I have a modest proposal to resolve the fractious issue of fracking in Colorado. It’s a win-win amendment to the Colorado Constitution that will pass in a landslide.
First, let’s review. A number of Colorado cities — including Longmont, Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins — are appalled by the prospect of oil and gas drilling in their communities and have attempted to either ban it outright or to delay it for years by the imposition of long moratoriums. The bans and moratoriums are imposed either on oil and gas production directly, or on hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the well stimulation process used on 95 percent of the oil and gas wells drilled in the U.S.
While such measures are wildly popular in the towns that passed them, they are also a direct violation of Colorado law, which makes regulation of oil and gas production the exclusive province of state government. So the anti-frackers are expected to propose an amendment to the state constitution next year that would give local governments the power to ban oil and gas production or fracking, or both, within their jurisdictions.
The fight over the putative amendment is likely to be nasty, brutish and crude. And breath-takingly expensive. But both enviros and roughnecks could enthusiastically support the amendment, if it were worded like this:
“Colorado cities and counties shall have the power to regulate or prohibit the production of oil and natural gas and to regulate or prohibit the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within their borders.
“Upon the adoption of a permanent or temporary prohibition on oil or gas production or fracking by any recognized Colorado city or county, the sale of gasoline, diesel fuel and natural gas within that city or county shall be prohibited for the duration of the ban.”
A city like Boulder, for example, would be constitutionally empowered to ban drilling and fracking within its city limits, or to impose moratoriums on them lasting until the end of the next ice age. This would remove the legal cloud hanging over Boulder’s recent voter-approved five-year moratorium on oil and gas production. But if Boulder kept its moratorium, residents would have to drive to, say, Weld County to buy gasoline. (They couldn’t drive to a gas station outside city limits in unincorporated Boulder County, because Boulder County has its own anti-oil and gas production moratorium in place.)
By the same token, Boulder residents would have to quit heating their homes with natural gas; all-electric heat is the obvious alternative, although wood, old newspapers and dried dung are also possibilities.
The amendment will appeal to anti-frackers and petro-prohibitionists because it gives them everything they’ve asked for and more.
The real agenda of anti-fracking activists is to ban all oil and gas drilling for environmental reasons. Attacking fracking is just a means to the broader end.
But if it makes sense to reduce the use of oil and natural gas by directly restricting production, it makes just as much sense to reduce the use of oil and natural gas by directly restricting consumption.
Banning the sale of oil and natural gas in Boulder would lead to obvious reductions in demand.
Granted, having to drive to Weld County to get gassed up would require Boulderites to use slightly more gasoline (maybe a gallon or so per refueling), but the hassle, inconvenience and aggravation of having to do so would cause Boulderites to reduce their discretionary driving and to plan their local trips more efficiently to stretch out the time between refueling runs, which would reduce Boulder’s overall gasoline consumption.
Still, the aggregate saving in gasoline use would probably amount to little more than a symbolic gesture, but hey, Boulder has never been bashful about practicing symbolic gesture environmentalism.
On the other hand, cutting off the sale of natural gas in Boulder would result in immediate, big-time reduction in natural gas use — a couple billion cubic feet a year, or the combined annual output of dozens of (fracked) Weld County gas wells.
And if Boulder’s putative municipal electric company gets its electricity from renewables, then the savings will not be cancelled out by having to generate electricity for heating with natural gas. Which means the amendment would allow Boulder (and like-minded communities) to give a green finger to both global warming and Big Oil.
So the amendment should be wildly popular with anti-frackers and environmentalists generally, who would vote for it in droves.
But would anyone else in Colorado vote for it?
Is T. Boone Pickens an oilman?
Let’s face it, when one drives over the top of Davidson Mesa and back into the world of real things, where gasoline is still considered a feature, not a bug, one quickly notices that there are hundreds of thousands of folks in Colorado who see things differently than Boulderites do.
These folks may or may not be impressed by pro-fracking talking points about jobs, energy independence, national security, or the fact that alternative energy still isn’t much of an alternative.
But they are most definitely not impressed by “do as I say, not as I do” environmentalists who want to ban oil and gas production while living an oil and gas dependent lifestyle — like the folks in Boulder who own 58,000 cars and trucks and heat 99 percent of their homes and businesses with natural gas. And they’ll vote in a heartbeat for an amendment that requires such greenwashed NIMBYs to walk their talk or shut up — because they resent eco-busybodies as much as eco-busybodies resent oil companies.
Resentment — that’s the key. At a time when the country is wallowing in the politics of resentment, the amendment allows both sides to vote their resentments by voting “yes.”
It can’t lose.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.