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Polis vows to keep fighting as local control oil-and-gas bill crumbles

Statewide ballot initiatives demanding more local regs could hurt Dems at polls

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May 5, 2014, 1:14 pm
oil and gas fort collins

An oil rig near condos in Fort Collins (David O. Williams photo).

Democrat Jared Polis, who represents the Vail Valley in Congress, won’t back down on ballot initiatives that could lead to greater regulatory control over oil and gas drilling by Colorado’s county and municipal governments.

The failure of state legislators to craft a compromise bill in the waning days of the current session has Polis all the more determined to let the voters decide what some in the business community are dubbing a statewide fracking ban.

“My constituents and all Coloradans simply want the freedom to live their version of the Colorado dream without interference,” Polis said in a press release Monday. “Unfortunately, the current law takes away our ability to choose what is best for our communities and families by forcing fracking to happen anywhere, anytime.

Jared Polis

Jared Polis

“The people of Colorado are demanding a reasonable balance between energy development and their quality of life. I will not stop fighting for a solution that does just that.”

A recent Politico story headlined “How fracking could break Colorado Democrats” airs their concerns that such measures will attract a flood of industry and Republican campaign dollars that could help defeat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in November.

Hickenlooper has been a strong proponent of the current system of state control over oil and gas drilling, suing municipalities that last November passed bans on hydraulic fracturing, which is a drilling process that injects water, sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture tight rock and sand formations to free up more oil and gas.

“This is a complex issue that involves many different stakeholders,” Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown told Real Vail Monday. “The governor has insisted on broad engagement done in a bipartisan way. We know now that there is not enough time left in the legislative session to reach a compromise about issues related to local control. We have been working hard on this issue – including many hours over this past weekend – and will continue working hard on this issue.”

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, an industry trade group, was not directly involved in negotiations but encouraged its stakeholders to participate in the process.

“At the end of the day, a bill such as this needed to be bi-partisan, with broad industry and stakeholder support,” COGA spokesman Doug Flanders told Real Vail. “Bills or ballot measures that change how oil and gas is governed will have dramatic impacts to every sector of the economy. This is why we are seeing business groups coming together to fight against these kinds of ballot measures.”

State Reps. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, and Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, were spearheading the 11th-hour negotiations for a local-control bill, which included representatives of the Hickenlooper administration. Ryden and Hullinghorst on Monday issued a joint statement that reads in part:

“Those discussions focused on harmonizing local and state authority in regards to energy production. It is of critical importance to people across this state to balance local communities’ ability to act to protect the health, safety and welfare of Colorado families while also creating a consistent and predictable regulatory framework that allows for responsible energy development.

“Our conversations have been productive, but we haven’t yet struck an accord with all of the stakeholders, and we’ve run out of time in this session to pass consensus legislation.”

Campaign representatives for both Udall and his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, did not respond to email requests for comment.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning energy, environmental, political, entertainment, outdoor and sports writer based in the Vail Valley. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, LA Weekly, ESPN.com, SKI Magazine, Powder and People Magazine. He also regularly contributes to The Colorado Statesman and Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com.

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