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Policy: Environment & Energy

Colorado special session eyed on oil and gas rules

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News,Business,Colorado,Energy and Environment,Oil,Natural Gas

DENVER (AP) — Lawmakers and groups with a stake in oil and gas development in Colorado have a draft bill from the governor's office that seeks to find a compromise on local-control rules — a proposal that could trigger a special legislative session if there's consensus.

The proposal, which comes after months of discussions between the governor's office and various interest groups, is aimed at trying to stave off more than 10 potential ballot initiatives in November to limit fracking. Democratic Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is financially backing some of the proposals, and he has agreed to drop his support if the proposed measure passes.

The intent of the proposed ballot measures vary, but one of them would allow cities and counties to ban fracking. Energy officials have warned they could have devastating effects on a booming industry.

"We've reached a place in negotiating local-control issues related to oil and gas development where we are soliciting greater stakeholder input," Eric Brown, spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Friday. "We still need larger support — and particularly bipartisan support — before deciding whether to call a special session."

The draft bill being distributed to lawmakers, oil and gas businesses, environmentalists and the agriculture industry would give local governments more control over setbacks for oil and gas development and regulations addressing noise, and they could set moratoriums on drilling. However, they could not ban fracking outright, and moratoriums could not be "arbitrary or excessive."

Oil and gas businesses could also appeal decisions by local governments in district courts.

The draft doesn't specify a distance for setbacks, but it says that local governments can impose them "in a manner that reasonably balances the recovery of the oil and gas resource" and surrounding communities

There's no timeline on when a special session may be called.

Getting consensus on the proposal with so many interests involved will be a heavy lift, and the governor's office acknowledges that it would be difficult to pass the measure if it's changed.

Rep. Brian DelGrosso, the top-ranking Republican in the House, said "it's difficult to do something that everyone is going to be able to agree on."

"Our state is very diverse," he added, noting as examples the geographical differences between development in the state's mountainous Western Slope and the large swaths of agricultural land in northern Colorado's Weld County.

Chad Vorthmann, the executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said he's concerned the proposal is too vague. It's unclear in some cases whether counties or cities would have final authority over regulations, and farmers and ranchers want more certainty, he said.

Officials with the governor's office said they didn't want to be too prescriptive with a bill.

Rep. Dickie Lee Hullinghorst, the Democrats' House leader, said she's happy with the draft bill and commended the "the good-faith efforts of stakeholders."

"As we continue our outreach to stakeholders, I'm optimistic that these extended negotiations will come to a successful conclusion," she said in a statement.

Stan Dempsey, the president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, was less optimistic. His group sent a letter to the governor's office last month outlining various concerns, saying that more local control would create a "Byzantine set of oil and gas rules and regulations" across Colorado. That would drive up costs for the industry and make it more difficult to operate in the state, the letter said.

"I don't believe that most of or any of the concerns we communicated in that letter were addressed," Dempsey said Friday.

The last special session held in Colorado was in 2012, when lawmakers were called back to debate civil unions for gay couples. The proposal failed.

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