Clock ticking on ‘local control’ special session

Colorado State Capitol

Colorado State Capitol

Gas-patch activists distrust negotiations they haven’t been invited to attend. Committed to moving forward. 

John Tomasic – May 29, 2014 – Colorado Independent

NEGOTIATIONS continue in Denver between parties hoping to strike a deal and pass a state law that would give local communities more regulatory control over the oil-and-gas industry. Sources close to dealmakers say key legislators have been asked to clear their calendars for a three-day stretch beginning June 8 during which they’d be asked to hammer out a bill that a majority of lawmakers gathered for a special session of the state legislature could consider and pass.

Prospects for a special legislative session have seemed to rise and fall since the General Assembly officially ended three weeks ago. A frenzied effort to bring parties together on a compromise bill failed to gain traction and no bill emerged.

Officials say they have to pull the trigger soon on a special session before election-year momentum builds and the war machinery over hydraulic fracturing begins to whir at full speed.

Party primary elections are slated for June 24. General election campaign sniping over oil-and-gas regulations and jobs is sure to heat up directly after primary ballots have been cast. Legal briefs arguing for and against a series of controversial citizen ballot initiatives aimed at wresting regulatory control from the state over drilling are due at the Supreme Court next week. Arguments in a lawsuit pitting the state against Longmont over a city-wide fracking ban passed in 2012 begin in June. And large blocks of broadcast advertising time have been reserved already by oil-and-gas companies preparing for a full-bore messaging battle that will be waged for months before Election Day, November 4, if parties fail to strike a legislative deal.

A top priority

Governor John Hickenlooper is a former oil-industry geologist who has championed natural gas as a cleaner-burning “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future and who for the last four years has overseen an historic gas-drilling boom in the state. He has made it a top priority to pass a bill but admittedly has struggled to win full buy-in from industry and business for plans that grant control to cities and counties to write noise and dust standards and establish minimum setback distances from housing for drilling operations.

The parties at the table notably are not seeking to grant local authorities the power to set their own environmental regulations on drilling. The strictest environmental standards designed to safeguard air and water quality would still be set by the state.

Hickenlooper says questions about when, where and how drillers can operate and who will negotiate competing property rights are the kind of complex matters better suited to legislative fixes written by lawmakers and their legal counselors than to single-subject yes-or-no ballot questions put to voters.

Continue reading story at The Colorado Independent

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