Bringing Balance to the Fracking Debate

By: Nancy Sharpe, Arapahoe County Commissioner, District 2

As both a county official and a resident of Arapahoe County, I want to take a moment to address the issue of the balance as it relates to oil and gas development, both in our county and in the state of Colorado. The theme of balance is one that seems to have been embraced by one side in this debate, while largely rejected by the other, leaving the rest of us to deal with the potential fallout of bans on oil and gas production.

When we talk about balance, we should look at the recently proposed oil and gas emission rules that were developed through collaboration between environmental groups, the Hickenlooper Administration, and some of Colorado’s largest oil and natural gas producers. The newly proposed rules would allow oil and gas production in our state to continue, while tighter restrictions on emissions at production sites will mean we continue to have clean, healthy air and development benefits associated with oil and gas production, at no cost to our health.

We should also look at tools like Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) that have been reached between counties/cities (including Arapahoe County) and the oil and gas industry. These MOUs allow oil and gas development in individual communities to occur in the manner that best suits the community in question. In doing so, we ensure that development in individual communities occurs in a manner that is workable (and efficient) for the industry, local government, state government and, importantly, citizens.

The Memorandum of Understanding in Arapahoe County was the result of 18 months of listening to our community, including environmental groups, citizens, businesses and oil and gas operators.

We took the time to consider and research each group’s concerns. As a result, our County MOU passed with unanimous bipartisan support by the Arapahoe County Board of Commissioners. The agreement that we reached with oil and gas companies embodies the idea of balance. It allows oil and gas production in our county to occur in a manner that is consistent with the abilities and responsibilities of the respective regulatory agencies and bodies.

When companies have Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) approval and sign our Arapahoe County agreement, their drilling applications are fast tracked. The MOU which was approved by our Board exceeds the regulations required by the State for drilling. The COGCC monitors the drilling process, while Arapahoe County regulates activities like impacts to county roads. In addition to the MOU, Arapahoe County has hired an oil and gas specialist. Our specialist works with oil and gas operators, provides professional expertise to our Board and county staff, and will contact the COGCC if there are State safety or compliance concerns.

It is disappointing to see that some communities have elected not to follow the example of Arapahoe County and others. The consequences of proposed bans and moratoriums will have devastating impacts on communities across Colorado and on the economy of our State. Bans displace our friends, relatives, and neighbors from their jobs. Bans also eliminate an important source of tax revenues for schools, parks and roads from cities and counties. Eliminating the ability to produce cheap energy for heating our homes hurts all of us, the poor being the most affected.

For any public official, the well-being of its citizens should be of paramount concern. This means working to ensure that our industrial practices are well-regulated, while at the same time making sure that we have jobs and tax revenue to support crucial public services.