DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s Democratic governor forged a deal to stop dueling proposals on oil and gas drilling Monday, avoiding a messy ballot fight that had his party concerned about political consequences in November.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis joined Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state Capitol to detail an agreement that calls for a task force to deal with concerns about energy development. In exchange, groups agreed to drop four initiatives that support or oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that blasts a mix of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals into underground rock formations to release trapped oil and gas.
Polis has financially backed two of the measures that sought limits on drilling, including increasing the distance between homes and rigs from 500 feet to 2,000 feet. The governor and energy industry warned that the drilling restrictions would seriously hurt Colorado’s economy.
Polis’ involvement in the initiatives also raised concern in his party that taking the issue to voters would negatively impact Democrats in November by increasing fundraising for Republicans who generally support oil and gas development and possibly boosting GOP turnout.
Hickenlooper is running for re-election, and incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall is in a closely watched contest against Republican U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner. It’s a race that could help determine control of the Senate.
As a compromise for dropping the initiatives, Hickenlooper said an 18-member task force would issue recommendations to Legislature next year on how to minimize conflicts between residents and the energy industry.
Opponents of the anti-fracking initiatives had raised concerns about unleashing legal claims over property rights if the state blocked energy companies from accessing mineral rights they own.
“I think we can all agree that responsible oil and gas development in Colorado is critical to our economy, our environment, our health, and our future,” Hickenlooper said.
Polis said the governor’s announcement was “truly a victory for the people of Colorado and the movement to enact sensible protections and safeguards around fracking.”
Backers of the other two measures sympathetic to the industry also declared victory.
“This is an exciting turn of events,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, who worked on a ballot question that would have prevented municipalities that ban fracking from collecting state revenue that comes from drilling. “For months we’ve asked Polis to pull his initiatives in favor of a more constructive approach.”
Another pro-fracking initiative would have called for financial impact documents to be included in future ballot questions seeking greater oversight on energy development.
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