Friday, June 20, 2014

Colorado – Ground Zero for the Great Hydrocarbon Battle in the Country

Colorado, after more than a decade of being a swing state first telling the story of the emerging Democratic majority, is still at the top of the news – now describing the fracturing of the Democratic Party over fracking.

The North Front Range has become a battleground with state and national consequences. The anti-hydrocarbon environmental movement has joined in a powerful union with local residents concerned about normal NIMBY issues of traffic, noise, dust, water and air pollution and aesthetics that accompany any major industrial expansion – in this case, gas and oil development. Together they have defeated expensive gas and oil campaigns to pass bans and moratoriums in four North Front Range cities. And now they are gathering signatures for a statewide ballot initiative that could ban gas and oil exploration in large sections of production areas.

A fix, which would give local residents more control over their land use, is being overridden by the ideological forces that see benefit in a November ballot battle. This will be an existential battle over the future of gas and oil production in Colorado, and the outcome is uncertain.

Along with Washington Post and New York Times, the conservative press and networks are drilling down on the implications for Democratic politics from a fracking ban in the November election. Much of the party establishment wants regulation, but not bans, and most of the party grassroots and environmental left want to limit natural gas production as much as possible.

The next confrontation will be primary night in Loveland as voters get to vote on the latest indefinite fracking moratorium.

Jillian Kay Melchior in the National Review Online carries the latest view, “Fracking Fracas in Loveland,” June 17, 2014.

Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based independent political consultant, calls Colorado “ground zero for a great hydrocarbon battle in the country.” The Loveland vote, he says, will test whether environmentalists can gain by pursuing strategic local-level restrictions against fracking. But these local votes, paired with proposed state-level ballot-initiative efforts, have created a major fault line among Colorado Democrats.

“The Democratic party is tremendously divided,” Ciruli explains. “That’s the gist of the problem here for the Democrats. Probably the rank and file oppose fracking…but the Democratic-party establishment is mostly in favor of it, including the governor, who is strongly in favor of it.”

“This is really an internal Democratic-party fight, which I think they’re worried could go into the election and cause the governor and maybe Udall a lot of controversy,” Ciruli says. “They would end up being out of alignment with their base, which is environmentalist.”

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