Will Colorado Vote Against Fracking … or Flooding?

Colorado shouldn’t hurt itself by voting to ban fracking.

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In this Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 photo, flood waters recede from an oil and gas well pump site near Greeley, Colo. Colorado’s floods shut down hundreds of natural gas and oil wells, spilled oil from one tank and sent inspectors into the field looking for more pollution. Besides the environmental impact, flood damage to roads, railroads and other infrastructure will affect the region’s energy production for months to come. Analysts warn that images of flooded wellheads will increase public pressure to impose restrictions on drilling techniques such as fracking.

I came across an interesting item from the Christian Science Monitor that says residents of Boulder, Broomfield and Fort Collins, Colo., will vote this week on five-year moratoriums on fracking, while voters in Lafayette, Colo., will vote on an outright ban. The four regions encompass about 141 active wells out of the state's total 51,398, according to Bloomberg.

Last year, Longmont, a small town about 40 miles north of Denver, voted to ban fracking, but that is currently being challenged in court by the oil and gas industry. The Monitor suggested that the votes out of these Colorado communities may serve as "a litmus test" for the oil and gas industry and perhaps the rest of the country.

In other words, will fracking continue to fuel growth in Colorado and other states with sizable untapped reservoirs of previously unreachable oil and natural gas? Or will Colorado select a self-imposed inertia that other states might follow?

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

The U.S. Department of Energy says Colorado is blessed with as much as an estimated 2 billion barrels of oil. Colorado's crude oil production has risen 64 percent since 2010 and marketed natural gas production rose 27 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration.

And the Monitor says the energy boom in Colorado is similar to what's happening across the Western states where horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other advanced drilling techniques are unlocking oil and gas from the Niobarara, Anadarko and Permian basins. Oklahoma and New Mexico have seen oil production rise 51 percent and 46 percent respectively during the same period. 

One cannot help but think that the timing of this vote might be something the state comes to regret if voters choose to forestall fracking and energy growth. Let's hope that a vote against fracking, if so chosen, is chosen for the right reasons.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Fracking a Good Idea?]

Let's hope the vote is not simply a lashing out in response to the incredible damage from flooding in September. USA Today reported that the floods killed at least eight people and damaged or destroyed as many as 2,000 homes. Record precipitation -- as much as 17 inches of rain in some areas-- washed out hundreds of miles of roads and left many small towns completely cut off. The floods caused damage across nearly 2,000 square miles. The Monitor even stoked fears, saying "the risks of oil and gas extraction were on display in September when heavy rains flooded wells, ruptured pipes, and toppled storage containers, releasing about 43,000 gallons of oil and gas condensate."

But fracking didn't do that. Let's hope voters think carefully about what they're really mad about.

Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com.

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