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Creatures of Circumstance: Conflicts Over Local Government Regulation of Oil and Gas

Alex Ritchie, Proceedings of 60th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2014)

Scholars periodically note the impending upsurge in local oil and gas regulation, offering various reasons for increased local action. Papers written only a few years ago attribute greater local action in the West to population growth, increased urbanization, and increased demand for energy.2 Consider, however, more recent phenomena.
First, population migration from more liberal states to more traditionally conservative producing states likely plays a role, as new residents [11-4] bring perspectives opposing drilling activity.3 Second, while the suburbs continue to expand into the oil patch, the oil patch has expanded into the suburbs and urban areas as well. Hydraulic fracturing may be an “old” technology,4 but it was little more than a decade ago that Devon Energy (shortly after its acquisition of Mitchell Energy) began large-scale commercial production in the Barnett Shale that kicked off the “shale boom.”5 As evinced by the Barnett Shale, operators may produce this prolific new source of production from underneath cities and towns. Third, “fracking” is now commonly accused of dangers ranging from groundwater contamination6 to promiscuity and drug addiction.7 Negative media reports8 and well-organized public awareness campaigns9 trumpeting these dangers have strongly influenced local residents and local politics.10
Surface owners may oppose local mineral developmen