Oil, gas ballot measures bad for state, governor says
ASPEN — Gov. John Hickenlooper says it’s his understanding that oil and gas measures proposed for this fall’s ballot could face a strong possibility of being overturned in court if voters pass them.
“I’m not a lawyer. People tell me there’s a high likelihood” that they could lose in court challenges, he said Monday after participating in a discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival on oil and gas issues.
But even if courts rule against the measures, that would take years, and in the meantime the measures will have worked as a great disincentive to business in the state, he said.
“I mean, just having them on the ballot I think would send the wrong message that Colorado’s not pro-business. We’ve been working so hard to create a pro-business environment for the state,” he said.
Hickenlooper has been seeking some sort of legislative compromise that could keep several proposed initiatives from reaching this fall’s ballot.
Ballot measure proponents are seeking to let voters decide on proposals such as imposing larger minimum setbacks from drilling operations and letting local governments limit or even prohibit oil and gas development.
Hickenlooper repeatedly has said that such development needs to be properly regulated to address impacts such as those on nearby residents, but overly restricting it would legally infringe on the property rights of mineral owners.
Hickenlooper’s efforts to find a compromise satisfactory to both ballot proponents and the energy industry have proven challenging, with the industry itself finding itself divided.
On Thursday, seven oil and gas companies, including Anadarko Petroleum, Noble Energy and WPX Energy, endorsed a draft compromise Hickenlooper floated earlier that week that would give local governments more authority over oil and gas operations. They wrote that it “will ensure communities continue to have a voice in the regulation of oil and natural gas development, while protecting property rights, and supporting responsible energy development.”
Anadarko and Noble are major players in northeastern Colorado while WPX is the largest gas producer and far-most-active driller in western Colorado’s Piceance Basin.
But just a day later 19 energy companies signed a letter opposing the compromise language, arguing that state oil and gas rules already provide a means for local governments to address issues, and that Colorado already has the nation’s strongest oil and gas rules.
Signatories included Encana, a major player in both the Piceance Basin and eastern Colorado, and other companies including Bill Barrett Corp., Chevron, Ursa Resources, Williams, Shell, BP America, Gunnison Energy and Marathon Oil.
Hickenlooper spoke in Aspen Monday along with Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, largely regarding recently passed rules making Colorado the first state in the country to directly regulate methane emissions from oil and gas drilling. But Hickenlooper also returned to the issue of mineral owner rights when the question arose about whether he supports exporting abroad of U.S. natural gas.
“Again, it’s private property. Should government be saying you can’t export this? It’s your property,” he said.
He said he thinks U.S. gas reserves are so prodigious that exporting it would probably cause the price to bounce upward for perhaps a few months, but then moderate again once energy companies boost their production in response to the increased demand.
He said the result would be bringing jobs back to the middle part of the country and boosting accessory industries such as manufacturing of fertilizers derived from gas.