Hickenlooper forms task force to address oil, gas siting questions

Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper (D) announced that he has formed a task force to develop recommendations that would reduce land use conflicts when oil and gas facilities are located near homes, schools, businesses, and recreation areas.

He also said he would ask the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission to dismiss litigation challenging the city of Longmont’s ordinance banning hydraulic fracturing, and called on all parties to withdraw ballot initiatives on the topic.

“The work of this task force will provide an alternative to ballot initiatives that, if successful, would have regulated the oil and gas industry through the rigidity of constitutional amendments and posed a significant threat to Colorado’s economy,” Hickenlooper said on Aug 4 in Denver.

“This approach will put the matter in the hands of a balanced group of thoughtful community leaders, business representatives, and citizens who can advise the legislature and the executive branch on the best path forward,” he said.

The 18-member task force will be chaired by La Plata County Comm. Gwen Lachelt (D) and XTO Energy Inc. Pres. Randy Cleveland. It will have the power to make recommendations to Colorado’s legislature with a two-thirds majority, or issue majority and minority opinions, the governor said.

‘On equal footing’

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the people of Colorado and the movement to enact sensible fracing regulations,” said US Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who also attended the press conference and previously backed two of the antifracing initiatives.

“For the first time, citizens will be on equal footing to the oil and gas industry, and able to negotiate directly for regulations that protect property rights, homes values, clean water, and air quality,” Polis said. “I am pleased that we were able to come together, and today’s agreement is meaningful progress toward sensible fracing regulations.”

The move was an apparent effort to quell dueling November ballot initiatives on fracing that potentially could have hurt Colorado Democrats’ two main statewide reelection efforts for Hickenlooper and US Sen. Mark Udall. Both are seeking second terms.

“From the beginning, I have pressed everyone involved to find a balanced way forward and to work toward a collaborative solution,” Udall said in an Aug. 4 statement issued by his campaign. “I am proud this engagement yielded results, and I applaud Gov. Hickenlooper and Congressman Polis for reaching this compromise.”

The senator said, “This deal, which averts a divisive and counterproductive ballot fight over one-size-fits-all restrictions, is welcome news and underscores how all of Colorado benefits when we find common ground.”

‘Cleared a path’

National, as well as Colorado, oil and gas organizations welcomed the news. “Short-sighted initiatives that threaten responsible energy production and undermine job creation do a disservice to Coloradans who want a more reasoned discussion,” American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said in Washington on Aug. 4.

“Today’s call could clear the path for a more balanced and inclusive conversation that will preserve Colorado’s leading role in America’s energy revolution, and we look forward to participating in that dialogue,” Gerard said.

Colorado Oil & Gas Association Pres. Tisha Schuller commended Hickenlooper for not giving up on trying to find a compromise. “By putting the state’s interests ahead of politics, [he] has a cleared a path for conversation and understanding, rather than fighting through talking points,” she said in Denver.

“These issues are complex and must include a wide range of stakeholders to find common ground with workable solutions,” Schuller said. “We are grateful that such a diverse group of stakeholders from around Colorado came to together to support the oil and gas industry, which is critical to overall economic health of our state.”

The Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter was more cautious in its response. The Denver group previously endorsed Polis’s initiatives to limit fracing, and many of its members and supporters were collecting signatures for Initiatives 88 and 89, Chapter Director Joshua Ruschhaupt said in an Aug. 4 statement.

“The Sierra Club is currently reviewing the proposed ‘deal,’ and was not involved in negotiating it or asking Polis to drop his initiatives,” Ruschhaupt said. “If a stakeholder group is going to make legislative recommendations on oil and gas industry regulations, these recommendations must include protecting human health, safety, and welfare, as well as public lands and endangered species.”

He said, “We hope that oil and gas regulatory agencies and all stakeholder groups, including the one proposed, are transparent and open to public input and review. Bias that fosters an inherently damaging industry is not acceptable.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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