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Governor's office drafts bill on drilling issue that could trigger special legislative session

June 6, 2014 Updated: June 6, 2014 at 8:50 pm
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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper may call a special session of the General Assembly to address specific issues. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

DENVER - The Colorado governor's office confirmed Friday it has drafted a bill that officials hope will be a compromise that would keep the issue of local control over drilling off the ballots in November.

Sources close to the negotiations said the governor's office will spend the weekend trying to persuade the oil and gas industry and opponents of hydraulic fracturing to back the bill in a special session that could be called for June 16.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has worked for several months with select members of the oil and gas industry and Congressman Jared Polis to find middle ground on the issue.

Polis has said he will back some of the 11 proposed ballot initiatives that would strengthen local control on drilling or impose larger set-back requirements from buildings. The oil and gas industry is opposed to the ballot measures, and believes control of the industry primarily rests with the state.

"What the governor has made clear is first we need an agreement that has support from Democrats, Republicans and the broad array of stakeholders, and that's something we're still working toward," said Eric Brown, spokesman for the governor.

Polis, sources say, has agreed that if the draft legislation becomes law and gives local governments more say in how oil and gas companies operate near municipalities, he will drop his support financially of any ballot proposals at least until 2018. Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, has the personal finances to fund a campaign and has been a vocal critic of industry practices in Colorado.

But Hickenlooper's plan still faces opponents from both sides - something that could easily derail the process.

Hickenlooper has the power to call lawmakers back for a special session during the General Assembly's off months. He might hold off, however, if it means that the legislation might fail.

The last draft document sent out to stakeholders drew sharp criticism from groups that felt it infringed too far on the rights of oil and gas developers, who own mineral rights. The Colorado Petroleum Association said a rough outline of the legislation "would create serious and detrimental impacts on the statewide economy for years to come."

Stan Dempsey, president of the Colorado Petroleum Association, said members of the association were reviewing the draft bill on Friday afternoon.

"Our primary job is to look at and analyze the bill on its face," said Dempsey. "We need to also hear what the governor's thoughts are about what other components there are to the deal, particularly with Congressman Polis."

Dempsey said his group has not been included in the negotiations leading to the draft bills. Instead, two of the state's largest operators, Noble Energy and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., have been more involved in the discussions.

The talks have focused on finding a legislative compromise that would satisfy both sides on whether cities and counties should have more say over where and how drilling, hydraulic fracturing and extraction take place.

But even if all goes according to plan - a compromise is met, special session called and the bill passed into law - voters may still see the issue on their ballots in November.

Another group, the Community Rights Network, began circulating petitions for signatures earlier this week.

Cliff Willmeng, who led the Community Rights Network efforts to ban hydraulic fracturing in Lafayette, said his group has not been included in the conversations, nor has he seen a draft version of the bill.

"The solutions that are being proposed are coming from the industry and politicians," Willmeng said.

Brown said a broad group of people have been included in the discussions, and if a special session is called, there will be ample time for input from other groups.

Willmeng didn't seem open to compromise, however.

"Ballot initiative 75 clarifies the people's right to define and protect their fundamental rights, and our efforts in those fundamental rights are not negotiable," he said.

The initiative would add to the Colorado Constitution language that municipalities and counties have the right to regulate any business or industry that threatens the health and safety of residents.

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