By The Denver Post Editorial Board
Colorado Gov. John Hickelooper seems to think there's a role for the state to play in helping compensate mineral rights owners who are denied royalties due to local fracking bans.
We disagree, and strenuously so. It's a bad idea from both practical and philosophical standpoints.
Last week, just after the Fort Collins City Council voted to ban fracking, Gov. John Hickenlooper visited with the city's newspaper, The Coloradoan.
He acknowledged the oil and gas extraction technique known as fracking was troubling to some residents. And he expressed concern for those who own mineral rights, saying a fracking ban is equivalent to a "taking" of their property.
The governor, according to The Coloradoan, said the value of those mineral rights would have to be determined so the owners could be compensated.
While we agree that if mineral rights owners were to see their property taken they ought to be paid for those rights, the process of determining value would be a messy one.
Would it be the cost owners paid to acquire rights, or the market rate? And how would one determine market rate?
It's the next part of what Hickenlooper said that concerns us even more.
"Maybe there's a way a community can put up some of the money, the state puts up some of the money," he said, according to the Coloradoan.
And: "How can the state be a partner in this? How can we compensate the property owners of the minerals?"
The state? Why in the world would the state underwrite local bans?
This is a mess created by local government officials who have banned fracking, and we think illegally so.
The Colorado Supreme Court said in 1992 that a city, in that instance Greeley, could not ban oil drilling. It's not a stretch to believe they'd rule the same way on fracking.
The law is not on the side of local governments enacting bans, and they ought to bear the financial burden of their decisions.
Furthermore, just where would state compensation money come from? It's not as if Colorado has uncommitted wads of cash laying about.
Another concern is that the state getting involved in compensation would undercut Colorado's painstakingly crafted oil and gas drilling rules, which are designed to provide statewide health and safety standards.
Joining communities that have banned fracking in compensating mineral rights owners implicitly endorses community fears about the extraction process. It insinuates that Colorado's recently hashed-out statewide standards aren't good enough.
We understand as well as anyone that the governor is a man of compromise, one who is always looking to find common ground to solve problems. Most of the time, it is an approach that serves him well.
But on this matter we think he is going down the wrong road.