Colorado governor aims to strike deal on fracking

DENVER — Colorado’s Democratic governor on Monday urged those pushing dueling proposals on oil and gas drilling to stop their campaigns to avoid a messy ballot fight and called for a task force to deal with energy development.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis joined Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state Capitol to detail what they are pitching as a compromise to prevent four initiatives that support or oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

But it remains to be seen whether both sides will pull their initiatives dealing with the 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 seeking limits on drilling, including increasing the distance between homes and rigs from 500 feet to 2,000 feet.

Hickenlooper said the suggested drilling restrictions pose “a significant threat to Colorado’s economy.” Opponents of the anti-fracking initiatives also 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’ 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 to avoid the ballot fight, Hickenlooper said an 18-member task force would issue recommendations to the Colorado Legislature next year on how to minimize conflicts between residents and the energy industry.

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.”

But it’s still unclear whether backers of the other two measures sympathetic to the industry will get on board.

“It’s interesting, nobody’s had a conversation with me, no one’s asked me to pull my initiative,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican proposing a ballot question that would prevent municipalities banning fracking from collecting state revenue that comes from drilling.

“I’m moving forward with mine,” he added.

Another pro-fracking initiative would call for financial impact documents to be included in future ballot questions seeking greater oversight on energy development. Officials involved in that campaign did not immediately say whether they would withdraw their question.

Signatures for the four ballot questions have been turned in, and organizers have until Sept. 5 to pull them.

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