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Polis’ local control signatures withdrawn, governor announces task force for land use

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DENVER — The ballot showdown over local control of oil and gas drilling that had been looming on Colorado’s political horizon has been cancelled.

On Monday, Aug. 4, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis opted not to submit signatures for petitions to put two local-control initiatives on the November general election ballot, including one which would have sought to quadruple the current minimum setback for oil and gas drilling operations.

Instead, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the creation of a task force “charged with crafting recommendations to help minimize land use conflicts that can occur when siting oil and gas facilities near homes, schools, businesses and recreational areas,” according to a statement from Hickenlooper’s office.

“Colorado is fortunate to have an abundance of energy resources, and we have an obligation to develop them in a way that is safe for our residents, supports jobs and the economy, respects private property rights and protects our environment,” Hickenlooper said.

  Hickenlooper announced that La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt would chair the 18-member task force, and that XTO Energy, Inc., President Randy Cleveland would “represent the broad interests” of oil-and-gas, agricultural, housing and other industry leaders.

“The work of this task force will provide an alternative to ballot initiatives that, if successful, would have regulated the oil and gas industry through the rigidity of constitutional amendments and posed a significant threat to Colorado’s economy,” Hickenlooper’s statement read. “This approach will put the matter in the hands of a balanced group of thoughtful community leaders, business representatives and citizens who can advise the legislature and the executive branch on the best path forward.”

The task force will have the power to make recommendations to the legislature with a two-thirds majority, or issue majority and minority opinions.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the people of Colorado and the movement to enact sensible fracking regulations,” Polis said. “For the first time, citizens will be on equal footing to the oil and gas industry, and able to negotiate directly for regulations that protect property rights, homes values, clean water, and air quality. I am pleased that we were able to come together, and today’s agreement is meaningful progress toward sensible fracking regulations.”

Elsewhere in the evolving debate on oil-and-gas exploration statewide, Hickenlooper announced that he would ask members of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to dismiss the lawsuit challenging Longmont’s ordinance on fracking and for all ballot initiatives regarding local control and further regulation to be dropped in favor of allowing the task force to explore the issues. 

In the statement, Hickenlooper expressed confidence in Colorado’s existing regulations as developed and enforced by the COGCC and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Recognizing the value of energy and our environment, and managing that balance, can be difficult but it’s something we’ve always been able to do in Colorado. Collectively, we have one of the strongest regulatory approaches in the country, and we will continue to build on that record to protect our world-class environment while providing the flexibility necessary to develop our important energy resources,” Hickenlooper said in the statement.