Drilling jurisdiction remains unsettled

Task force urges more cooperation between governments, industry

DENVER – The task force that Gov. John Hickenlooper set up to halt a looming war between local governments and the energy industry came back Wednesday with a plan to keep things mostly as they are.

Several Front Range local governments are considering moratoriums and regulations in the face of a drilling and hydraulic fracturing boom. Earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature blocked each other’s bills to either increase or remove the authority of local governments to oversee drilling.

Hickenlooper’s task force – which included people from the energy industry, environmental groups and local governments – reached much the same conclusion. The group decided that “drawing bright lines between state and local jurisdictional authority was neither realistic nor productive.”

Instead, it recommended local governments and the industry use tools that already exist, including local government liaisons and memorandums of understanding between governments and companies. La Plata County pioneered such methods during its drilling boom.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, had pushed to rein in local governments, some of which he says are chasing away jobs and investment.

“The task force ignored about 98 percent of what the governor asked them to do. What they did recommend I think is helpful but does little to address the overall situation we have in Colorado,” McNulty said.

Hickenlooper commented briefly on the report.

“The task force has provided a roadmap for how best to deal with issues of local control,” Hickenlooper said in a news release. “We very much appreciate the task force members’ time and commitment to finding collaborative solutions.”

Environmentalists had criticized Hickenlooper this year for his support of the gas and oil industry, but on Wednesday, it was McNulty who was most upset.

McNulty said if he pushed a bill through the House, the Democratic-controlled Senate would kill it.

“It appears to me the governor has made his decision to punt,” McNulty said. “Leadership is required. I can’t get this done myself. I can’t get this done as speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Faith Winter of Colorado Conservation Voters said her group was mostly pleased with the task force. It gave the industry and its critics a chance to sit down and figure out ways to dissipate the tension that had been building.

She hopes the Legislature does not try to run another bill this year.

“I hope people try this out and see if it alleviates some of that tension,” Winter said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story