Democrats try for deal to avoid state fracking vote

DENVER - Democrats in the state legislature are wrestling to craft a bill on fracking with the goal of fending off a statewide vote on the issue that could drive a wedge between members of their party.

State Rep. Su Ryden (D-Aurora) tells 9NEWS she hopes to find middle ground to grant more control over fracking to local governments, without empowering them to ban oil and gas extraction.

Four cities in Colorado voted on measures to halt fracking operations last year, pitting environmentalists against the administration of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado.)

It's an issue that's caused a rift in the Democratic party. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) has thrown his clout and considerable personal wealth behind a proposed ballot question to allow local governments to ban the practice.

Whether Ryden's bill will be enough to call off that effort remains to be seen. Polis told 9NEWS it "depends what's in it."

While the details are being negotiated, Ryden didn't go into great detail about the contents of her bill. She says she wants to give cities and counties have lots of sway over land use through zoning laws and she wants them to have similar abilities around oil and gas operations.

Her measure could open the door to locally-designed restrictions on how close oil wells can be to existing homes, for instance.

Avoiding a statewide ballot question of fracking would be a coup for Hickenlooper as he runs for re-election.

"The Democratic party is particularly vulnerable because it is highly divided," said 9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli.

Hickenlooper is among establishment Democrats who are supportive of the oil and gas industry, while grassroots environmentalists want to curb fracking.

A prominent ballot question on the issue could pose a threat to Hickenlooper among voters in the Democratic base who oppose oil and gas development.

"The governor could be criticized during much of the campaign for being on the wrong side of that issue," said 9NEWS political analyst Floyd Ciruli. "He could potentially lose environmental votes and front range votes."

The bill will also likely need to be acceptable to the oil and gas industry in order to pass, to say nothing of earning the governor's signature.

In order to have time to pass, the bill will need to be introduced and pass an initial vote on the House floor by the end of Monday.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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