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Fracking Task Force Proposals Further Debate, Solve Little

On Friday, Governor Hickenlooper's fracking panel will release its first set of recommendations—and so far it seems like neither side is particularly happy. 

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If a good compromise is one in which neither side is particularly happy, then Governor Hickenlooper’s fracking task force seems to be doing a stellar job.

On Friday, the 21-member panel will release its first set of policy recommendations for how Colorado should practice fracking going forward, but some details of their conclusions have already been publicized.

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In a discouraging sign, one member of the task force is pre-emptively apologizing for his group’s failure to figure out two of the issue’s biggest concerns: the extent of local control over fracking operations and a firm resolution about the placement of wells and related equipment.

The task force did agree to grant a consulting role to the leaders of communities affected by fracking but stopped short of granting municipal governments any enforcement authority. The group also failed to sort out who gets priority in surface-owner versus mineral-owner disputes.

(Read: Fracking Fight Reaches Denver’s Doorstep)

Pro-development groups, who were reluctant participants in the task force to begin with, have expressed cautious optimism about the recommendations so far. Meanwhile, anti-fracking activists have long complained about Governor Hickenlooper’s close ties to the oil and gas industry, so they’re predictably concerned that the controls on the practice don’t go far enough to protect Colorado’s citizens and environment. Some of them have stated their intention to put a fracking ban on the state ballot in 2016.

The entire debate is complicated by the fact that low oil prices have recently slowed fracking plans here and elsewhere. The longer these prices stay down, the less crucial it seems to green-light a practice whose health and environmental risks still aren’t fully understood.

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The upshot of it, no matter how much work the task force does, the battle over this issue may not be settled until after the 2016 elections.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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