Colorado Fracking: How Local Governments Can Impact Fracking Regulations

The process of hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking,” involves injecting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand deep into the earth’s surface to release the oil beneath (Minor 68). This harvesting process coupled with vague federal regulations has lead to a “fracking boom” in the US and the focus has been on the economic benefits, rather than the environmental costs and threats (Minor 68-69). Despite the fact that the Obama administration recently passed the nation’s first attempt at comprehensive fracking regulations (Davenport), it is really local governments that can be most effective in passing fracking regulations and protecting their environment, which can be demonstrated through an institutional analysis. (Minor 64-65).

In the reading by Norman Miller, the author discusses the evolution of state and local governments and how they can both play a major role in environmental policy by creating more relevant and direct legislature (Miller 59-60). While states and cities lack the same means (both monetary and organizational) of the federal government, their legislature can be passed more quickly and can limit the influence that large industries have on the federal government (Miller 67-69). In the fracking debate, Colorado municipalities such as Longmont have been extremely effective in passing fracking regulations by focusing on land use ordinances to increase their power, rather than attempting to regulate the fracking process itself, which is outside of their authority (Minor 62).

The difficulty for local governments lies in passing laws that do not interfere with state laws, as a municipality’s decision cannot supersede state law (Minor 102). The La Plata and Voss court decisions suggest that local governments can regulate fracking via land use strategies, which is the source of their authority (Minor 67). This allows them to address the environmental costs in their own communities without the authority of the state government, which gives more meaning to the local governments as well as places the power closer to the people and shows direct results (Minor 69-72) by passing zoning ordinances, which ban fracking in certain areas (Minor 108-109). Since legislature that bans fracking altogether can be difficult to hold up in court, another strategy employed by Greeley, Colorado is to require special use permits and impact fees to drill in their municipality, while also avoiding conflict with the state government (Minor 114-115).

The previously mentioned Voss decision allows local governments to pass regulations that do not interfere with or are not addressed by state law (Minor 100). Therefore, local governments can pass effective regulations by addressing technical conditions that apply to their particular area and are not necessarily addressed in state legislation (Minor 112). Thus the policy process can take place much more rapidly on the local scale, where state or federal laws leave room for municipal policies.

By targeting the environmental costs of fracking through addressing the socioeconomic impacts, the local governments can exercise their authority without impeding on state legislature. Therefore, to achieve immediate environmental benefits it is most effective to begin on a smaller scale through local institutions that have the authority to address concerns in their own communities and preserve the environment for the future.

Works Cited

Davenport, Coral. “New Federal Rules Are Set for Fracking.” The New York Times,         March 20, 2015.      administration-unveils-federal-fracking-regulations.html.

Miller, Norman. 2009. “The Burgeoning Role of State and Local Governments” in             Environmental Politics: Stakeholders, Interests, and Policymaking, p. 59-73.          Second Edition.

Minor, Joel. 2014. Stanford Environmental Law Journal. Local Government Fracking        Regulations: A Colorado Case Study

About Colin Knight

I am a junior at Davidson College with a major in political science and a minor in Spanish. In regards to environmental politics, I am specifically interested in renewable energies and sustainable development.

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