Few issues in recent Colorado history have exploded with such widespread passion than fracking. A few years ago, the average Coloradan couldn't have defined fracking with a dictionary — in part because the word itself has only recently made it into the pages of a dictionary. Today, fracking has become one of the major political pressure points in Colorado, and it's likely to continue.
The next tipping point in the anti-fracking argument may come via the real estate sector. As Grist reports:
Lawyers, realtors, public officials, and environmental advocates from Pennsylvania to Arkansas to Colorado are noticing that banks and federal agencies are revisiting their lending policies to account for the potential impact of drilling on property values, and in some cases are refusing to finance property with or even just near drilling activity.
Real estate experts say another problematic trend is that many homeowners insurance policies do not cover residential properties with a gas lease or gas well, yet all mortgage companies require homeowners insurance from their borrowers…
…Brian and Amy Smith live across the street from a new gas well in Daisytown in Washington County, Pa., an hour south of Pittsburgh. Last year, when they applied for a new mortgage on their $230,000 home and hobby farm, they were denied.
According to ABC affiliate WTAE, this appears to be the first example in western Pennsylvania of a homeowner being denied a mortgage because of gas drilling on a neighbor’s property:
In an email, Quicken Loans told the Smiths, “Unfortunately, we are unable to move forward with this loan. It is located across the street from a gas drilling site.” Two other national lenders also turned down Brian Smith’s application. [Pols emphasis]
“I think a lot of folks nationally are watching this case,” says Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a congressman who represents areas north and west of Denver. He noted that in his home district fracking leads to a “haircut on a property’s values.”
“I think it is something that the banks would frankly be smart to look at,” Polis says.
Rep. Polis has been an outspoken critic of fracking near populated areas, and recently posted a story on Colorado Pols about his personal encounter with the issue. The oil and gas industry has fought back against worries of air and water pollution by muddling the science and research and relying on an argument that they see no concrete evidence of potential contamination. But if mortgages start getting denied on a larger scale, the pudding will be full of the proverbial proof.
People who live near fracking operations were likely already concerned about their ability to sell their home in the future, but the news out of Pennsylvania is even more worrisome. If people can't get a home loan because of an oil and gas operation that is near their neighbor's home, entire communities could be upended. If a potential buyer can't get a loan to buy your house, then you're never selling that house…and foreclosure becomes a very real option.
Once that first domino falls here in Colorado, it could eventually be enough to topple residential fracking practices altogether. The industry's main positive argument — job creation — becomes all but irrelevant at that point. What good are jobs in a community where nobody wants to live?