EDITORIAL: Colorado is ready for local control over oil and gas drilling and fracking

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The Colorado Supreme Court issued more than a decision this week on whether the state should choose health interests over oil and gas commerce, the justices virtually issued an edict: Write a new law.

The state’s high court ruled unanimously Jan. 14 that current law does not permit Colorado oil and gas commissioners to make health and environmental concerns a priority. When regulating the oil industry, impact on business, human health and the environment all must get equal consideration, state law says, and all justices agreed.

That’s ludicrous. While defining a public danger is often subjective, almost every law regulating every other kind of business is ultimately created to protect public health and welfare, and rightfully so.

Unthinkably, the law currently says regulators can’t ensure public safety when it comes to permitting petroleum drilling and fracking, because if a ruling costs the industry money, public welfare isn’t worth it.

Imagine if fire codes were enforced under the same constraints.

Democrats, now in control of state government, have vowed to push through legislation.  They’re right to promise change, and that change needs to allow for local control of the oil industry, just like every other industry in the state.

Gov. Jared Polis has indicated he’ll sign legislation empowering local communities.  “…we stand up for our communities — and their right to have a voice when it comes to industrial activities within their borders,” Polis said during his state of the state address last week. “It’s time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil-and-gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact.”

We were adamant last fall that Proposition 112, mandating statewide drilling setbacks of 2,500 feet, was wrong for the state because its arbitrary distance doesn’t fit the state’s wildly varied terrain and conditions.

Instead, state lawmakers need to change the law to allow for local variances on how close and how far unique projects can be.

Even if the state had a homogeneous landscape, it would be impossible to create a set of rules and set-backs that could safely, accurately and fairly address the inevitable plethora of oddities.

Aurora is just such a place. It’s easy to see that on the lonely eastern horizon, where even roads are miles apart, any one-size-fits-all setbacks isn’t practical. Where homes have met prairie, variances have become critical.

Despite all the assurances of the industry, drilling and fracking creates real visual and environmental pollution that communities must endure. Only local officials can determine the best way to mitigate problems in unique settings. They can increase screening requirements, address traffic issues, noise problems and work with the state to ensure the health of the public and the environment.

We encourage legislators to ensure communities like Aurora must have the option and the power to make common-sense decisions to protect everyone’s interests.