Policy: Environment & Energy

Local control compromise sought on drilling

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News,Business,Energy and Environment,Offshore Drilling

DENVER (AP) — Energy companies are divided over Gov. John Hickenlooper's latest proposal for a compromise to grant more control to local governments over oil and gas operations.

Nineteen companies, including BP America, Shell Oil Company, and Encana Oil and Gas, signed a letter delivered to Hickenlooper Friday in opposition to the draft bill that his office began circulating this week.

The Denver Post reports (http://goo.gl/jP0LPn ) that on Thursday seven energy companies, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc., wrote a letter in support of the proposal. Those two companies, which are the largest drillers on the Front Range, have previously expressed support for Hickenlooper's push to find a legislative compromise. Encana is the third largest oil and gas operator on the Front Range, the newspaper reported.

Among other things, the draft proposal being circulated would give local governments the power to impose setbacks greater than 500 feet on drilling rigs. Local jurisdictions could also control noise from energy development and conduct inspections of operations.

The attempt to find a compromise is an effort to stave off several proposed ballot measures that would impose more stringent rules over drilling. Some of those ballot proposals have the financial backing of Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

The letter from the oil companies in favor of a compromise states that they offer their "strong support for the draft legislation circulated by your office." Meanwhile, the letter from companies in opposition states that "there is no reason to support legislation that would" add more regulations.

If there is an agreement, a special session would still have to be called to pass the bill.

Immediately after this year's legislative session concluded in May, Hickenlooper said he thought the chances of a special session were "50-50."

On Friday, he told adjusted that estimate, telling reporters, "I'd say probably a little less than 50-50. We're still working on it as hard as we can."

The Colorado Petroleum Association, which represents some oil and gas operators in the state, also opposes the latest proposal. The association said in a separate letter to the governor that it is concerned "that the effort to draft legislation and convene a special session is to placate the desire of an individual wishing to ban oil and gas development in Colorado."

Furthermore, the letter from CPA said the organization is not convinced that passing a bill will stop supporters of the ballot questions from trying to put their measures up for a vote in November.

Aug. 4 is the deadline for submitting signatures to qualify for the ballot. To get each petition on the ballot, 86,105 valid signatures are needed.

A group called "Safe. Clean. Colorado." said Friday that it had collected 15,000 signatures for their two ballot questions during their first full week of work. The group's ballot initiatives seek to impose set 2,000-foot setbacks and give local governments greater control over drilling.

Hickenlooper said he would prefer lawmakers to hammer out a plan, instead of having ballot questions that amend the state constitution.

"Things like this are much better solved in a legislative solutions because then you can come back and amend them rather easily the next year, whereas you put something into the state constitution, most stuff that goes into the constitution we don't take out."

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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