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Colorado Energy Industry Rebuffs Governor's Legislative Compromise on Local Drilling Control

The oil and gas industry and other businesses are pushing back on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper's attempt to promote a legislative compromise on the contentious issue of local control over drilling activity.

More than a dozen initiatives, some hostile to and some supportive of oil and gas drilling, are making their way toward a statewide ballot in November. Most of the proposals would give communities control over siting of drilling and require wider setbacks from homes and buildings.

However, Hickenlooper, a former geologist who is considered a staunch energy industry supporter, has been working on compromise legislation that would give local governments more control over oil and gas operations, while protecting the rights of companies to drill. Passage of compromise legislation would require a special session, but industry groups are concerned that lawmakers would change or amend it.

Representatives from the energy, home building and agriculture sectors negatively responded last week to the governor’s efforts to take the issues off the ballot in November (see Shale Daily, April 16). "We are surprised and dismayed by the haste in which you and your team are departing from more than six years of rigorous rulemaking," Colorado Petroleum Association president Stan Dempsey wrote in a letter to the governor.

The Colorado Association of Homebuilders, the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and the Colorado Farm Bureau among others also sent a critical letter to Hickenlooper. "We are extremely concerned legislation that is not in the best interests of our organizations and industries could be introduced."

A spokesperson for the governor shrugged off the reactions and said Hickenlooper was grateful for their feedback. Passage of a compromise energy bill at the legislative level would require a special legislative session; the regular session ended earlier this month.

"We continue to work with various stakeholders to find the appropriate compromises," the spokesperson told NGI's Shale Daily late Tuesday. No bill so far has been introduced, and the governor "won't call a special session unless there is an agreement in place on issues related to local control. As for the responses we have received, we appreciate the feedback and will continue working toward an agreement."

Earlier this year, Colorado groups pushing for more local control began to prepare ballot measures to further regulate energy operations (see Shale Daily, March 12). In recent weeks, industry-backed Protecting Colorado's Environment, Economy and Energy Independence (Protect Colorado), was launched as an "issue committee" to defend the existing regulatory framework, which it characterized as best in the nation.

Protect Colorado is funded by nearly $2 million in pledges from many of the state's top producers, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Noble Energy Corp., PDC Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources Inc., SM Energy and Whiting Petroleum Corp. The group is seeking to preserve "collaborative work" with state and local officials to protect the environment and quality of life.

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