.
“The state will not sue Longmont over the fracking ban because there is uncertainty over whether the state has legal standing to sue in this instance,” said Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper. “But we do stand ready to support an energy company that does file a law suit in response to the ban.”
Professor Loevy believes that the City Council will most likely vote on more restrictive regulations on drilling within the city limits, if only to appear as if they are working in the interest of their constituents. He stressed the importance of informing people about the limitations of home rule and the power of City Council, and added that concerns about fracking may be more effective if they are re-directed at the state level.
The City Council is still waiting to vote on the issue again, after the 7-2 decision in December postponed final judgment until next month.