Fracking deal likely just delays further battles

Color us skeptical — and cynical.

Skeptical that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s newly appointed task force will forge a compromise on fracking that would prove acceptable to all sides. Cynical that withdrawal of competing ballot measures was anything other than a realization by backers on both sides that they had overplayed their hands.

Hickenlooper and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., created quite a stir Aug. 4 when they announced a compromise calling for fracking opponents and proponents mutually to withdraw competing measures from the November ballot.

That was in exchange for creation of an 18-member task force made up of conservationists, civic leaders, local government officials and representatives from the oil and gas, agricultural and home-building industries to make recommendations to the Legislature for new laws addressing the issue. The governor also intends to ask the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to withdraw a lawsuit challenging Longmont’s oil and gas regulations, although a legal challenge to that city’s outright ban on hydraulic fracturing will proceed.

Hickenlooper heralded the compromise, saying, “This approach will put the matter in the hands of a balanced group of thoughtful community leaders, business representatives and citizens who can advise the Legislature and the executive branch on the best path forward.”

Maybe. But the challenge is daunting, with diametrically opposed sides seeking a compromise that thus far has proved elusive. Will environmentalists suddenly realize the benefits of energy development? Will pro-fracking forces embrace greater local oversight and control? Unlikely.

Still, it means, at least for now, that this important, complex issue won’t be decided at the polls, which we believe is appropriate. But whether the Legislature will be any more effective at solving this problem when the issues comes back to it next year remains to be seen.

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