DENVER (AP) – Activists said Tuesday they would try to put a measure on the 2016 ballot to ban hydraulic fracturing in Colorado, just as a task force was trying to finish up recommendations that were supposed to help settle disputes over oil and gas development.
The newly formed Coloradans Against Fracking announced the campaign outside a room where the task force was working through the final versions of its suggestions.
The group could begin voting on its final recommendations as early as Tuesday afternoon. Its final report is due to Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday.
Hickenlooper set up the task force in August in a deal that kept four divisive measures off the November ballot. Two would have restricted drilling, and two would have encouraged it.
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The 21-member task force has been wrestling with how much power local governments should have to regulate drilling, how to protect the rights of surface owners when someone else owns the minerals underground, and what health and safety restrictions should be imposed.
Among the recommendations that might have enough support to get into the task force’s final report are allowing local governments to impose stricter rules than the state and giving surface property owners more of a say in where drilling rigs can be set up.
A proposal to require full disclosure of drilling chemicals had less support in preliminary votes. Backers also withdrew a proposal to increase the minimum distance between rigs and houses, citing a lack of support.
The task force isn’t considering a ban on hydraulic fracturing, which involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals to break up underground formations and release oil and gas.
That prompted Coloradans Against Fracking to announce its ballot plans before the task force finished. “This task force has been turning a deaf ear to health concerns about fracking,” said Kaye Fissinger, a member of the group.
Industry supporters in the Legislature tried their own pre-emptive strike last week when the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill to penalize cities that try to restrict the technique. The measure isn’t expected to survive the Democrat-controlled House.
None of the task force’s recommendations will be binding, but they’re expected to influence the often-heated debate.
Similar battles are playing out in other states, but it’s especially intense in Colorado, which has abundant oil and gas, a deep-rooted belief in property rights and a strong environmental movement.
Compounding the debate, some drilling rigs are working at the doorstep of residential neighborhoods, triggering complaints about non-stop noise and lights and raising fears about potential health effects and pollution.
Tisha Schuller of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said the task force had made significant progress, especially toward more local government participation in oil and gas rules. She said a fracking ban was an overly simplistic response to the complexity of energy problems.
Frank McNulty, a Republican and former state lawmaker who was a primary backer of the pro-industry measures, said he expects the debate to be settled by voters, not the task force.
“I think that Coloradans rightly expect industry to be responsible, they rightly expect the state to enforce regulations on the industry. But I also know Coloradans benefit from having a strong oil and gas industry in the state,” he said.
By DAN ELLIOTT, Associated Press
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