State attorneys general discuss oil and gas issues in Denver

DENVER — Attorneys General from across the country gathered here Wednesday to talk about the energy production boom that is confounding Colorado and other states, offering billions of dollars in economic development while riling up residents living near well sites who are concerned about contamination and long-term health risks.

In Colorado, where five cities have moved to ban fracking, the yet unsettled issue is local control: whether cities and counties can supercede the state when it comes to regulating the growing industry.

A series of proposed ballot measures aims to establish local control, which most Colorado conservationists support.

“I don’t think there’s pitfalls to that if that’s what communities want,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “I think local officials are elected to be responsive to their local constituents.”

But many of the Attorneys General from other states — AGs from Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming attended the summit Wednesday — disagree.

“The Supreme Court has long recognized that local and state regulation of land use is quintessentially a state function,” said Scott Pruitt, the Attorney General of Oklahoma.

“And, generally when you see these local control efforts, what they’re really trying to do is shut down production altogether.”

Pruitt noted that Oklahoma hasn’t experienced much in terms of water contamination or air pollution but that it does require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals in their fracking fluids, which are traditionally mixed with water and sand and pumped deep beneath the surface to loosen mineral deposits for extraction.

“That is something that has been done to make people comfortable with the chemicals that are being used,” Pruitt said. “I think that’s very healthy.”

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel of Arkansas agreed that oil and gas regulations should be left to the states, acknowledging that the politics in his state are far easier than here in Colorado.

In Arkansas, the disappointed communities are those that don’t have access to shale,” he said.