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Colorado Legislature kills fracking bill that would have given local control

Two Democrats join Republicans in opposition
A drilling rig south of Durango works at an existing well pad near U.S. Highway 550. A bill killed Monday in the Colorado Legislature was aimed at giving local governments more control over oil and gas drilling.

DENVER – Two Democrats joined Republicans on Monday to defeat legislation in the Democratic-controlled House that would have expanded local control over oil and gas development.

House Bill 1355 – in its original form – would have clarified a local government’s authority to decide where hydraulic fracturing sites are located. Currently, the state has most of the authority in determining when and where drilling permits are issued.

In an effort to appease critics, the bill was amended to allow local governments regulation only over noise, lighting and traffic issues. It was pointed out, however, that local governments have that authority.

Much of the debate came down to property value. In addition to growing concerns over health risks possibly associated with fracking, residents have expressed concerns over diminished property values as a result of industrial activity in their neighborhoods.

“No, we don’t want drilling rigs next to playgrounds. That might be fine in your district, it is not fine in ours,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who pointed out that suburban towns are not accustomed to drilling operations like rural parts of the state.

The outcry has grown as fracking made its way from rural Colorado into more populated areas. The process employs pressurized water mixed with sand and chemicals to break open underground natural gas and oil deposits.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, acknowledged the frustration, and convened a task force that met last year to propose rules around local governance. The task force was viewed as a compromise, proposed in an effort to avoid ballot questions aimed at giving local governments the authority to ban hydraulic fracturing.

Anti-fracking groups remain committed to running ballot measures in Colorado – possibly this November – that would offer local governments more control.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Supreme Court is weighing whether local governments have the power to enact stricter rules and regulations than those of the state.

Several on the task force – including La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt – not only felt the task force fell short, but that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission missed the intent of the panel in implementing rules.

The COGCC this year required operators to consult and register with local governments when building large facilities.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, questioned the property value argument, pointing out that property values remain strong and consistent in oil heavy parts of the state.

“I’ve asked everybody and every committee that’s heard any kind of a bill like this, this year, and I said, ‘has one person come there to committee and testified at all and brought any evidence that property values have gone down?’ Not one,” DelGrosso said.

Some observers assumed the bill would make it through at least an initial vote in the Democratic-controlled House. But a “division” vote was called on Monday, which asks lawmakers to stand if they support or oppose a bill or amendment.

Democratic Reps. Ed Vigil of Fort Garland and Paul Rosenthal of Denver joined Republicans in killing the measure. Supporters of the bill attempted to resurrect the measure during a procedural vote later in the morning, but that failed 33-32.

Industry leaders applauded defeat of the legislation, suggesting that it is a sign that current rules and regulations are working.

“More than 30 communities across Colorado already have entered into private contracts with oil and gas companies that allow those communities to invoke rules that go above and beyond the state’s already tough regulations,” said Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “It’s a process that, coupled with the new task force rules, gives local governments a strong and important voice and role in energy development in their communities.”

pmarcus@durangoherald.com

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