Hickenlooper nixes local-control session

DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper confirmed Wednesday that he will not call a special session to consider legislation that he proposed to give cities and counties greater control over oil and gas development within their borders as activists near their goals for gathering signatures for ballot initiatives.

Hickenlooper had worked with a bipartisan coalition to find a compromise to head off a series of ballot initiatives aimed at restricting oil and gas development, but he had recently expressed doubt that a special session would take place.

“Despite our best efforts and those of other willing partners, we have not been able to secure the broader stakeholder support necessary to pass bipartisan legislation in a special session,” Hickenlooper said in an email statement issued by a spokeswoman.

The cancellation of the special session comes amid ballot initiatives backed by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., attempting to limit oil and gas development.

One of the measures, Initiative 88, proposes a 2,000-foot buffer between oil and gas wells and buildings, up from a current regulations mandating 500-foot setbacks.

Another measure, Initiative 89, proposes an environmental bill of rights that includes language authorizing local control of oil and gas development.

Organizers had gathered more than 42,000 signatures apiece on the petitions as of Thursday, said Mara Sheldon, spokeswoman for Coloradans for a Safe and Clean Energy, the Polis-backed group leading efforts to gather signatures. The group must gather more than 86,000 signatures of registered voters by Aug. 4 to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

“We definitely expect to not only meet the required petition signatures, but to go over that amount,” Sheldon said. “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of support in the communities.”

Hickenlooper’s local-control measure sought to give local governments a greater say in buffers between oil wells and buildings, noise abatement and inspections. It would have allowed moratoriums on oil and gas operations only for a reasonable amount of time for decision-making and planning purposes. Voters in Fort Collins, Longmont, Lafayette, Broomfield and Boulder have passed bans on fracking, while Loveland voters defeated a two-year moratorium on fracking last month.
Polis said in a statement that special interests and organizations outside Colorado obstructed the special session.

“Now, as it has become clear that the path to passing a legislative compromise has been obstructed, we must turn to the people of Colorado to solve this problem,” he said. “I have said from the beginning of this debate that my one goal is to find a solution that will allow my constituents to live safely in their homes, free from the fear of declining property values or unnecessary health risks, but also that will allow our state to continue to benefit from the oil and gas boom that brings jobs and increased energy security.”

Oil and gas industry representatives have said 2,000-foot setbacks would substantially limit production in Northern Colorado.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall cautioned against the ballot initiatives, saying they fail to strike a balance between protecting air and water quality, health and safety and developing the state’s abundant energy resources.

“I believe that Colorado can and must do better, which is why I oppose these one-size-fits-all restrictions and will continue working with all parties – including property owners, energy producers and lawmakers – to find common ground,” he said.

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