Democrats to propose 2 fracking measures

DENVER — They haven’t come in yet, but lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle are talking about introducing measures related to the to-do over hydraulic fracturing.

Democrats in the Colorado House, where that party has a majority, are expected to introduce two measures later this session, one making it easier for surface property owners to collect damages from mineral rights owners if their properties are damaged, and a second measure to give local governments more regulatory authority over drilling within their jurisdictions.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said that second idea is something she highly supports.

“I think this bill would be a very reasonable approach,” she said. “I have always felt that’s where you have to get at, the conflict in property rights.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate, where they have control, haven’t said what their plans are yet.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, however, said he is still considering reintroducing an idea he’s proposed before, to bar any locality that bans fracking from receiving any severance tax revenues.

On that score, Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, has introduced a bill, SB97, to protect severance tax revenues from being grabbed by state lawmakers to balance other parts of the budget, and to increase the amount of direct distributions to local governments.

He would do that by reducing the money the Department of Local Affairs gets from the tax that it doles out through grants.

“Instead of the counties having to come to DOLA on their knees and beg for their money, this would change those percentages,” Scott said. “The grant percentage goes down, and the direct distributions go up. That’s the way it was designed to be.”

Regardless of those measures, the backers of several proposed ballot measures dealing with fracking are still going ahead with their ideas.

Those proponents, who could not be reached for comment, have said they were not satisfied with new regulations approved by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission last week. They said those new rules, the result of a special task force established by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a compromise to keep the proposals off the ballot in 2014, didn’t go far enough.

Currently, they have nearly a dozen proposals that would create wider setbacks for where wells can be drilled near populated areas, including one measure that would ban the practice statewide.

On Wednesday, those proposals will be discussed by the Initiative Title Setting Review Board in the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to determine if they can go to the next step, which is to start gathering signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

Hullinghorst said some of the proposed bills may impact those efforts, but they’re not likely to make them go away entirely.

“There are extremes on both sides of this issue, which is why it’s been so polarized,” she said.


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