Fracking-study measure advances

A bill to study the health and “quality of life” impacts oil and gas development has on Colorado residents cleared a House committee on Tuesday.

Although the measure is limited to studying how development, including the use of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells, has impacted six Front Range counties, supporters of the measure said they would like to see it go statewide.

The measure, HB1297, calls for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to conduct a $550,000, three-year “analysis” of drilling, and gather input not only from residents who live in the six counties, but also conduct scientific research on what effects drilling may be having on them.

“This is probably one of the biggest questions up in my district, especially in light of recent bans and moratoriums in different parts of my district,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.

In 2012, Longmont became the first of five Colorado cities to ban or place moratoriums on fracking, which is a process of pumping water, chemicals and sand into the ground to free natural gas. Last year, it was joined by Boulder, Lafayette, Broomfield and Fort Collins.

As a result, the bill was limited to Boulder, Larimer, Weld, Adams, Broomfield and Arapahoe counties.

“This is a huge issue in my county,” said Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield. “I think we can make better decisions once we do determine health and quality of life impacts of fracking.”

Longmont is fighting a lawsuit filed by the state and oil and gas companies to overturn its ban.

The bill passed the House Health & Human Services Committee on a party-line vote with the five Republicans on the 11-member panel voting against it.

“I’m just afraid we’ll get into this and it’s going to be a lot more costly than we anticipate, especially when there was an effort to try and pare it down to just health issues as opposed to quality of life,” said Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial. “Who knows where that’s going to go? These kind of things under these circumstances can take on a life of their own.”

Lawmakers on the panel couldn’t agree on what “quality of life” actually means.

Lines are being drawn in the sand over the issue because of fears a statewide ban will be placed before voters, and the economic impact that would have on the state if it were to pass.

Currently, there is no proposed ballot measure to do that, but there are several designed to impose mandatory setback rules and to give local governments more control over regulating oil and gas development within their jurisdictions.

There also is a proposed ballot measure to withhold severance tax revenues from cities that ban development. It is modeled after a GOP bill that was killed in the Legislature in January.

HB1297, introduced by Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, heads to the House Appropriations Committee for more debate.


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