Association CEO Looks to Debate Congressman Over Fracking Conflict

As an ongoing conflict about the rights of local communities versus the energy industry plays out in Colorado, Rep. Jared Polis has sided with the communities in his district. But the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's CEO hopes to make her association's case in a debate with the congressman.

As a fight between local communities and the energy industry plays out in Colorado over hydraulic fracturing, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s CEO hopes to make her group’s case by debating the area’s anti-fracking congressman.

It’s not every day that a member of Congress gets a request from an association executive to take part in a series of debates.

I know our neighbors would appreciate a public and civil discourse on this contentious issue.

But that’s what happened recently when a conflict over hydraulic fracturing—a controversial method of extracting oil and natural gas, more commonly called “fracking”—bubbled over between Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA).

The situation: Earlier this year, residents in three different Colorado communities voted to impose five-year moratoriums on fracking, and voters in a fourth approved a ban on the practice. COGA sued two of them, Lafayette and Fort Collins (where voters approved the ban), arguing that state law stipulates that property owners can offer up their property for the purpose of fracking and that state law supersedes local law on the issue. COGA’s lawsuits follow one in Longmont, Colorado, where a similar restriction passed in 2012. Politicians have criticized the suits, while the association said in a statement that the situation is “regrettable.”

Polis’ role: Polis, whose congressional district includes the towns that have passed anti-fracking measures, has called on the COGA to withdraw the lawsuits. “Colorado Oil and Gas Association needs to focus on winning over hearts and minds, not suing us when they disagree with the legitimate outcome of elections,” he said in a statement. Polis lives in Boulder, another jurisdiction where voters approved a moratorium. He has been personally affected by the issue, having once filed a lawsuit over fracking at a site near property he owned. (He later withdrew the suit.) The affected neighborhood has “been totally transformed,” he told the Boulder Daily Camera earlier this year. “It’s just…you can’t live here. Our lives are upended. I don’t know what the future holds. There’s very little you can do, under Colorado law.”

Care to debate? In a letter to Polis, COGA President and CEO Tisha Schuller extended an unusual invitation: She’s offered to debate the congressman on the issue, saying a series of such debates would allow for a stronger dialogue. Schuller, who resides in Polis’ district, hopes to hold the first one there. “Our shared home of Boulder County is the obvious choice for the first of these debates—I know our neighbors would appreciate a public and civil discourse on this contentious issue,” she said in the letter, first published by The Huffington Post. “The recent lawsuits have only highlighted this fact.” Polis has yet to respond to the letter.

The state government appears to support the association in the fracking fight. In particular, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has come out in support of the industry, offering a sympathetic comment to the radio station KVNF: “What we’ve said from the beginning, our state constitution guarantees people the right to access their minerals, that’s the split estate,” he said. “Our job is to make sure we work in partnership with the industry.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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