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Colorado special session possible on oil and gas rules

DENVER – Lawmakers and groups with a stake in oil and gas development in Colorado have a draft bill from the governor’s office that seeks to find a compromise on local control rules – a proposal that could trigger a special session if there’s consensus.

The proposal, which comes after months of discussions between the governor’s office and various interest groups, is aimed at trying to stave off more than 10 potential ballot initiatives in November to limit fracking. Democratic Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is financially backing some of the proposals, and he has agreed to drop his support if the proposed measure passes.

The intent of the proposed ballot measures vary, but one of them would allow cities and counties to ban fracking. Energy officials have warned they could have devastating effects on a booming industry.

“We’ve reached a place in negotiating local-control issues related to oil and gas development where we are soliciting greater stakeholder input,” Eric Brown, spokesman for Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, said Friday.

“We still need larger support – and particularly bipartisan support – before deciding whether to call a special session.”

The draft bill being distributed to lawmakers, oil and gas businesses, environmentalists and the agriculture industry would give local governments more control over setbacks for oil and gas development designed to regulate noise, and they could set moratoriums on drilling. However, they could not ban fracking outright.

There’s no timeline on when a special session may be called.

Getting consensus on the proposal with so many interests involved will be a heavy lift, and the governor’s office acknowledges that it would be difficult to pass the measure if it’s changed.

Chad Vorthmann, the executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, said he’s concerned the proposal is too vague. He said it’s unclear in some cases whether counties or cities would have final authority over regulations, and that farmers and ranchers want more certainty.

Officials with the governor’s office said they didn’t want to be too prescriptive with a bill.

The last special session held in Colorado was in 2012, when lawmakers were called back to debate civil unions for gay couples. The proposal failed.

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