New legislation pushing local control of oil and gas development is expected to be introduced in the Legislature by early next week.Colorado Democrats plan to introduce late-session legislation soon targeting oil and gas development that could apply to Fort Collins’ recently adopted ban on hydraulic fracturing, party leaders in the Legislature confirmed Thursday. “I expect by the first of next week we will see some legislation on oil and gas,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel. “There will be something on local control, probably in conjunction with setbacks.” She said environmental standards, air quality and water quality are likely to be at the heart of the proposals.
Fort Collins City Council last week approved a ban on the practice known as fracking. It involves the high-pressure introduction of water mixed with sand and other substances to below-ground shale in order to jostle oil and gas free for extraction.
In public comments to council, citizens expressed overwhelming support for a fracking ban. But the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that regulates natural resource development in the state lobbied against it. Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to sue any community that denies mineral rights owners access to their property, but he has said he may be willing to compromise with cities that ban oil and gas development if they are willing to compensate mineral rights owners.
Hickenlooper has been outspoken about his position that the state — not municipalities or counties — should regulate the oil and gas industry in accordance with state law. That provision could be one of the elements that the forthcoming legislation would tackle, although Democratic leaders were not specific about what they expect the forthcoming bills would seek to accomplish.
Currently, Longmont is facing lawsuits from the oil and gas industry over its voter-imposed ban on fracking and from the state over its city council’s actions to restrict oil and gas development.
Before it took up the local fracking ban, Fort Collins City Council instituted a moratorium on new oil and gas development through the end of July in order to allow the Legislature time to tackle issues of local control. As the legislative session that began in January progressed, many observers wondered if legislation to expand local control over oil and gas development would actually be introduced.
Now that it the issue is poised to come before the Legislature, it stands a better chance of passing through the House and Senate — both controlled by Democrats this year — than it would have had the past two years when Republicans and Democrats shared control at the State Capitol.
If the legislation does pass, it would be subject to Hickenlooper’s veto prerogative.