Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Jared Polis called on campaigners to holster ballot initiatives regarding hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in exchange for establishing an independent commission to write regulations for the drilling practice.
The Democrats, who made the announcement Monday in a joint press conference, urged the withdrawal of two Polis-funded ballot proposals that would place new restrictions on fracking and a pair of industry-backed measures that sought to bolster fracking.
The initiatives have colored Colorado politics the past few months. Hickenlooper is up for re-election, and Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat who came out against the ballot initiatives last month, is facing a tough fight from Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, who has opposed the measures and seen oil- and gas-industry donations flow his way. The oil and gas industry became more active in recent months, hoping to block the measures and additional regulations that state lawmakers were considering as an alternative to the ballot proposals.
In exchange for shelving the initiatives, the state would set up an 18-member panel to review oil and gas drilling in the state and made suggestions to state lawmakers. The panel would be comprised of a mix of residents, local officials and industry representatives.
Industry groups cheered the news and hoped it would avert the ballot measures, which campaigners said had enough signatures to make it onto the November ticket.
“Short-sighted initiatives that threaten responsible energy production and undermine job creation do a disservice to Coloradans who want a more reasoned discussion. 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," said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.
Fracking foes, however, were disappointed, citing concerns about possible groundwater contamination from fracking, which injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to tap hydrocarbons buried deep underground.
One ballot measure aims to increase the distance fracking sites could operate from existing buildings from 500 to 2,000 feet. Another would allow the most restrictive of laws between local and state to take precedence in fracking disputes.
"We are disappointed that Colorado’s environmental rights ballot initiative that would have allowed local governments to protect their citizens from the potential harms of oil and gas drilling has been withdrawn," said Bruce Baizel, oil and gas accountability project director with Earthworks. "Colorado’s oil and gas oversight favors the oil and gas industry’s interests before the public interest."
Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy still filed their ballot initiatives on Monday, saying they would kill them only if pro-fracking outfit Protect Colorado scuttles its measures.
Both groups have until Sept. 5 to pull their proposals under the terms of the agreement Polis and Hickenlooper outlined.