Anti- , pro-fracking measures pulled from ballot

Measures to curtail or ban hydraulic fracturing, and competing proposals to punish those who do, won’t be on this fall’s ballot.

That happened after a short-lived version of chicken played out late Monday, hours after Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed a special blue ribbon task force to thoroughly study the issue.

Though U.S. Rep. Jared Polis supported Hickenlooper’s idea and even stood alongside the Democratic governor when he announced plans to form a task force, backers of two proposals to limit the practice of fracking that he was financing still turned in petitions for Initiatives 88 and 89 before Monday’s deadline to get two measures onto the ballot.

At the same time, backers of two other measures, Initiatives 121 and 137 that were supported by the oil and gas industry, also submitted petitions for their own proposals, one of which would have withheld any severance tax monies to communities that ban or limit oil and gas development.

At the time, both said they would withdraw their ideas if the other side did so first.

“Jared Polis’ campaign to decimate oil and gas development was a heavy-handed fool’s errand from the start,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who along with Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, proposed 121 and 137. “When the governor called Frank and me late (Monday night), we were both sort of stunned that, after all these months of chest-thumping, Polis would just fold up. His polling no doubt showed that his anti-fracking crusade was destined to fail.”

By Tuesday morning, both sides agreed to withdraw their measures.

Although the four measures won’t be placed before voters in November, it doesn’t mean the issue is a dead one.

Both sides said they planned to continue their battles for and against fracking, which is the practice of pumping water and chemicals into the ground to free oil and natural gas.

Though the practice has been around for decades on the Western Slope, and occurs in just about every oil and gas well, it has become more controversial in recent years when it became prevalent in more-populated areas of the state east of the Continental Divide, particularly in Weld, Boulder and Adams counties.

Meanwhile, several other groups are praising the governor for his work, and thanking both sides for backing off.

“Congratulations on overcoming a seemingly impossible stalemate around Colorado’s would-be cataclysmic oil and natural gas initiatives,” Club 20 Executive Director Bonnie Petersen told Hickenlooper in a letter sent Tuesday. “We believe the creation of the blue ribbon task force is wise and prudent in the face of what could have been the demise of a valuable statewide economic engine.”

Still, Petersen asked the governor to make sure the Western Slope isn’t forgotten, as she said it often is with some regulatory discussions, when he forms that task force.

Debate over whether to limit or ban fracking has largely been a Front Range issue. Forgotten in those discussions is the long-standing economic benefit oil and gas development has brought to the state in general and the Western Slope specifically. That’s why Petersen said she was asking that at least half of the panel include representatives from the Western Slope.

“West Slope leaders at the local government and production level have tremendous experience and knowledge in navigating the complexities around harmonizing oil and gas development in and around local communities,” she said.

Hickenlooper proposed creating an 18-member panel, but stopped short of saying who should be on it other than to name its co-chairs: La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt and Randy Cleveland, president of XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil that has wells in Rio Blanco, La Plata and Las Animas counties.


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