In Colorado, a battle over fracking looms as GOP pitches proposals to protect mineral owners

Energy Associated Press

A legislative battle over fracking is looming in Colorado, with Republicans taking the stance that mineral owners should be compensated when a local government bans or restricts energy development.

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The GOP's approach has bothered Democrats who argue lawmakers should wait for recommendations from a task force that's studying how to resolve land use disputes among homeowners, local governments, and energy companies.

Further complicating matters, sometimes homeowners own the surface land where a house stands, while someone else may have rights to the minerals underneath.

This week, Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst made clear that the Republican proposals to compensate mineral owners would go nowhere in her chamber.

"It really doesn't do anything to solve the problem. We have an issue here of interface between major residential areas and heavy industrial activity — and a very important industrial activity," she said. "But the people that own homes are also very important in that scenario."

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves extracting oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel, and chemicals. Regulations over the growing practice are expected to be one of the most divisive issues state lawmakers take up this year. And with New York's recent decision to ban fracking, many are looking at Colorado as the next battleground on the matter.

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Unlike New York, however, Colorado has a fracking-friendly Democratic governor who supports the activity while also trying to balance it with environmental concerns. In his State of the State address this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper said he looked forward to the recommendations from the task force he assembled to look at the issue, and he pledged to work with lawmakers and stakeholders "in developing our energy resources, protecting property rights and our natural environment and public health."

Hickenlooper formed the task force to persuade groups to drop proposals for and against fracking from the November ballot. Legislative recommendations from the task force are due in late February.

Republicans, however, aren't waiting until then to try to counter any potential fracking restrictions. Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who is carrying one of the bills to compensate mineral owners, said it's something that should've been done years ago.

"Because this is nothing more than defending one's property," he said.

Sonnenberg's bill would require local governments to pay mineral owners who can't develop their property if fracking restrictions are imposed. With a one-vote Republican majority in the Senate, Sonnenberg's proposal has a good chance of clearing that chamber.

It'll be a different story in the Democrat-controlled House, where a similar GOP fracking bill will start.

The proposal from Republican Rep. Perry Buck would require compensation to mineral owners when a local government bans fracking.

"You don't just take somebody's property without compensating them," she said.

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