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Colorado Democrats avoid nasty fracking fight for the November elections

John Hickenlooper
John Hickenlooper
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Politico reported on Monday that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has forged an agreement with competing groups to stop four ballot initiatives, two of which support hydraulic fracking in the state and four which opposes it. The agreement, done with the assistance of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, would instead create an 18 person task force to develop recommendations for overseeing Colorado’s energy development that will be presented to the Colorado state legislature next year. The matter may have less to do with energy and more to do with politics, however.

Hydraulic fracking is a process that involves injecting a fluid into a shale formation to force oil and gas to the surface where it can be collected. The process has caused an energy boom in states like North Dakota and Texas and has placed the United States well on the way to energy independence. It has also proven controversial with some environmentalists who claim that the process contaminates ground water, among other effects.

Hickenlooper’s maneuver forestalls a nasty ballot fight this fall that had every chance of galvanizing Republican voters. Fracking is popular among many for the potential it has to create jobs and spur economic development. Hickenlooper and one of the state’s Democratic senators, Mo Udall, are in tough reelection battles. The task force initiative that kicks the fracking controversy into next year would be all to their benefit.

Pro fracking forces approve of the initiative as well. The Democrats had only captured both houses of the Colorado state legislature in 2012. They control the state senate by a razor thin margin. If 2014 is a wave election for the GOP, the Republicans have every opportunity to take back the control of the legislature, perhaps along with the governorship and Udall’s senate seat as well. That means that any energy legislation that would be passed next year would be more favorable to the oil and gas industry.