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September 9, 2014

Colorado towns struggle for control over fracking


Colorado’s towns are fighting with the state government for control over fracking regulations.  Residents worry that there are not enough safety rules in place to prevent damage to their environment and quality of life.

Energy companies use fracking to get natural oil and gas out of shale rock. The process involves high pressure drills and flooding the layers of rock with water.  Environmental groups claim fracking drains water resources and releases chemical toxins such as methane into the environment.

Fracking is fairly widespread, accounting for more than 43 percent of oil production and over 67 of natural gas production in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The energy companies say fracking has only a minimal effect on the environment and creates jobs. They also say that fracking and other new technologies are critical for America’s energy independence and foreign policy.

For decades, American presidents have focused on moving away from buying oil from other countries because the American money used to purchase energy has supported dictators and unstable, undemocratic governments in the Middle East and South America. Because of new technologies such as fracking, energy companies argue, United States is projected to be energy independent in the next two decades.

But Colorado communities are concerned about fracking’s potential effects, such as the installation of unwelcome drill towers and wellheads in the area.

After the town of Longmont, Colorado passed a ban on fracking, the state government sued the town, leading citizens to call for a statewide initiative to give communities control over fracking rules.

Last month, Governor John Hickenlooper announced a compromise that would drop the local lawsuits and create a commission on local control issues for the state government. The commission would be made up of community leaders, business representatives and citizens, Hickenlooper said.

Several states around the country are dealing with similar fights over fracking, and will be watching the Colorado commissions to see if they result in an agreeable path forward for local residents and the energy companies.

Warm up questions
  1. Name the natural resources we use to power things like our houses and cars?\
  2. How do energy companies get these natural resources?
  3. Governments are run on three levels – local, state and federal. Each level controls different things, for example state governments control public school curriculum. Which level do you think is the most important to you on a daily basis? Explain your answer. Also, which level or levels do you think should bear the responsibility of taking care of the environment? Explain your answer.
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are some of the risks and benefits of using fracking as a method to get oil and natural gas? Specifically, think about the risks and benefits in terms of the environment, the people living near fracking sites, companies that profit from fracking and the general population that relies on oil and gas.
  2. If residents concerned about the environmental impact of fracking do not want to allow fracking to take place within their local community, should they be allowed to stop companies from buying land and using it for fracking?
  3. Because of new technologies such as fracking, the United States is projected to be energy independent in the next two decades. How does the need for American energy sources balance the need for a healthy environment?
  4. Consider who are the “winners” and “losers” if a local bill against fracking is created. Now consider if every town was allowed to legally ban fracking, what would be the consequences (good and bad) to the general population? Hint: think about supply and demand.

For more information on the process of fracking, please visit exploreshale.org.

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