The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Fracking Showdown Approaches in Colorado

In Longmont, Colorado, voters approved a measure to ban fracking, placing their town at the forefront of heated legal and political battles over the practice.

In an interesting parallel to the recent marijuana legalization measures, the ban has set the stage for a confrontation between state and local government over who exactly has the authority to regulate energy companies. The New York Times reports:

Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has warned Longmont residents that the ban is likely to mean a lawsuit from the state, which insists that only it has the authority to regulate drilling. Already this summer, Colorado sued Longmont over earlier city rules that limit drilling near schools and homes.

Local leaders are also bracing for more lawsuits as they tell energy companies they can no longer frack their wells — a process that involves injecting thousands of gallons of pressurized water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth to fissure the rock and extract the oil and gas locked inside.

We’re liable to see many more conflicts like this in the years to come. Plenty of cities and towns have anti-fracking majorities that can cause headaches for energy companies. Besides people with legitimate concerns about the still poorly understood risks of an emerging technology, there are plenty of NIMBYs out there who don’t want any kind of development taking place anywhere near them.

But somebody somewhere has to drill for something, and many state governments don’t want locals to obstruct promising economic opportunities. The Battle of Longmont won’t be the last in the Fracking Wars now getting under way.

Published on November 26, 2012 3:24 pm