Local control compromise in jeopardy after industry votes against it

Politics

Fracking equipment. (Photo: MGN Online/SpiroFlo)

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DENVER — A special session on a compromise bill on the issue of local control for oil and gas drilling may be in jeopardy as Gov. John Hickenlooper continues to encounter resistance to legislation previously agreed to by a small group of stakeholders.

Monday afternoon the Colorado Oil and Gas Association board voted to oppose any compromise.

The vote was by a nearly two-to-one margin, although several of the board members who attended Monday’s meeting abstained; and it comes on top of a letter from a number of business organizations over the weekend stating their opposition to the proposed draft bill from the governor’s office.

But Hickenlooper’s office insists that talks are continuing with state lawmakers and interested parties on all sides of the issue.

Momentum for a special legislative session on the bill, which was agreed to by the state’s two largest oil and gas operators and Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, seemed to be “losing steam” Tuesday, according to one Democratic lawmaker.

To pass a bill in a special session, Hickenlooper will need to find 18 votes in the state senate, a tall order given that all 17 Republicans are likely to oppose the measure and that more than three Democrats are uneasy about supporting it, some based on allegiance to Boulder County constituents who want stronger controls on drilling, others out of deference to the oil and gas industry, which is nervous about yielding ground.

Backers of the deal continue to express hope that more support will emerge publicly from what they term “the reasonable middle” in the days ahead.

Polis, a Democrat who has put his considerable financial resources behind ballot initiatives that would allow local communities to go as far as to ban fracking outright, prompted more than two months of difficult negotiations to arrive at a compromise.  The legislation could have helped lawmakers avert a costly fight this fall and protect some 26,000 industry jobs from the possibility of the initiatives being passed.

Under the draft bill, local communities could extend setbacks beyond the 500 feet currently mandated by the state and exercise additional control over noise ordinances but not impede oil and gas production altogether.

But while Noble and Anadarko were supportive of the proposed compromise, the smaller Colorado operators and the giant international energy companies like Exxon and Chevron were opposed to the deal.

The American Petroleum Institute is ready to spend $20 million to defeat the measures.

The industry’s thinking: there’s no time like the present election cycle to mount a vigorous campaign “to convince the public that oil and gas is safe and good for the economy,” one industry leader said Tuesday.

“If we don’t do it now and defeat this now, we’ll have to fight this again and again in the future.”

Hickenlooper, who is attending the Western Governors Association meetings in Colorado Springs Tuesday, reportedly asked COGA to delay its announcement.

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